Horse Health

Genetic Report on Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd Disappointing

Source: The Cloud Foundation

Report card reveals diminished variability in world famous herd of wild stallion Cloud
Cloud while captured by BLM in 2009 ~ Photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Cloud while captured by BLM in 2009 ~ Photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. (Sept. 16, 2013) – For over thirty years, the genetics of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd have been tracked by foremost equine geneticist, E. Gus Cothran. His first revelations linking the herd to the horses of the Spanish Conquistadors and Old World Iberian Horses were cause for celebration among local supporters of the herd who long believed that the primitive physical appearance of some Pryor horses were indicators of their Spanish ancestry. Cothran also indicated in earlier reports that the genetic diversity of the herd was good.

But Cothran’s newest report issued on August 22, 2013 reveals a herd at risk of losing genetic variability. Cothran states that “compared to past sampling of this herd, variability levels for all measures has been in decline.” He further states that the expression of the Spanish heritage is “stronger than seen recently,” but we could be seeing “the very beginning of evidence of inbreeding.”

Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation (TCF) whose documentaries about the Pryor stallion, Cloud, brought world-wide attention to the herd, feared this was coming since 2009 when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to reduce the herd to population levels not seen in many years At that time Kathrens warned, “The genetic viability of this herd – their very survival – is at risk.”

In response to the perceived threat to the herd, TCF filed a lawsuit against the BLM in 2009, challenging the dangerously low Appropriate Management Level (AML), asserting that this low population would damage the genetic diversity of the herd and put them at risk of inbreeding and eventual die-off. During the 2009 roundup, the BLM removed an entire sub-population of animals in the Custer National Forest lands, horses that had unique genetics unrepresented in the main Pryor herd which Kathrens believes impacted the results of Cothran’s report.

The TCF lawsuit was expanded to include the Forest Service in 2010, when they announced plans to build a two mile long, buck and pole fence on the border between BLM and FS lands atop East Pryor Mountain. The fence was completed in 2011 and it denies wild horses access to thousands of acres of high quality, late summer and fall meadows. Evidence from BLM and others indicates that the Pryor horses used an area that included most of the Custer National Forest lands to the west of the designated range since before the Forest Service existed. The litigation is still pending in Federal Court and it is believed that a verdict will be rendered before the end of the year.

“We’re at the point where it is imperative that the Bureau of Land Management work closely with both the Park Service and the Custer National Forest to increase the range for the Pryor Mountains,” stated Kathrens.  “Unless the range can be expanded it will be difficult to allow for a significantly larger population.”

Cothran concluded his Pryor report, writing “The best way to maintain the current levels (of genetic variability) would be to increase population size if range conditions allow.”

The problem of declining variability is not unique to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd. Over 70% of all western wild horse herds are managed at levels under 200 horses and so face the same fate. However, most herds occupy much larger acreages, but compete with privately-owned livestock. On these ranges, the wild horses receive less than 18% of the forage. Privately owned livestock receive 82% of forage. A call for fairness was made at the September 9-11, 2013 Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting in Washington DC. Board member, Tim Harvey, asked that wild horses receive a fairer share of forage. In her public comment at the meeting, Kathrens called for increased forage for small, at risk herds.

“If BLM continues their business as usual approach to wild horse management we will begin to see significant inbreeding,” Kathrens explained. “I have been talking about the need for larger herds in order to maintain genetic viability for 15 years. Maybe now, with this very clear report on Cloud’s Pryor Mountain herd, mustangs will actually be given a fair share of forage on their legal ranges.”

Wild horse herds are managed on 31.6 million acres of the 650 million acres managed by BLM and Forest Service, while privately owned livestock occupy over 238 million acres.  Livestock permittees on federal lands pay only $1.35 per cow/calf pair or for 5 sheep, a rate that compares with $16-20 per cow/calf pair on private land. Administration of the federal lands grazing program costs taxpayers $123 million yearly. Independent economists estimate the costs of public land grazing by livestock at over $500 million annually.

15 replies »

  1. You have to wonder what is going on here. One of the biggest studies done on this herd was done over two years by Dr. Cothran and Dr. Springer of U. S. G. Sin 1997. They concluded that for this particular herd a number between 150 and 200—closer to 200 depending on range conditions. Gradually, the herd population was reduced. In 2009 they reduced the herd to 95 even though this number meant that a great deal of genetic variability would be lost. The BLM staff themselves can be found making comments in reports about their fears that drastic reductions will put the herds at risk. Then after the NAS report, we learn that even the low number of 150 may be far too low for the long run.

    It is almost as if the public thought these studies were being done to make sure the herds were healthy, but it is starting to look more and more like the purpose may be to monitor how much time it takes to genetically collapse a herd. The BLM, FS, FWS, and NPS know exactly what the numbers mean. Studies, seminars, and meetings have gone on for years.

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    • Seems reasonable doesn’t it? They take hair samples from all the roundup captives and this goes into the stew to ponder the fate of the wild ones. Science can kill and science can revive. Please work toward a Moratorium; 10 years of studies, change, discovery and recovery. Please, this can save them all. Nothing else that is happening can come close. No one is prepared. Will you help? Please do not sell out.

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  2. And … to add insult to injury … we must keep in mind that the complete herd that these tests were done on no longer exists due to removals since “that herd” no longer exists in its entirety. In other words the gene pool that he says is “in decline” no longer exists and thus the gene pool today is even more constrained than his test results.
    Not good.

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  3. DUH to BLM who created yet another mess. BLM was told to keep the herds viable the Pryors needed 150-200 breeding age animals. Yet BLM lowered AML to 80/90-120 breeding age animals. This isn’t management on the range as the law dictates. This is management to extinction.

    Cloud has produced 3 palomino offspring that look almost exactly like him.

    Time to move that stoopid fence and give the horses back their historical summer range. The horses are also using the guzzlers that were put in several years ago–quite happily. Not surprising it took a bit of time for them to get use to the clanging. They’d run off fearing the worse.

    Time to also put to practice NAS study. BLM can’t or won’t manage the horses according to science because science doesn’t exist in their world.

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  4. This is the most disappointing news for the wildhorses…no wonder I see smokestacks whenever I think of the crimes the BLM has committed on the wildhorses…and will continue to do until they are stopped cold in their tracks.,

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  5. This is heartbreaking. It seems that no matter what the BLM is told by scientists or citizens of the USA, they continue to bumble along, never heeding any of the good advice that is given.

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  6. We must work together to save our last remaining herds. The Cloud’s Legacy must be saved as well as many others and the BLM must keep their nasty hands away from any more of them. We must get a Moratorium and a stop to all of this nonsense. We must help save each and every horse we can to keep the genetic viability alive. It is up to all of us not the BLM. We must have laws in place to protect all of them. We can do this. We must do it for the wild horses. They are counting on us. We can and we will.This is just heart wrenching to see this happening for our beloved wild herds. Protect and defend our wild ones. Keep them alive and free.

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  7. We are going to travel for a month out west and i would really like to see some wild horses, if there is any slaughter houses in any of the states out west please let me know because I do not want to spend any money – I will have to for gas but thats all they will get from us- there in those states because I do not support horses Slaughter and I don’t want any of my money going to states that do support it.

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