Monday, February 3, 2014

Photo Report: Still Room for Wild Horses in Wyoming’s Red Desert?

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Range Update by Carol Walker ~ Wild Horse Freedom Federation‘s Director of Field Documentation
“While the rest of us were snuggled up around the fireplace during the in-climate cold weather last week, WHFF’s Carol Walker was out in the Wyoming Desert attempting to make an assessment of the few remaining wild horses left in the Adobe Town HMA.  This is report one with several more to follow documenting not only the activities of the wildlife on the public lands but also what the humans are doing on it and to it…many thanks to WHFF Advisory Board member, James Klienert, for the day spent assisting and filming Carol.  Keep the faith.” ~ R.T.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Music by Opus Moon ~ “Wild Horse Anthology” available on iTunes
It has been almost 10 years since I first visited the wild horses in Adobe Town. Adobe Town Herd Area is almost 500,000 acres, set in a fragile high desert terrain, with dramatic landscape feature and a wilderness study area.  The dramatic buttes and desert badlands are home to wild horses and are part of the winter habitat forpronghorn antelope.
On this late January afternoon, I headed into the herd area on a road I have travelled many times over many years.  It is usually peaceful, with a few white pickup trucks passing me during an afternoon, on their way to check oil and gas pads. Today, huge long trucks pass by me frequently, stirring up so much dust that I cannot see and have to stop to let it settle.  It feels more like being on a highway than driving a remote road in the Red Desert. There must be some new construction project going on and I even saw a huge bus filled with people pass by, a Haliburton sign on the side.
Although in the past I would often see wild horses and signs of wild horses on this road, today I do not see any, which is not surprising given the traffic. Soon I turn a corner and I see hundreds of moving white objects covering the sagebrush – sheep!  Although it is winter in Adobe Town right now, it is very dry, with just a few spots of snow left. I see the sheep and their shepherds moving and wonder what on earth the sheep are eating this time of year.  I usually saw sheep here in April passing through, not in January. As I continue to drive and turn onto another road, I see a lone white stallion grazing next to some black cattle in front of Haystack Mountain.  I have never seen a horse with cattle before – he must be a bachelor stallion who is not picky about the company he keeps.
I drive on following the path of all the monstrous vehicles. I see several road graders and huge tractors working on a trench, and dust is everywhere covering my vehicle.  I finally spot the big tower of the drilling rig, and it looks like a city around it with vehicles and lights and road graders. I see rock formations nearby, and the scene is surreal – this area which had been so quiet and remote during my last trip in the fall was now completely transformed.  I finally turn around, sure I will not see any wild horses here – there is too much activity.
Finally I drive to another area which was under construction last year but peaceful now. I see a band of wild horses with two bachelors watching nearby. The horses see me but also know there is a fence between me and them, and are not concerned about my presence, but watchful. The stallion runs down to greet the bachelors, and they run for a bit, before he returns to his family.  I keep driving, and as the sun is going down, a large family of wild horses is lit up and rimmed by the dying light.  They move across the road and I get out to watch and to photograph them.  The stallion moves them along, head down, ears back, but one youngster is curious about me and keeps watching as they move by. This stallion I see a couple of times a year, and he is older and not concerned about humans, and so he tolerates my presence.  I continue to watch them until the sun dips behind a hill and the light fades away.  It is time to drive back to town.  The temperature drops fast at this time of year.
As I drive back to town, I wonder if the competing interests of oild and gas and livestock grazing will be enough to end the wild horse population in Adobe Town. Currently theAML or Appropriate Management Level for this herd is at 700, but the Resource Management Plan for the area is under revision, and I have heard that the plan is to bring the population of one of the largest remaining herds in this country down to 200 horses.  So my question is, is Adobe Town big enough to include wild horses?
Of course my answer is yes!

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