Horse News

Correction: BLM does NOT Agree to Increase Size of Pryor Mountain Herd

Every now and then we get slightly burned by sharing unedited and supposedly informational articles which we ‘assume’ to be correct and concise.  Of course, anything from the BLM directly is suspect from the git-go but from the mainstream media we expect better (even though the past election bias coverage should have sent the public screaming to the hills) but over the past two weeks we have been nipped twice and today we will try to rectify the most recent blooper.

Last week we shared an article that had the headlines that the BLM had increased the number of the wild horses allowed to live out their lives wild and free on the Pryor Mountains in Montana…but instead it has come to light that this is not true.  Where that unedited headline came from we do not know but it did not originate from anyone who tends to SFTHH.  So in an effort to clarify and bring our feet back to the ground it is the same business as usual at the BLM office in Billings Montana, under the direction of Jim Sparks, who IS currently taking comments on the current AML until the end of this week.

Included at the end of this unedited news articles are the comments of Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation and it is our hope that readers will take the time to respectfully request that Jim Sparks considers TCF’s recommendations prior to the conclusion  of this week.  You can make a difference.” ~ R.T.

“…appropriate management horse population of 90 to 120 wild horses…was based on a 2007 range evaluation, which the BLM was supposed to recalculate within five years…”

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

story by BRETT FRENCH of the Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – Ordered by a district court judge to re-evaluate the desired wild horse population in the Pryor Mountains, the Bureau of Land Management has come out with the same number as before – a maximum of 90 to 120 adult horses.

“We looked at our monitoring data and we don’t need to change our management level,” said Jim Sparks, Billings Field Office manager for BLM.

In a July 29, 2016, ruling, U.S. District Judge Susan Watters told the BLM it had used outdated information when it decided to remove wild horses in 2015 as part of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range population management plan.

Mr. James Sparks
BLM Field Manager
5001 Southgate Drive
Billings, MT 59101

Dear Jim;

Thanks for allowing us to comment on the review of AML for the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. On behalf of the Cloud Foundation we submit the following suggestions, ideas, and documentation.

While we do not challenge your monitoring data, we would like to point out why we believe the AML should be increased.

Administrative Pasture Additions

Acreage has been restored for wild horses with the removal of the North Administrative Pasture fence and, as we understand it, additional fencing and clean up is planned for the South Administrative Pasture in 2017. The total AUMs for the area are 135.6 or 11 horses, which would take the high AML to 131.

Experts familiar with the Pryor herd would likely agree with us that 131 is still well below the advisable minimum population size to maintain genetic variability.

Genetic Concerns

  1. Gus Cothran, PhD, in his most recent (2013) genetic report concludes: “The best way to maintain current levels (of genetic variability) would be to increase population size if range conditions allow.” At the time he wrote the report, the Pryor herd contained over 150 animals.

Frances Singer, PhD, in his Habitat Suitability Study wrote: Wild horses are not prone to rapid disease die-offs. However, minimum goals for genetic viability in the Pryor Mountain wild horses ( Ne > 50) require that at least 160 animals be present on the range (Singer et al. 2000). Since the Ne > 50 goal is set for the breeding of domestic animals, and since the vagaries of drought, severe winters, predation, and other stochastic events cause stress in wild animals, larger goals for Ne (e.g. Ne > 100) for wild horses are even more desirable (USDI, BLM 1999; Gross 2000).”

In his article, A Demographic Analysis, Group Dynamics, and Genetic Effective number in the PMWHR 1992-1997, Singer wrote that “. . .any management scenario that includes a decrease in population size will decrease total Ne, and thus increase the predicted rate of loss of genetic variability.”

Dr Singer studied the Pryor herd in depth for more than a decade and suggested a herd of over 200 was advisable and recommended range expansion. Dr. Cothran has been analyzing the genetics of the PMWHR for 25 years.

Expansion Candidates

Limitations on acreage for the Pryor herd remain a threat to the existence of a healthy, thriving population. With this in mind we suggest the following expansion possibilities:

The Sorenson Extension.

The Sorenson Extension area bordering the north end of the existing horse range in the Dryhead area is managed by the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area-Park Service. In the early 1990s a Memo of Understanding (MOU) existed between the BLM and the Bighorn National Recreation Area. The wild horses were allowed to graze in this 1,600 acre area containing the highest quality forage in the Dryhead The MOU was cancelled shortly before I arrived in early 1994 to begin documenting the herd for PBS.

The reestablishment of a MOU between the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and the BLM would allow the horses to once again use this area which would allow for an increase in the AML.

The current manager of the BCNRA rejected an idea to reinstate the MOU a year ago. However, the request came from TCF and the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center not the BLM. A request from BLM would likely carry more weight.

Also, the current head of the BCNRA is leaving shortly and a new person might be more amenable. We do not know why the MOU was cancelled back in the early 1990s, but it is likely that the horses were not so carefully managed then. That was certainly my personal experience.

Demi-John Flat (Pasture)

In the early 1970s Ron Hall, wildlife biologist for the BLM, wrote the first extensive report on the Pryor Wild Horse Range and included a recommendation on expansion areas based on historic horse use. Hall writes: “Expansion of the existing boundaries of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range would be returning wild horses to areas of historic use. Expansion is compatible with PL 92-195 and is also a sound management procedure.”

Hall goes on to say: “Wild horses have occupied all of the Pryor Mountain Complex in the past. Man has now eliminated the horses on most of these areas.

Expansion of habitat could occur if the barriers to movement of the horses were eliminated. The barriers to movement into additional areas are fences, private land and natural barriers. (emphasis added) PL 92-195 states that expansion of horse herds into areas not occupied by wild horses on December 15, 1971, would not be considered. Areas considered below probably had wild-free roaming horses on them on the above mentioned date.”

Hall recommended numerous areas for legal expansion. The fifth area recommended was “Area 5-BLM-Frail Lands and Demijohn Pasture-Acreage 7657. C.C. 33 HU’s.” He goes on to write: “These areas have been used in the past by wild horses. It is not known for sure whether wild horses on this land on December 15, 1971.

Excellent forage conditions exist on the Demi-John Pasture. The frail lands provide a smaller quantity of forage. Crooked Creek Canyon essentially prevents movement of horses from the present horse range into the above areas. Trails could be contsructed at two points to provide access for horses to the enter this area. . . .An additional advantage of having horses on this area is increasing their viewability. Tourists driving down Crooked Creek would be able to view wild horses.”

We recently sent an informal suggestion to you on building a bridge over Crooked Creek. We agree with Ron Hall, Demi-John has high quality, abundant forage. The acreage is BLM land so there is no conflict with other agencies and I have not seen cattle in that specific area for decades.

Demi-John might also take the viewing pressure off the herd that lives in the higher elevations in summer. Demi-John can be accessed by non 4 wheel drive vehicles and has beautiful views looking east toward Burnt Timber Ridge, Sykes Ridge, and beyond to the Bighorn Mountains. It would be a great area for a roadside, interpretive area to educate people about this unique herd. I would also be an opportunity to underscore the rules of the range regarding off road use in the PMWHR, not disturbing he natural behavior of the wild horses and of course not to feed any of the wildlife. If fire bans are in place, it would be a good way to inform the public about this or any other special regulations.

­USFS Lands north of existing boundary fence

As you know TCF has submitted a plan to the Custer National Forest for a seasonal opening of the gates into the Custer National Forest atop the mountain. The 2 mile long fence currently prevents the horses from migrating into the CNF in late summer and fall. CNF has not responded to this proposal. TCF and others who value the Pryor Wild Horse Herd thank BLM for your support of this plan.

The Intangibles:

Philip Sponenberg, renowned color geneticist, acknowledges the importance of the PMWHR, and identifies the herd as a Spanish Colonial Herd because of links to the horses of the Conquest. Some of the closest living relatives of the Pryor horses are the Puerto Rican Paso Finos. This seems logical as the Conquistadors started breeding farms in the Caribbean, raising horses for the conquest of Mexico and South America. It is remarkable that we have these living reminders of events that took place nearly 500 years ago.

I remember standing with Phil atop the mountain years ago. He was talking about the remarkable primitive colors—the striped up duns and grullos below us in Mustang Valley. About that time, a young bachelor stallion raced from the snow fed waterhole and floated by. I asked Phil what color he called the young stallion and he said, I thought rather fondly, “Palomino.”

For these esteemed scientists, millions of people around the world, and those of us lucky enough to visit the Pryor mustangs on a regular basis, this historic herd holds a special place in our hearts and they deserve to safely live on in their mountain stronghold.

I know you share our feelings for them and will do all you can to make sure they have what they need to persist into the future.

If you would like to discuss some of the suggestions we have made to increase the AML and allow the population to remain at roughly the numbers they are now, don’t hesitate to call or email. Thanks again.


Ginger Kathrens
Executive Director
The Cloud Foundation, Inc.

16 replies »

  1. “Of course, anything from the BLM directly is suspect from the git-go but from the mainstream media we expect better (even though the past election bias coverage should have sent the public screaming to the hills)…”

    That’s for sure. It was mention last night ‘what the BLM did to Cloud’. What was it? The mainstream media doesn’t even seem to be able to edit or proofread anymore either – I hope these aren’t representative of the ‘well educated progressives’! 😉


  2. 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.”

    Liked by 2 people


    Loss of foals from Pryor Mountain wild horse herd blamed on mountain lions
    Aug 11, 2004
    BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff

    Mountain lions are being blamed for playing a “significant role” in the deaths of 22 of 28 foals born to the Pryor Mountain wild horse herd in May.
    The loss of the foals has forced BLM to alter its birth control plans for the herd out of concern for the horses’ genetic viability. Five yearling and three 2-year-old mares will be allowed to conceive this year. But seven mares 14 and older and one 2-year-old filly will still receive birth control injections. Birthing is hard on older mares, and the younger mare is in poor condition.


  4. MONTANA/BLM notice of land transfer

    The proposal action is to transfer lands valuing $4.1 million from the pool of approximately 16,000 acres of federal surface/federal minerals identified in the State’s indemnity selection application dated December 2, 2015. The parcels of land are located in 3 BLM field offices and seven counties in Montana

    For Immediate Release – October 17, 2016
    Contact: Al Nash, 406-896-5290,
    BLM seeks public comment on state indemnity selection project

    (BILLINGS, Mont.) -The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public input on a proposal to transfer certain lands to the State of Montana to satisfy the obligation made by Congress to the State of Montana under its Enabling Act of 1889. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) filed a State Indemnity Selection application with BLM in December 2015. Lands identified in the State’s application total approximately 16,000 acres located in Chouteau, Custer, Fallon, Hill, Prairie, Richland, and Yellowstone counties. It is not expected that the total acreage will be needed in order to fulfill the obligation to the State of Montana and complete the project. The lands are administered by the BLM’s Billings, Havre, and Miles City Field Offices.

    Open house meetings to share information with the public will be hosted by the BLM and the DNRC at the following locations:

    November 10, 2016, 5-7 p.m.
    BLM Billings Field Office
    Main Conference Room
    5001 Southgate Drive
    Billings, Montana 59101

    November 9, 2016, 5-7 p.m.
    BLM Miles City Field Office
    Main Conference Room
    111 Garryowen Road
    Miles City, Montana 59301

    November 16, 2016, 4-6 p.m.
    BLM Havre Field Office
    Main Conference Room
    3990 Highway 2 West
    Havre, Montana 59501


    • There’s are lot of people who read but don’t comment and you never know who might find any information valuable. That is, after all. what it’s all about, especially at this point in time.


    • I feel confident that SFTHH Readers are discerning enough to decide for themselves what it relevant.
      As for providing information, the maps are readily available on the website and you can easily access them.
      I believe that the transfer of Public Lands valued at $4.1 Million is relevant to just about anyone who loves Wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Does anyone have the correct email address for us to send our public comment letters in for this? I do not see it in the e-planning documents. Thanks.


  6. It looks as though there’s been a merger between BLM and Google
    When you go to the BLM Directory and try to pull up the link (Email:
    you end up at the “Create a Google Account” page.

    BLM Montana/Dakotas Directory and try to pull up the
    Billings Field Office
    5001 Southgate Drive
    Billings, MT 59101
    Main Phone: 406-896-5013


  7. VERY Strange…if you try to access links on the directory from the BLM website, you end up at Google, BUT when you post the same link on R.T.’s site, you get an actual email address.
    PERHAPS BLM will get that corrected as soon as possible


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.