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Suit filed to protect world-famous Pryor Mustang Herd

Suit challenges bungled BLM management

To The Desert Independent

August 20, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo – The Bureau of Land Management’s Billings Field Office is being sued over a botched management plan in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

On August 18, The Cloud Foundation filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Montana to challenge the BLM’s recent decision to remove 17 young horses from the Pryor Mountain Herd because it will lead to the extinction of this world-famous wild horse herd in the Pryor Mountains on the Montana-Wyoming border. The Foundation is named for Cloud, a Pryor mustang stallion documented from birth by the Foundation’s Director, filmmaker Ginger Kathrens.

“What they’re planning to do will ruin the genetics of this herd beyond repair,” said Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation and Humane Advocate on the BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board. “We raised these issues during the comment period, and we met with the BLM field office to communicate the genetic significance of what they were proposing to do, all to no avail. This lawsuit is our only recourse to prevent an action we believe will destroy the herd.”

The Billings Field Office has proposed a population reduction of over ten percent for the Pryor herd. A removal of this size will lower the herd’s numbers to well below 150 adult animals, which is the number that foremost equine geneticist Dr. Gus Cothran has cited as necessary to maintain genetic viability. In his 2013 report to BLM Cothran suggested that the genetic health of the Pryor Herd was already in decline and that the Herd needs to be increased “if the range will support it.” Although BLM has added water guzzlers to spread the use of the horses, it has failed to do other range improvements such as reseeding as called for in the Herd Management Area Plan of 2009.

In addition, the office has decided it will leave only one offspring on the mountain per wild mare, meaning any unexpected deaths caused by drought, predation, or other causes could completely wipe out genetic lines.

“This management plan is especially troubling because it ignores the significant genetics of the herd.” states Kathrens. The Pryor wild horses are the descendants of Spanish-Colonial horses with genetically significant bloodlines. Even Dr. Cothran has gone as far as to say that the Pryor herd is "… one of the most significant, if not the most significant, wild horse herd in the United States.”

“This herd is truly a national treasure, and beyond its indisputable historic significance it is a strong economic driver for Lovell Wyoming and the surrounding area,” Kathrens said. “Visitors come from all over the world to see horses they know by name and can identify by their unusual colors – primitive looking duns and grullas to sorrels, buckskins and palominos.”

The Lovell-based Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center gives tours to a worldwide and domestic audience and also keeps track of each horse and all the genetic lines in the herd for the BLM. “Personally, I would love to see it higher (appropriate management level),” Nancy Cerroni the center’s director said. The Center recommended a modest removal of 6 horses which would not threaten future survival of the herd. BLM ignored the recommendation which had the support of the Cloud Foundation.

The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area at the base of the mountain now cites wild horse viewing as its number one year-round attraction. It is indisputable that the Pryor Mustangs are a key factor in the economic health of the area.

Long time Editor of the Lovell Chronicle, David Peck states in a recent editorial that “It seems ironic that, on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range the horses are in a somewhat precarious situation due to the same issues our community battled a half century ago.”

BLM’s use of an “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of only 120 horses is also being challenged in the suit by the Cloud Foundation (TCF). “Acreage has been added to the range which should allow for a larger population,” states Lisa Friday, Communications Director for TCF and the adopter of Pryor Mustangs since 2009. “BLM has failed to raise the AML and to fulfill its commitment to improve range conditions through projects outlined in their Herd Management Area plan of 2009.”

The lawsuit challenges that BLM has not adjusted the AML after additional forage was added to the range in 2016. It also challenges the BLM’s decision to remove so many animals as to render the herd genetically unviable.

“We are hopeful that our legal action might protect these unique wild horses not only from a catastrophic management plan, but will lay a foundation to protect them into the future,” Kathrens said. “The Pryor Mountain wild horses and their rugged home are truly a gift to the world.”

The Cloud Foundation is being represented in the lawsuit by Katherine A. Meyer, of the Washington, D.C. public interest firm, Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

The Cloud Foundation is a Colorado-based 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the protection of wild horses and burros living on public lands in the American west.

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