Foundation includes Forest Service in lawsuit
Washington, D.C. (July 23, 2010)—On July 21 the Cloud Foundation, Front Range Equine Rescue and author/advocate Carol Walker filed an amended complaint in Federal District Court to add the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to their current suit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The suit challenges both agencies’ rejection of a Natural Management Approach for the herd and the planned construction of a two-mile long fence which would cut off the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd from crucial summer and fall grazing lands they’ve used for centuries. This small herd is the world’s most famous and the last remaining in Montana, sometimes called “Cloud’s herd” for the now-15-year old band stallion who TCF Director and plaintiff Ginger Kathrens has documented for the popular PBS Nature series. The herd traces its history back to the horses of the Spanish Conquistadors, the Lewis and Clark expedition horses, and Crow Indian War ponies. Plaintiffs contend that the USFS and BLM are engaging in illegal treatment of these federally-protected mustangs and that the Pryor Wild Horses are entitled to use lands in the Custer National Forest, currently not included in the designated range.
Plaintiffs in the litigation include Front Range Equine Rescue based in Larkspur, CO; Carol Walker, equine photographer and author of “Wild Hoofbeats: America’s Vanishing Wild Horses”; and Ginger Kathrens, Director of the Cloud Foundation and Emmy-Award winning producer with 16 years experience documenting and observing the Pryor Mountain herd.
“People value the whole spectacular Pryor ecosystem including this unique Spanish wild horse herd. Seeing the area fragmented by new fencing across pristine, wide-open meadows degrades the experience of visiting this area with true wilderness values,” states Kathrens. “Beyond the visual and environmental damage, it will compromise the future of Cloud’s globally-beloved herd. Forest Service should be working to set this area aside as a designated wilderness rather than working on how to build a bigger, stronger barrier to keep the Pryor horses from their rightful and essential high mountain meadows.”
Building the fence, cattle guard and gates would illegally confine horses to jurisdictional boundaries, restricting their natural and long-held seasonal pattern of use on East Pryor Mountain. Centuries old horse trails go straight through the line now flagged for construction of the fence, estimated to cost taxpayers between $25,000 and $100,000, not including USFS planning costs which, according to USFS, greatly exceed the cost of building the fence.
“The Forest Service has fought efforts to expand the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range to allow the herd to engage in their historical and seasonal migrations. Confining wild horse herds to smaller and smaller areas of the public lands lays the groundwork for more intrusive management and manipulation as the Forest Service and BLM contend that these animals will need to be removed from the wild for their own good,” states lead attorney, Valerie Stanley.
For a four-year period in the early 2000s the Pryor Herd was at zero population growth due to mountain lion predation on the foals, as well as the ever-present harsh winter weather and deadly lightning storms. The population of the herd increased only after BLM encouraged the killing of mountain lions. “The public has overwhelmingly supported allowing the herd the opportunity to manage itself. Apparently, BLM and the Forest Service think Mother Nature can’t get along without them,” Stanley concludes.
Over 100 wild horses have been using the Custer National Forest this month, which constitutes the majority of the Pryor Mountain wild horses, of which less than 150 adults remain in the wild following a massive roundup in September 2009. The Custer National Forest has not explained how the wild horses would be driven them back into the designated horse range. At least two new foals were born last week on the mountaintop and more births are anticipated. Running these young mustangs is dangerous and inhumane and can be fatal as has been proven during recent BLM roundups in Nevada and Oregon.
The area immediately adjacent to the designated range is not currently allocated for livestock grazing, but the Cloud Foundation questions USFS motives in blocking horses from this public land. Actions by the USFS are based, not on damage by the horses to the ecosystem, but seemingly on complaints from livestock permittees. Plaintiffs wonder if USFS is arranging for the building of this fence to facilitate cattle grazing on what would be a new livestock allotment on scenic subalpine meadows used annually by wild horses, mule deer, black bears and an array of small animals in the summer and fall.
“Wild horses have used these Forest Service lands for centuries. BLM and Forest Service have so far failed to work together to expand the range, using natural boundaries which encompass the mustangs’ use area, for the good of the herd and the public that loves them,” explains Front Range Equine Rescue President/Founder, Hilary Wood.
Historically, BLM directed livestock permittees on public grazing land to round up wild horses by aircraft. Once captured, the wild horses were either killed and butchered on the range or were shipped live to meat packing plants. In 1968, a public outcry was launched, spurred by local residents and ABC reporter, author and TCF Honorary Board Member, Hope Ryden. Ryden’s discovery of plans to trap and remove the Pryor Horses despite BLM assertions to the contrary caused a national outcry. In response, then Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall issued an Executive Order creating the first public range ever dedicated in the United States for the protection of wild horses. The 39,000-acre range was intended to protect the horses, other wildlife, and the natural state of the area. At the time, none of the Custer National Forest Service lands were included, as that was outside of Interior Secretary Udall’s jurisdiction.
“Wild horses need to be treated like wild horses—not livestock. Right now the public can easily access the Forest Service lands and experience a wildlife display unlike any other,” states plaintiff Carol Walker. “We want the Forest Service to immediately abandon plans to build the fence.”