Of the four major mustang herds in Colorado, the Spring Creek Basin herd in Disappointment Valley in northern Dolores County is the only herd in southwest Colorado. According to the Bureau of Land Management, which manages wild horses on public lands, the first horses brought to Disappointment Valley belonged to a Montana rancher who supplied the U.S. Cavalry with their mounts. According to Pati Temple, it has always been said that the cavalry remounts were stolen from Montana and brought to Disappointment. Around 1940, a few horses were left behind which formed the beginnings of the present day herd. Today, the BLM herd numbers around 57 horses, including foals.
Holmes, editor of the Dolores Star, has been visiting the Spring Creek Basin wild horses since 2002 and documenting them since 2007. She started a blog, www.springcreekwild.wordpress.com (includes many pictures), to share her observations and experiences. Spending almost every weekend this year monitoring the herd, she describes their eating, playing, sleeping, fighting, changing family groups, and living as wild horses. She has come to know them as individuals and as family.
Pati and David Temple are members of the Durango Chapter of the National Mustang Association, which is dedicated to the well being of the Spring Creek Basin Wild horse herd in Disappointment Valley. The chapter has invested more than $70,000 and countless volunteer hours in the herd area. Some of their projects include fence removal, fence repair, new fence construction, reduction of grazing conflicts through the purchase of available grazing units, development of a clean water source, hiring trainers during adoptions and advertising adoptions, as well as providing educational materials on how to tame and train wild horses.
Controversy Over Horse Management
The management of wild horses in the American West is a controversial issue. In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act provided federal protection for wild horses and burros and put safeguards into place so they could not be sold for slaughter. But in 2004, Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana inserted a budget rider into a 3,300-page budget-appropriations bill just before a holiday recess that removed all protections for wild horses and burros who were over the age of 10 and had been offered unsuccessfully for adoption three times.
When the rider was discovered, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to restore the original intent of the 1971 legislation. However, a similar amendment in the Senate has been blocked from going to a vote by an appropriations subcommittee that is chaired by Burns. The issue is expected to be settled after the upcoming election.
On one hand, the BLM is confronted with balancing the grazing requirements of wild horses with domestic animals, mostly cattle, and big game animals, while maintaining the health of the rangeland. Since wild horses have few natural predators, their overall population doubles about every four years, although some specific areas seem to remain in balance. The management goal is 27,300 wild horses and burros on BLM lands. There are now 33,000 animals on these lands, with another 30,000 in short-term and long-term holding facilities, at an annual cost of $21.9 million (2007).
Wild horse advocates argue that the BLM has mismanaged the wild horse budget and has created an unnecessary problem with the capture and impoundment of so many animals. They suggest that the real problem is the desire of ranching, oil and mining interests to claim vast amounts of Western land for their use at the expense of wildlife, including horses, and open space. These advocates also argue that other solutions, such as fertility control, are more effective and would save millions of taxpayer dollars.
Compared to Nevada, Wyoming and some other Western states, Colorado has a relatively small number of wild horses. There are five herd areas in the state, all on the Western Slope: Sand Wash Basin, with 463 horses; Piceance/East Douglas Creek, with 270 horses; West Douglas, with 144 horses; Little Book Cliffs, 120 horses; and Spring Creek Basin, 50 horses.
Sold for Slaughter?
Although slaughter of wild horses and burros has not occurred so far in the U.S., horse advocates claim that is not the case in Canada and Mexico. Horses sold by the BLM are supposed to go to buyers who plan to provide long-term care, but wild horse advocates assert that some of these buyers transport the horses across the borders. They claim that the horses are then slaughtered and the meat shipped overseas, where horsemeat is an acceptable food source.
In addition to Thursday’s presentation, a recently published book of photographs by Claude Steelman, Colorado’s Wild Horses, will be on display and available for purchase. Wild horses have also been an inspiration for the paintings of a local Ridgway artist, Karen Day.
Doors for this presentation will open at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments will include homemade cookies, coffee provided by Mountain Market and herbal tea provided by Cups (formerly Garden Goddess). For more information and to offer suggestions for this series, please contact Sara Coulter (626-4496, firstname.lastname@example.org) or Shirley Jentsch (240-1319, email@example.com) or visit www.sanjuancorridors.org.