The wild horses of the federally managed Spring Creek Basin herd in Disappointment Valley are blissfully unaware of the government shutdown, and have not been impacted, according to a volunteer.
“They are wild after all, and are doing fine grazing on their natural range,” said TJ Holmes, a longtime volunteer who helps manage the herd with the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM Tres Rios District manages the herd under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. They survive on their own within a designated herd management area, and population is kept between 35 and 65 horses.
But local BLM support staff, including a range specialist, are off-duty while the shutdown continues into its fifth week.
Oversight of the herd is ongoing with the help of volunteers from local horse advocacy groups who have long partnered with the BLM on herd management and range improvements, Holmes said.
The horses are self-sufficient and do not require stalls or hay drops, she said. They have access to natural forage and water sources within their 22,000-acre herd management area.
“They look good. The range is covered in about 2 inches of snow,” said Holmes, who resides at a nearby ranch and regularly monitors them.
No projects have been delayed in regards to their management, she said, because none are scheduled during winter.
The Spring Creek Basin population of about 60 horses is managed by a fertility control method delivered with specialized darts in March or April. If the shutdown continues into spring, carryover funding is expected to be available for 2019 darting season to happen, Holmes said.
She administers the fertility control as a volunteer, typically darting about 20 mares each year.
“We have a great partnership with the BLM, and we hope the shutdown does not drag out any longer for their sakes,” Holmes said. “We are keeping it going on a volunteer basis.”
In September, the BLM decided that bait trapping is the favored procedure if wild horses need to be removed from the Spring Creek Basin herd to keep it within population limits. No roundups are planned for the immediate future.
Wild horse numbers are managed to maintain genetic diversity and a healthy grazing range, according to a BLM assessment says. The herd’s size is adjusted, depending on the range’s condition, to promote less competition for forage and water resources.
Domestic grazing is not allowed in the herd management area, but the wild horses share the natural forage and water sources with deer and elk.
The partial government shutdown impacts about 800,000 federal workers, with many placed on furlough, including local BLM and Forest Service agencies. It began Dec. 22 and is centered on a budget dispute between Congress and President Donald Trump, who is requesting $5 billion to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.