Wild horses take center stage

July 6, 2015 - Holmes said there are no roundups planned for Spring Creek Basin, and she credited fertility treatments that use the contraceptive PZP for successfully controlling their population.

“Roaming Wild,” a documentary on wild horses, will be shown July 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the KSJD Sunflower Theater as a fundraiser for the Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association.

Directed by Sylvia Johnson, the film is a modern day Western about the controversy over wild horses and hope for a sustainable future.

More than 40,000 wild horses roam on public lands in 10 Western states, including in southwestern Colorado.

But for the first time, the number of horses in captivity exceeds the number left in the wild at a cost to taxpayers of $60 million per years.

The film tells the personal stories behind the numbers through the inspiring characters, including a fiery California activist, an intrepid New Mexico mountain man, a persevering Nevada rancher, and a wild horse herd in Utah.

Locally there are two areas with wild horses.

In Disappointment Valley, the BLM manages the Spring Creek Basin herd, a group of 60 wild mustangs designated under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

And in Mesa Verde National Park, there are more than 100 free-roaming horses that are not designated under the act, but have a long history there, and have become a tourist attraction.

Congress can approve additional designated areas under the act for wild horses and burros.

T.J. Holmes is a BLM volunteer helping to manage the Spring Creek Basin Herd, and she is also a board member for the local mustang association.

Holmes said the herd is healthy, and the recent rains have put the range in excellent condition.

“The grass is in great shape, and the rains in June filled the stock ponds,” she said.

The BLM’s appropriate management level (AML) for the Spring Creek Basin Herd is 65 horses.

The agency conducts roundups above that, and recently proposed that bait-trapping is their preferred strategy over the controversial helicopter roundups that stress horses.

Captured horses are put up for adoption, put in sanctuaries, or sold.

Holmes said there are no roundups planned for Spring Creek Basin, and she credited fertility treatments that use the contraceptive PZP for successfully controlling their population.

Holmes deploys the birth-control darts into select mares to prevent conception, and the program has shown good results.

In 2011, the range saw 14 new foals. When the PZP fertility controls began soon after, the foals born dropped to 8 in 2013, then to 7 in 2014, and in 2015, just two foals were born.

“The new foals are happy, and have better survival rates,” Holmes said. “Also the mares are healthier because they don’t have a foal every year, so it’s a real win win situation.”

The BLM’s uses the fertility controls to slow population growth, not stop it entirely, she said.

The local mustang association’s mission has broadened to look out for the free-roaming horse herd at Mesa Verde National Park.

In 2014, six wild horses died at the park due to drought conditions, triggering horse advocates to hold a protest at the park’s visitor’s center.

The protesters objected to the park’s policy of not providing water to help the horses within their boundaries. The 100 plus herd and MVNP do not fall under the protections of Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which identifies specific areas in the country managed for wild horse herds.

Tif Rodriguez, executive director for the local Colorado chapter of the Mustang Association, said they’re offering to help round up of some of the park’s horses to reduce the current unmanageable herd.

“The park is pressured by the horses and we still want to help with a round up,” she said. “We’d like to see a managed herd stay in the park, by using bait trapping and possibly fertility controls.”

The park is in the process of creating a long-term plan for the free-roaming horses living on the mesas and in the canyons.

“The fundraiser helps to pay for water delivery and development for the Spring Creek herd, and also for the fencing and corals to help with a potential round up at the park,” Rodriguez said.

At the end of the film, Rodriguez and Holmes will host a question-and-answer session about wild horses.

“The management of wild horses and burros is a challenge, but we believe they are essential to the landscape,” Holmes said. “They helped build the West, and it’s an amazing gift for the public to go and see them run free.”

Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. Appetizers and giveaways are included, and a cash bar will be available. The featured drink is the “Red Roany Pony.” A silent auction featuring local artists and businesses will also be held.

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