Current Big Summit herd guidelines have been in place since 1975
“We are basically going to redo the plan,” Tory Kurtz, rangeland management specialist for the national forest, said Tuesday.
Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971, and four years later, in 1975, the Ochoco National Forest established a 27,300-acre management area for the Big Summit herd of wild horses. The act protects wild horses in designated areas, which include the more than 42-square-mile Big Summit management area. The management plan for the Big Summit herd, also known as the Ochoco Mustangs, has not been updated since 1975.
Revising the plan is not related to the planned roundup of wild horses east of Lakeview in south-central Oregon. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management began preparations Monday for the roundup of more than 1,000 wild horses in the Beatys Butte herd, drawing criticism from wild horse advocacy groups.
The Big Summit herd is the only wild horse herd in Oregon and Washington solely managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The BLM manages most herds in Oregon.
In the middle of the Ochoco National Forest, just west of Big Summit Prairie, the Big Summit herd management area is predominantly wooded.
Each June, the national forest teams up with volunteers to count the wild horses. The count is conducted on foot or horseback because of the terrain.
This past June, the count showed about 150 wild horses, Kurtz said. While horses in the herd have been captured or adopted in the past, she said that hasn’t occurred since 2010 in part because of the aging management plan. The revised plan probably would detail how to conduct captures and adoptions.
In October 2013, six horses from the herd were found shot, five were dead and one was so badly wounded it was euthanized , all near Big Summit Prairie. The case remains open, according to Ochoco National Forest and Forest Service law enforcement officials.
National forest officials are inviting the public to join a stakeholder group, convened by the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, to develop plan recommendations. Starting in December, the group is set to meet monthly for at least two years, according to the national forest. Overhauling the plan is expected to take up to three years.
The current plan is outdated and does not address modern issues about wild horses, said Gayle Hunt, president of the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition. She is glad the plan is set for an update.
“It’s way overdue,” she said. Established in 2002, the nonprofit aids in the management of wild horses in Central Oregon, particularly the Big Summit herd. Hunt said Ochoco National Forest officials have worked well with people advocating for wild horses.
Issues likely to be tackled in the revised plan include wild horse birth control and adoption programs, both aimed at keeping herd size in check. Kurtz said the current plan does not have a target number for the herd.
What will be in the new plan depends on the direction taken by the stakeholder group.
“We don’t really have anything set in stone,” Kurtz said.