BLM decision threatens future of Pryor Mustang herd

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Contact: Lisa Friday, Director of Communications | 804-389-8218

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – The Bureau of Land Management in Billings, Montana has launched an attack on the wild horses of the Pryor Mountains on the Montana-Wyoming border.

 After a lengthy comment and review period, the BLM Billings Field Office has disregarded public comment and scientific analysis. The office has decided to reduce the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd by removing seventeen animals.

“The Pryor herd is already genetically threatened,” said Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation and Humane Advocate on the BLM’s National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board. “Renowned equine geneticists have already noted a genetic decline in this herd. To reduce the size of this herd when the population is already declining naturally is counterintuitive, inhumane, and unnecessary.”

Indeed, equine geneticist Dr. Gus Cothran stated in an August 2013 genetic analysis of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range that “Genetic variability of this herd in general … has been in decline. This is likely due to the population size that has been maintained in recent years.” 

 The “appropriate management level,” or the number of animals the BLM determines is “appropriate” for each individual herd, has been set at 90-120 animals for the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Dr. Cothran has long stated that populations must be maintained at 150-200 animals in order to preserve genetic viability. Additionally, the Billings Field Office neglected to increase the AML when the range was expanded to include the Administrative Pastures, increasing the amount of forage available to the herd.

The planned roundup and removal of 17 animals in the Pryor Mountain herd will dip the population number below genetic viability, threatening the longevity and sustainability of the herd.

 “This is a direct assault on the health and viability of this herd,” said Lisa Friday, Director of Communications for The Cloud Foundation. “Hundreds of people commented to remind this office that these horses are already in genetic danger, and clearly the field office is not concerned about it.”

The Cloud Foundation made efforts to meet with the Billings Field Office prior to the release of a decision record regarding this roundup. “We came out of the BLM meeting in Billings thinking it went well,” said Linda Hanick, Board Member and Social Media Manager for The Cloud Foundation. “They seemed receptive and listened to our recommendations, and we had some good discussions. But when the decision record came out, it was obvious they had already made their minds up.”

Official management documents require the BLM Billings Field Office to manage the herd in a way that preserves rare colors and genetic lines. The office has several animals on their list for removal who represent rare colors and genetic lines, showing an official disregard for those management decrees.

 Removal of any horses that are buckskin, chestnut, sorrel and palomino could result in the loss of these colors in the future as reported by foremost color geneticist, Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, in his Report on Pryor Mountain Mustangs in October of 1994. Dr. Sponenberg also acknowledges that color variation is one reason that this particular herd is popular with the public. “These are everyone’s horses (since we all pay taxes), and need to be managed so that future everyone’s can enjoy this historic and unique resource,” Dr. Sponenberg said.

BLM Billings Field Office’s decision threatens the most historically, genetically, and economically important wild horse herd in the American west. The horses in these mountains have been there for hundreds of years. They are descendants of the Crow Indian ponies, and are direct descendants of the genetically significant Spanish colonial horses.  

“People from all over the world come on tours with me,” said Nancy Cerroni of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center. “Their faces light up when they see these beautiful Spanish horses on top of this spectacular mountain.”

Cerroni leads tours for the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, based in Lovell, WY, to show people the herd out on the range. She is also responsible for maintaining records on each Pryor mustang and worries genetics will be lost because of the size of this removal. “This could be extremely detrimental to the health and survival of this unique herd,” Cerroni said.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range herd has garnered an international audience after the three Cloud documentaries, filmed and directed by Ginger Kathrens, aired on PBS’s Nature series. The films followed the life of a Pryor Mountain wild horse name Cloud, and illustrated the rich social structure on which wild horses depend for survival.  

“A removal of this size is a disaster for such a small herd,” Kathrens said. “Not only will genetic viability be threatened, but removing so many members of such a small herd will threaten the social structure of this herd. These wild horses deserve to remain with their families, in their family bands, on their home range.”


Kayah Swanson