Fence project aims to reduce horse-vehicle collisions near Meeker
The Bureau of Land Management is planning four fence projects aimed at better containing wild horses southwest of Meeker in their designated area and reducing the threat of collisions with vehicles.
The agency’s White River Field Office is asking for public comments on a preliminary environmental assessment on the project. It would include work along Rio Blanco County Road 5, which is heavily traveled by oil and gas traffic, and Colorado Highway 64, which connects Meeker and Rangely.
The BLM manages its 190,130-acre Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area with a goal of maintaining between 135 and 235 horses. The current population is about 350 but includes this year’s foals, and population numbers vary based on time of year. The area includes not just federal but state and private lands.
The area’s perimeter is about 137 miles. The BLM relies on natural topography to contain horses along some of that perimeter, while other parts are fenced. However, some areas still need fencing or have deteriorated fencing. The agency has been checking the perimeter and still has about 40 miles to check.
The BLM says horses that stray beyond the perimeter threaten other natural resources, such as riparian areas and plants listed for protection. In addition, in the preliminary environmental assessment it also cites the safety risk to people and horses, saying instances of horses being seen, or even hit, on stretches of the Highway 64 and County Road 5 are increasing.
Between March 30 and April 8, from two to six horses were reported on five different occasions on Highway 64 at around milemarker 52, usually during mid-day hours, the BLM says, citing Rio Blanco sheriff’s dispatch information. However, limited cell phone service in the area may restrict the number of reported sightings, it says.
Rio Blanco Undersheriff Michael Joos said that while occasional collisions occur, “we have had more close calls and more calls of horses on the road than anything.”
When accidents do happen, “it’s like hitting a large elk,” and can cause substantial damage to vehicles and injuries to motorists, along with killing the horses, he said.
He’s glad to hear of the BLM’s plans.
“We’ve talked to the BLM and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got these issues, we’ve got to do something to keep them off the roads,’” Joos said.
The proposed projects include a 2.6-mile stretch of Highway 64, about a mile along County Road 5, and similarly sized projects in two other areas. Fencing companies have told the BLM costs might generally range from $10,000 to $13,580 per mile.