BLM sets up water tanks for wild horses near Rangely

The drought sweeping the region has not spared Colorado’s wild horse populations.

The Bureau of Land Management said Thursday it had hauled in water for horses in a herd area south of Rangely and that they are supplementing natural water in several wild-horse management areas in the state.

The Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range behind Mount Garfield does not currently require supplemental water, but the BLM is “closely monitoring” the situation there as well.

South of Rangley in the northwest corner of the state, 40 to 50 horses of the 185-horse population of the West Douglas Herd Area — which is not an official BLM-run management area — are now located in a remote corner of the range without any natural water source, according to the BLM.

The agency said it only recently became aware of the situation and has set up a water tank in the area.

But wild-horse advocates questioned whether water was in as short supply there as the BLM claimed and found the agency’s actions suspicious.

“It’s totally and completely unnecessary,” Ginger Kathrens, director of the Cloud Foundation, said on Thursday. “It feels like BLM is trumping up the charge, perhaps to remove these horses — which they’ve been angling to do for decades.”

Tanks and pipes

Lauryn Wachs, associate director at the foundation, said she had been to that specific area earlier this week and that “there is a seep that has water in it right next to the troughs” that BLM set up. The amount of water in those seeps was adequate for the number of horses in the area in her estimation.

David Boyd, a BLM spokesman with the agency’s Silt office, disagreed with that assessment. He said that in that critical area where the 40 to 50 horses are located the springs have dried up and that there is “no other water source right now” other than the water the agency hauled in.

Whoever is right, the BLM has closed the area for now in order to allow the horses to acclimate to drinking the hauled in water.

The BLM said that due to the remoteness of the location, it could not get the water down to the spots where the horses are used to drinking. Instead, they set up a tank about 1,400 feet away with pipes leading down to where the horses are, where it then flows out so the horses can drink the water off the ground.

“Simply putting water down in a trough doesn’t mean horses are going to drink it,” said Christopher Joyner, spokesman with the BLM Grand Junction office, recalling that you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink. “These are the wildest of wild horses you’ll find. It’s a very sensitive situation.”

Is hauling water in for wild horses typical? “It has been done before, but not something we do every summer,” Joyner said. ” This is not a normal drought year.”

Court case

Kathrens also claimed the BLM had notified a court recently that it plans to remove the horses in the critical area within the week. An ongoing court case has tried to prevent the BLM from removing those horses.

The agency says that the herd is in an area that is not appropriate for wild horses, as there is not good enough summer range there. It would like to remove the 40 to 50 horses and put them up for adoption or into long-term holding pastures.

The BLM said it had not notified the court that it planned to remove the horses, but that it was only a possibility.

It would be an “emergency situation,” said Boyd. “We’re certainly considering that, whether a gather would be necessary.”

Joyner said they planned to go back next week to re-evaluate the situation. “We’re looking at multiple options,” he said.

Elsewhere, the BLM fears that horses in the Sand Wash Herd Management Area west of Craig may not have enough food to last all summer if the horses remain concentrated in the northern part of the range.

With that in mind, the agency turned on another well at the corral area to fill troughs that distribute water through the southern end of the area in order to better distribute the horses through the range to help them withstand the dry summer, Boyd said.

Though other wells are regularly used in the management area, the corral well “has never been used to provide water to wild horses on day-to-day basis,” he said, noting that water has been hauled into Sand Wash “once or twice in the past 15 years” with the last time being in 2002.


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