Sunday, January 1, 2012

Renowned Expert Downer Challenges BLM’s Management of Pryor Mountain Mustangs Citing Extinction Threat

Horseback Magazine

January 1, 2012
By Steven Long, Photo by Terry Fitch
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – Respected naturalist Craig Downer issued a year end challenge to the federal Bureau of Land Management to curtail plans to further deplete the storied herd of Pryor Mountain Mustangs in Montana. The herd is known worldwide through three PBS “Nature” documentaries by filmmaker Ginger Kathrens.
During the last “gather” of the horses In the Priors the Mustangs were stampeded down the mountain by a roaring helicopter. Among them was the band stallion “Cloud” who was featured in all three of Kathrens films. The older stallion Conquistador, also prominent in the PBS specials, was captured and not returned to the herd in an act described by wild horse advocates as “unspeakable cruelty” to an aging horse
Since that time, the National Forest Service, which manages part of the mountain, has put up a fence which denies the horses their ancestral territory and breeding grounds.
Geneticists have stated the likelihood that the herd, categorized as a breed unto itself in breed books, is already genetically depleted to the level of possible extinction. Downer cites the dwindling numbers as an unhealthy action against the herd’s future viability in a New Years Eve letter to Jim Sparks, field manager in the Billing’s Montana field office of the BLM.
The horses are scheduled to a further “gather” this year. Downer wrote:
December 31, 2011
Mr. Jim Sparks, Field Manager
BLM Billings Field Office, 5001 Southgate Drive
Billings, MT 59101
Re: “Pryor EA Comments” re: proposed roundup of Pryor Mtn. wild horses in 2012
Dear Mr. Sparks:
Greetings for 2012!  Hopefully this will be a year to reinstate true fairness for the wild horses of the Pryor Mountain and elsewhere.  I have just reviewed your Environmental Assessment and am very much opposed to your proposed plan to remove thirty mustangs from one to three years of age. There is absolutely no necessity for doing this, and this removal jeopardizes the long-term survival and adaptation of this very small herd in future times. The Pryor herd is presently stable at ca. 150 horses, and these horses are well on their way to filling their niche and self-stabilizing according to the natural world’s criteria that confer long-term survival value, rather than the artificial selection by man.  There were eighteen births balanced by eighteen deaths in this herd in 2011, indicating utterly no need for gathering these returned North American native species. The 92-117 Appropriate Management Level is a non-viable one, even according to the substandard standard BLM generally puts forth, i.e. 150 total population for an effective breeding population (Ne) of 50.  And as a wildlife ecologist well informed on this subject, I consider this level of 150 to be way low in itself, as far as long-term viability. I further consider the taking of this age group as an unwholesome undermining of the herd’s natural vitality, social well-functioning, and resilience in face of both short- and long-term survival challenges (e.g. approaching winter). I wonder just exactly what your motivations are in treating this unique and universally appreciated herd so niggardly!
The Pryor Mountain herd is a world attraction.  It should not be cut to the quick, most of all for the individual horses’ sake. This would accord with the true intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971—an act we should now be celebrating, though actions such as you propose are only causing fair-minded and sensitive people to lament what has happened to this program for national heritage species in the wild.
Please give me a cause for celebration on the 40th anniversary of the act by adopting the NO ACTION alternative and exerting your authority to convince Custer National Forest officials to tear down that abominable fence that illegally keeps the Pryor Mountain mustangs from realizing their traditional, seasonal migrations that are guaranteed by the act, for long-realized by the wild horses both during 1971 and for many generations prior.
As one who has directly observed the Pryor Mountain mustangs and intends to continue doing so as well as to fend for their higher, fairer population numbers and resource provision, I wish you a happy and progressive New Year.
Craig C. Downer, AB, MS, PHD cand.
P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423-0456. Email:

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