Leading horses to water
Even wild horses will require extraordinary measures to make it through this year’s drought, it appears.
The Bureau of Land Management is taking the exceptional step of trucking tanks of water to a herd of wild horses, an effort the agency says is necessitated by the area’s springs having dried up, though some advocates continue to question their actions.
Last week, these emergency efforts to provide water went a step further as BLM officials doubled the amount of water being delivered to the bands of horses in the West Douglas Herd Area, a hilly region south of Rangely that is not officially managed for wild horses but which has been home to the herd for decades.
Earlier this month, the springs supplying water to two of the bands of horses within that herd dried up, the BLM says. According to horse experts with the agency, bands of horses there are fairly territorial about their water sources and are unlikely to try to compete with other bands for the use of springs that might still be running.
“It becomes ingrained in these horses that they just have their water,” said Jerome Fox, wild horse specialist with the BLM’s Grand Junction office. “They’ll share resources when there’s plenty, but when there gets to be a shortage, it’s survival of the fittest.”
To get these two waterless bands through the dry summer, then, the agency trucked a 500-gallon tank of water above where the bands congregate on the side of Texas Mountain. The tank empties into a trough, from which water is delivered down to the site of the now-dry springs via pipe.
That 500-gallon tank has had to be replaced about every day and has only been enough to provide water to one of the bands lacking it, BLM officials said. That band consists of about 10 to 20 horses.
Last week, several officials dragged up an additional tank, doubling the amount of water flowing to the horses.
The extra water was delivered via a rubber pipe to the other band of about 20 to 30 horses, which are in a lower part of the area from the first band.
“We were hoping that (tank) would get to the upper and lower bands, but the lower ones just aren’t utilizing it,” Fox said. Still, he said, “they’re staying in relatively good shape, so we’re trying to determine whether they’re sneaking up when the other horses aren’t around. I hope they are.”
Fox said that without this supplemental water, it is believed that within two or three days the horses would be too weak to be able to seek water.
Lauren Wachs, associate director of the Cloud Foundation, which advocates on behalf of wild horses, said she had been out to the West Douglas region two weeks ago and saw seeps and springs that were providing adequate water for the horses.
Fox said he had spoken to Wachs by phone last week but that she said the foundation had decided not to share the GPS coordinates of the springs because of an ongoing court case over the West Douglas horses.
Wachs confirmed that, but said the BLM already knew the location of the springs because they had marked them. When pressed for their locations, she mentioned Wild Rose Spring, which is on the other side of Texas Mountain from the two bands in question.
“Horses (that are) not members of the affected band are already using the Wild Rose Spring,” BLM spokesman Chris Joyner said. “Simply moving off to another water point is not an option for the affected horses ... Please remember these are wild animals competing for limited resources.”
“We have and will continue to monitor all water points throughout the herd area,” he added.
In the eyes of the Cloud Foundation, the BLM action is inspired more by a desire to remove the horses than from drought-inspired necessity.
The BLM has been attempting to get permission to round up some of the horses from the West Douglas area, as they see it as lacking adequate summer range and generally unsustainable for supporting horses over the long run.
That action, however, which would involve rounding up some of the horses before putting them up for adoption and moving them to long-term holding pastures, has been held up in court.
“Hauling the water is really a precursor to doing a round-up,” as habituating them to the water source is a step toward that action, Wachs said.
The BLM says it is evaluating the possibility of a roundup but that, for now, it is trying to avoid that through providing the water to get the horses through the drought.
“We will keep bringing water as long as necessary,” Fox said.
He also pointed out the small amount of grass in the area and that, if needed, they would haul hay up to the herd area.
Elsewhere, the BLM has turned on an additional well in the Sand Wash Herd Management Area west of Craig and is closely monitoring the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range behind Mount Garfield.
Marty Felix, of Friends of the Mustangs, which works with the BLM to monitor the Little Book Cliffs horses, said there is “always water in the canyons” beyond the Bookcliffs.
“The horses are smart enough to know to get down there,” she said.
The last time water tanks were taken up to the horses there was in 1977, she said, though there are troughs that collect water from springs there for the horses.
Felix said they were “prepared to haul water” but that they were more concerned about the food available to the Book Cliffs horses, though she noted that there is grass available in other places there.