While we can be thankful that Rich and Jana Wilson of the Deerwood Ranch seem to be kind, to genuinely like the horses on their private property, and to make an effort to give many tours to visitors – and don’t have $1,200 a night tipis on their property, like the “ranching family” in Wells, NV (AKA Madeleine Pickens), don’t forget that these “eco-sanctuaries” mean the BLM has placed wild horses on PRIVATE PROPERTY instead of leaving the wild horses on their federally protected public lands. – Debbie
SOURCE: CASPER STAR-TRIBUNE
Rancher offers sanctuary to wild horses
(Leah Millis/Casper Star-Tribune)
Rich Wilson gives a wild horse a scratch while one of his dogs watches from the drivers seat of his UTV on July 10 at the Deerwood Ranch outside of Laramie. The ranch is the first wild horse ecosanctuary on private land and it was started by the BLM last October. Currently there are 228 horses living on the ranch of 4,700 acres. Aside from caring for the horses, the Wilsons also offer tours to people from the public five days a week.
By KYLE ROERINK Casper Star-Tribune
Rich Wilson loves to personify animal behavior.
He pointed to a band of wild horses chewing on grass at the Deerwood Ranch, his family-owned plot of bucolic pastures, streams and mountains that runs for 4,700 acres in Centennial.
“They’re having coffee,” he said. “They’re probably saying to each other, ‘We had the best grass lunch near the mountain yesterday. Let’s go again today.’”
Wilson drove around his ranch on a four-wheeler Wednesday with an immovable smile. He parked his off-road vehicle 30 yards away from where the horses were grazing. Within seconds they were paying him a visit.
He spotted Curly, a horse whose dreadlocked mane weaved around his neck.
Then he spotted Slingshot, a gelding whose brown hair draws the shape of the toy on his white face.
After that there were Mutt and Jeff.
“They haven’t been apart since they came here, and they probably won’t separate until they die,” he said.
The BLM warned Wilson and his wife, Jana, to not get too close to the animals. But human nature is a formidable opponent.
“We sit out there for hours and just watch them,” she said.
There were grunts, snorts and neighs echoing in the early morning. The horses seemed just as excited as Wilson to bid each other a good day.
Wilson stuck out his hand and put his index finger in a horse’s mouth.
“Let me see your smile,” he said to the feral animal. In “Mr. Ed” fashion, the brawny gelding showed off his choppers.
The Bureau of Land Management designated the Deerwood Ranch the nation’s first ecosanctuary for wild horses in October 2012. The BLM brought 228 horses from 16 holding pastures across the state in the agency’s continued effort to mend its wild-horse program. The agency is searching for private landowners to take on the task of caring for the animals at a time when space on federal land is tight and population control is imperative.
There are only male horses at Deerwood Ranch. A recent study of the nation’s wild horse population by the National Academy of Sciences highlighted the need to invest in widespread fertility control and called for letting nature cull the growing populations that are now housed in BLM holding pastures around the country.
Members of Congress have expressed concern for the population and recently wrote Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter asking her to help fix the nation’s wild-horse program.
The Wilson family may be the first to house a population of the wild geldings, but they know they won’t be the last.
The BLM is working with a ranching family in Wells, Nevada, to house its second wild-horse ecosanctuary in the nation and has a program, “Save America’s Mustangs,” to help control the problem.
The BLM asked the Wilsons to do two things as stewards of the horses: grow grass for the equines and offer tours to the public. The hospitality industry is nothing new for the family. They rent out a cabin on their land and own a gift shop, The Country Junction, near their ranch.
Travelers stop by every week to see the horses. People show up in the morning and at dinnertime to see the horses. There are scheduled tours on weekends. But Jana never turns people away. Twenty-five people showed up on July 5 to take a hayride. A family from Massachusetts traveling to Yellowstone National Park stopped at the ranch last week and a couple from Switzerland visited the ranch to see the horses.
“When we go to the pastures to see the horses, the travelers always ask, ‘Can we stay out a little longer?’” Rich said.
The land is a utopia for horses and humans alike. The untamed nature of the animals and the terrain provides a serene throwback to the days when homesteaders and American Indians had control of the land.
There are rocks for the animals to wear down their hooves, mountains to roam in and — at least this year — plenty of water.
The Wilsons aren’t required to do anything else to care for the animals.
The horses don’t want them to do anything else either, Jana said
“During a winter snowstorm we went out and fed them hay,” Jana said. “Only half of them ate it. The others were happy foraging for themselves.”
The agency pays the Wilsons a grazing fee per horse for using the land. More horses could come in the future, but the volatile and unpredictable rainfall in the West makes it tough to foresee if the land can withstand more wild horses.
“Every rancher wishes he had a crystal ball,” Rich said. “Two years ago we were flooding, last year we had no water and this year we are in between. You never can tell.”
Rich said there’s a misconception about what he does because he receives federal money.
“I can’t buy a yacht. I can’t buy alcohol,” he said. “The government makes sure I spend it on what it wants me to spend it on.”
The Wilsons were in the cattle business before getting the horses. They took out the cattle control panels, put in new fence and removed the cattle guards from their land.
They love the new job.
“Every day we learn something new,” Wilson said.
One horse came over to Wilson’s four-wheeler late in the morning. It licked the windshield. Another one went into the vehicle’s bed to sniff one of the family dogs.
The dog jerked and barked. The horse ran away.
“You feel at ease out here,” Wilson said. “But they are wild. You got to keep your guard up.”