Equine Rescue

800 wild mustangs cross northwest Colorado wildfire burn area to reach emergency watering tanks

By as published in/on the Denver Post

Drought, fire damage means more horses will die this winter, group says

Sandwash Basin Horses – photo by Carol Walker

A herd of 800 wild mustangs have been able to cross burned areas of the Boone Draw wildfire to access water tanks set up for them, but advocates worry that the fire consumed grass in an area already suffering from a severe drought.

The horses live on a sage brush and grass plateau in northwest Colorado in the Sandwash Basin Wild Herd Management area on Bureau of Land Management land.

The fire burned 202 acres of the 150,000-acre Sandwash Basin area, but it did burn around the Two Bar Spring, where the wild horses get water, said Hunter Seim, assistant field manager of the BLM’s Little Snake field office.

“The horses are coming and going to the burn area, getting the water they need,” said Maribeth Pecotte, fire spokeswoman. “The horses are pretty mobile. When the fire is coming, they get out of the path pretty fast.”

Seim said he has not heard of any of the horses being burned or killed by the 8,683-acre wildfire about 50 miles west of Craig.

Since July, Wildhorse Warriors has been trucking 7,000 gallons of water daily to Two Bar Spring after the spring dried up during the ongoing severe drought, said group co-founder Cindy Wright.

Wildhorse Warriors has been barred from driving to the spring to replenish the water supply since the Boone Draw wildfire ignited on Thursday, Wright said.

“Any other stress is not going to be good because of the drought,” said Aletha Dove, co-founder of Wildhorse Warriors. “It’s going to make it a harder winter.”

Pocotte said the wild horse management area ideally supports 350 wild horses, but there are about 800 mustangs in the protected area. Dove said the grasslands have been depleted because of the drought and horses have begun eating plants they normally don’t eat until winter. The drought coupled with the fire means there will be less food for the herd this winter, she said.

35 replies »

  1. This from Wild Horse Warriors of Sand Wash Basin: “As we are finding most of the information is correct in interviews, but most of them get a few facts not exactly right. This is minor, but there are only some days that we haul 7000 gallons most days are 3500, then about three times a month we haul 7000 and sometimes more to replenish the big 15,000 gallon tank.
    We didn’t say will die we said might die, due to the drought.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. And for the last few weeks Wild Horse Warriors has been doing a tremendous job making sure the wild horses in this herd have had water, through the worst drought and highest temperatures that I can remember in this area. However, the BLM should be paying for this water and should be using its paid staff to deliver it. This is their responsibility – our taxpayer dollars should be used to protect and manage our wild horses on the range where they belong.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s about time, someone is bringing this to the forfront. The Sand Wash Advocates have gone above and beyond for the survival of those horses, all on donations.

      The silence from the BLM is deafening.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. So I’m guessing that BLM will wait till the horses need the winter grazing to “notice” theres a problem? Obviously if the herd has become 800 rather than 350 – other horses are traveling to the area to drink! Yeah, BLM silence!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • There have not been other horses traveling to the area actually. The last roundup with a helicopter in this area was 2008. In 2016 they released an EA saying they would remove 50 per year via bait trapping and do PZP on the mares. However in 2017 and 2018 they did not remove any horses, so the population figure of approximately 800 is correct. PZP was not given to enough mares at the correct time of the year to control the population. The BLM prefers the strategy of using a helicopter and removing horses to control the population.

      Liked by 1 person

    • BLM reported the Sand Wash Basin herd’s population at 599 as of March 1 of this year. If the population were now 800, that would mean a herd-growth rate of 34%, which is nearly 17 times the norm. So, it is probable, as you say, that wild horses are traveling to the area as part of the normal seasonal migration patterns to access water. BLM-Wyoming has a study, now in progress, tracking the movement of wild horses across herd areas and across the state line with Colorado.

      The 2016 environmental assessment (EA) noted that, although the boundaries of the HMA are fenced, there are numerous gates that are left open by permittees and by the many recreational visitors. Further, there is an allotment where domestic horses are grazed near the southern edge of the HMA, and the EA admitted that such tame horses could be gaining access. Also, to the south of the HMA — but not mentioned in the EA — are the Piceance and East Douglas HMAs, whose wild horses could also be roaming into the Sand Wash HMA. Still further, the EA reported that the Sand Wash Basin wild horses tend to gravitate toward the northern part of the HMA, not far from which, just across the line in Wyoming, are the Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek HMAs. Interestingly, BLM-Wyoming recently claimed that the Salt Wells Creek herd’s population had increased from 29 wild horses to 616 wild horses in 6 months (yes, months), a 2,024% increase. Because that is biologically impossible, a reasonable conclusion is that wild horses are migrating.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I live in NW Colorado so can add a few thoughts. The Sand Wash HMA is not fenced on some of its southern boundary (along the highway) but it is next to impossible to imagine the migration of horses from the Piceance and East Douglas (very small) herds north to the Sand Wash. There are far too many roads, private fences, and oil/gas operations for that to be realistic. The southern part of the Sand Wash is also a well-used legal OHV recreational area with minimal vegetation. Not to mention they have no idea the Sand Wash exists so why go there? North is not a place horses naturally would wander, leaving warmer areas for harsher winters as well. On top of that, once horses leave an HMA they are no longer protected so many would be shot, sadly.

        It’s also worth considering if the situation in the Sand Wash is as dire as some sources claim, why any horses would migrate IN rather than OUT, when there is better forage and water outside the HMA, along with small (and large– see Sombrero Ranch) herds of domestic horses around. It is known horses do migrate in both directions on the WY bordering HMAs, as noted. Sombrero provides the mass Maybell area horse drive in spring bringing their stock off the range to work dude ranches in summer, then are turned out again in winter.

        Per the population in the Sand Wash, there are experts on the ground but using the numbers published here of 599, and Carol’s mention of 100 foals born this year, that comes to just under 700 with NO mortality from any causes, making the 800 number questionable. It is also true some privately owned horses wander in and out of the HMA at times and could be partially inflating the aerial counts.

        The drought situation can be expected to remain a problem for all animals and plants in the Sand Wash, though, and sound management should address these ongoing needs responsibly and responsively.


      • “Salt Wells Creek herd’s population had increased from 29 wild horses to 616 wild horses in 6 months (yes, months), a 2,024% increase.” Considering BLM just about zeroed out the wild horse population from Salt Wells Creek, it’s possible they’re providing “funny” numbers and not to be relied upon.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. In light of the current emergency situation why not drop hay from airplanes in safe area zones. It seems to me to be a NO brainer! If Donald Trump.wants to.spend 7 billion dollars on a damn wall, how about 1 million dollars for hay for one of our last living Western heritages. And the Moran who heads the Interior Dept wastes money on doors and personal items. Put the money where it is needed!

    Liked by 2 people

    • What I have heard is that feeding hay on the HMA is illegal. Of course the BLM could change the rules, but the volunteers cannot just go ahead and do this, they wed permission. Even with water – the BLM said no to allowing Wild Horse Warriors to haul water initially for about 2 weeks when they first requested it, saying the horses “were not in bad enough condition.” Of course anyone who knows anything about horses knows once they are dehydrated it is too late. Thank you to all the people who called the BLM state and local offices in Colorado and offices in DC demanding that the volunteers be allowed to haul water to the horses. I firmly believe had they not we would have seen dozens of dead horses by now with this terrible drought.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I am hoping that they will not allow the sheep on the range this winter and spring. The forage is not in good condition and the sheep would absolutely devastate it. The ideal would be to keep the sheep entirely off the range for at least 5 years. Much of the destruction to the forage in this HMA is due to decades of overgrazing by sheep.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Understood, but I doubt even 5 years is sufficient recovery time from both the cattle and sheep overgrazing which this area endured from the 1800s onwards. The grazing permit holders have in the past voluntarily not filled up their AUMs to little effect, and on occasion have fed their stock within the HMA — not sure if they had permission or not but this is typically illegal as you mentioned.

        It’s also worth mentioning that their may be good regrowth in the burn area that would in fact increase palatable forages, and from some of the photos of the burn the BLM was “burning out” some areas thick with Pinon, Juniper, and Sage, which may favor increased grass productivity if winter and spring bring enough moisture.


      • Well ideally they would retire the grazing leases in the Sand Wash HMA. 5 years would be a bare minimum amount of time to give relief from the overgrazing of the sheep belonging to the leaseholders.
        Yes fire is a great way to regenerate growth but it was only about 200 acres I believe that was burned in the over 140,000 acre HMA. We will find out definite numbers of acres burned in the next few days as they finish fighting the fire and now the volunteers can go back into the area and resume hauling water.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So is there any real effort being made by anyone to retire the grazing leases in the Sand Wash HMA? I have not heard of any, just some voluntary non-use by livestock interests.


  5. The sad thing is – the volunteers are doing more than pulling their weight! I would imagine that if theres any wildlife in the area (other than the horses) they also would be coming to drink.
    Just frosts me reading on & on about the BLM either doing NOTHING or rounding them up. Eagle roundup is still going on – have heard nothing other than WHE regarding the mare who aborted (on the run) & 2 foals that were left on their own on day 4.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There are many fences. There has not been a mass migration to Sand Wash Basin. The volunteers have documented and named all the horses – there are a few outside the HMA but they know who they are. There were 100 foals born last year and 100 and counting this year. The PZP has only been given to less than 100 mares and not often at the correct time of year so you cannot blame the drug for not working. I would say that the 800 number is accurate for the HMA right now. The horses cannot get to Sand Wash from Pisceance or East Douglas and there are fences between Sand Wash and Adobe Town. Believe me I absolutely agree there are many many instances of the BLM’s counts being wildly and implausible accurate when they do their statistical double count mumbo jumbo but in this herd whose members have been carefully documented since 2009 all the horses counted are an actual direct count.


      • So we have to assume – the next BLM roundup probably will be here! The excuse will be the “population boom”! It certainly makes very clear exactly what the BLM’s so-called management IS! And apparently the Forest Service is not so different!


        Heber Wild Horse Management Plan will be drafted by people who have no interest in providing management for the health or protection of the wild horses. The only real advocate for the horses was just fired. Fired from a working group??

        They fired her through a voicemail…how cowardly is that?!?!
        Click here to listen

        This comes just days after Mary Hauser, with the help of her organization had submitted her thoughts on the recommendations for the first Heber wild horse management plan in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And in these conditions animals do not go far from that water source. I was going to mention that anyone who works with animals will in a very short time know every animal by heart, so if there are strange horses coming into that HMA, they would be noticed immediately, just as ones that do not show up for a few days.

        Liked by 2 people

      • It is hard to know just what BLM’s plans for Sand Wash Basin are because as usual they are not sharing them. ironically they removed 1444 wild horses from the Red Desert Complex 100 miles to the north in Wyoming where the forage and water were lush and abundant and the horses that were removed all had a body score of 5 or 6, 6 being overweight! This was an absolutely needless roundup, done to appease the livestock permittees. This was not done because of poor range conditions or lack of water.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Video included in this article

    A tale of water and fire: Volunteers begin hauling water to horses in drought-stricken herd management area

    Sasha Nelson
    July 9, 2018

    Two recent visitors to the basin — Michael Huber and his wife, Carole — have become volunteers for Wild Horse Warriors.
    They first made the drive – a 400-mile round-trip from their home in Aurora, Memorial Day weekend, and Michael Huber has returned for six of the past eight weeks.
    “The basin, for us, is just a place of magic,” Michael Huber said.
    A new connection to the place and a deep belief in the power to create positive change now motivate the Hubers to “spread the word about the Wild Horse Warriors water project,” he said. “It’s a miserable place. It’s dry. There is hardly any water. There are all these beautiful creatures. They can’t leave. They can’t travel to find water or vegetation. That hit us pretty hard, what these animals are going through.”
    During trips to the basin, Michael Huber has lent his muscle to the work of improving spring fed water troughs. On his most recent trip to the basin, July 7, he was credited with helping suppress a fire.
    “The strange thing for me is that several things led up to this,” he said. “I filled the fire extinguisher with water — that’s not something I ever do — and something told me to go up there.”
    On the ridge, he found a small brush fire burning through grass and sagebrush. After, calling in his location, he emptied both water and dry chemical fire extinguishers and was tackling spot fires with his shovel in winds gusting 20 to 25 miles an hour when BLM wildlands firefighters arrived.


    Liked by 3 people

    • It is not a miserable place. It is a wild and beautiful and vast place, almost 155,000 acres, and there are the horses and pronghorn and elk and rabbits and deer and coyotes and little creatures. There is Lookout Mountain and Monument Hill and sagebrush and grass and rabbit brush. Yes it is dry this year, dryer than I have ever seen it but for the most part all the animals there are thriving. There are areas where there is water right now that is not being hauled in. This area is worth preserving, the horses are worth fighting to save. The Grazing leases should all be retired. The HMA should be fenced in a 10 mile stretch on 318 so the horses cannot get onto the Hwy and be killed. Wild Horse Warriors is working on that. But never say it is a miserable place especially not on one visit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He might have been referring to the drought when he used the word “miserable”.
        He did say it was a Magic place for him and his wife.
        People who are not familiar with the high desert don’t always understand.
        Someone from one of the eastern states could easily think that there is nothing for horses to eat out there when actually it is a virtual banquet for a wild horse or burro.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This just in from Wild Horse Warriors of Sand Wash Basin – please share:

    Yesterday we learned that the water source we had been purchasing water from could no longer provide us water .
    Bethell was able to find another source, but the water situation is very bad.
    It will cost us at least 150 per load more because of the increase in the cost of the water and hauling time.
    Our funds are being depleted very fast. We are currently spending $3600 per week to haul water. That amount is going to jump to over $4,000, per week.
    We currently have enough funds for roughly two maybe three more weeks.
    Please spread the message and continue your donations and prayers.

    Below is our donation link and above is a link to the story about the call on the Yampa River


  8. Two Reader Comments under this article.
    I’m sure the people out there know more than the rest of us as to what works and what doesn’t, but I’ll post the comments here.

    Reader Comment

    Longer distance to haul, but water available cheaply and easily from City of Craig.

    I think it is great to support these horses with the desperately needed water, my question is, ‘is there not a water pump located in the Yampa or Green river that would be closer to haul water from’?
    These horses do not need potable water, I would think a pump with a dispensing riser either drawing water directly from the river or from a clarification sump would be adequate, as well as much closer, and much cheaper.


    • There is a “call” on the Yampa river right now for the first time in history. It is over-appropriated and downstream users in other states have priority water rights so properties and ditches are being cut off the past week. It is not legal or realistic to just steal someone else’s water from any rivers.

      Since thousands of sheep are due there around Nov. 1, I wonder what they will drink? If there is water made available for them somehow it should also include water for the wild horses. Maybe the grazing permit fees could be diverted to pay for having water hauled in. At $1.41 for 5 sheep x 5,000 sheep that comes to around $1400, which could cover some of the increased costs for all who need it.


  9. This was 2014


    “We are very excited about our entry into this emerging liquids-rich resource play,” stated Steve Mueller, President and Chief Executive Officer of Southwestern Energy. “This acreage position covers a substantial area in the Sand Wash Basin – over 50 miles across and over 20 miles wide – and provides the opportunity for us to leverage our operational strengths into a new large, scalable project.
    Upon closing, we expect that we could begin drilling operations as early as June of this year.”

    Click to access niobrarapressrelease.pdf


    • Louie, there are a few O & G wells but the activity really slowed down here in recent years, some of the areas didn’t pan out and some were too expensive to retrieve, same old story in the West. The resources are there but not always profitable to extract. Some of the smaller companies have sold out to larger ones or just moved on to easier pickings, but there are of course always some new leases coming up for exploration. It is shocking how many millions of gallons of water are contaminated in most fracking practices, and in desert areas especially, combined with extended drought, this is sheer folly and a recipe for Civil War when people run out of drinking water. Others have said it here but the wild horses and other wildlife are the canaries in our national “coal” mine.


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