Deal may not save Fish Springs herd | RecordCourier.com

Deal may not save Fish Springs herd

Wild horses of the Pine Nuts enjoy the open range.
Sarah Drinkwine

IF YOU GO

What: Fish Springs Wild Horse meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: The Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department

An agreement between the federal government and a group trying to preserve the Fish Springs wild horses could wind up being a box canyon that leads to their eventual round-up.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates are scheduled to meet with residents 6:30 p.m. today at the Fish Springs Firehouse on a two-year memorandum of understanding.

The first goal listed in the agreement is to improve range health with 40-60 percent use by both horses and permitted livestock, according to a copy of the memorandum obtained by The Record-Courier from the Bureau of Land Management.

Under the current Pine Nut Herd Management Area Plan, the BLM only wants to manage 11-26 horses, but that could be re-evaluated based on success of the agreement.

“In order for BLM to convert Fish Springs back to an HMA, there will need to be adequate water, forage, space and cover present on public lands, or private lands with written agreement from the landowner, to support a self-sustaining population,” the agreement said.

Part of that process is monitoring the health of rangelands with moderate use by wild horses and livestock. The 40-60 percent level only applies for the term of the agreement. Under the Bi-State Sage Grouse plan, use is limited to 35 percent in the identified sage-grouse habitat. Those thresholds would have to be met to renew the agreement.

The number of horses should be reduced to 58 within two years, down from the estimated 78 counted in 2018.

While the carrot is addition of the Fish Springs Area into the herd management area, the stick is that the BLM would remove horses from Fish Springs, which lies outside the area, should advocates not meet their goal.

“BLM acknowledges that PNWHA does not support removal of the Fish Springs horses,” the agreement says.

Should the goals be met, the southern Pine Nuts would be added back into the Pine Nut Mountain Herd Management Area.

One of the reasons that’s important is because BLM’s policy is not to manage horses outside of designated areas. While horses have roamed the Pine Nuts for decades, the area’s boundaries stop in far northern Douglas County.

According to background included in the agreement, the BLM has removed about 70 nuisance and injured horses from the Fish Springs area since 2006. Horses have been removed because of residents’ complaints, which increased in late 2018.

The bureau has been rounding up horses in the rest of the Pine Nut Mountain herd management area since February with the goal of removing 575 horses from the population of about 775.

Concerns about horses leaving the boundaries of the management area in search of food and water prompted the roundups, according to the BLM.

In December 2017, the Bureau of Land Management announced a 10-year plan that included rounding up horses, using contraceptives to control their population and working on the Pine Nut Mountains habitat.

Douglas County was where the program was piloted that doses mares with a contraceptive designed to reduce their productivity.

The advocates have been working for five years to try and keep the population of horses from increasing.