The agency's plan calls for limiting the horses to between 50 and 105 in the Jicarilla territory. Currently, there are an estimated 400 mustangs.
Anthony Madrid, who managed the wild horse program for the Carson National Forest from 2005 until last year and is now the Jicarilla district manager, said the agency agreed with horse advocates to change its roundups, including using helicopters only as a last resort.
Madrid worked with wild horse advocates on using bait-and-trap methods and an equine contraceptive called PZP with the Jicarilla wild horse herds and the Jarita Mesa herd in the El Rito Ranger District.
The agency has hired Dan Elkins, a contractor out of Grants, for the last five years to handle the bait-and-trap gathers. He works with Karen Herman of Sky Mountain Wild Horse Sanctuary to give contraception to select mares before releasing them. Elkins developed a sophisticated method of coaxing the horses into hidden corrals with food or water and using remotely controlled gates to quietly contain them. He's gathered 84 mustangs on Jarita Mesa this year alone with no injuries to the animals and helped reduce that horse herd close to the size the Forest Service considers optimal, said El Rito Ranger District supervisor Diana Trujillo.
In 2009, Elkins gathered 125 mustangs off the Jicarilla and another 73 in 2010, but that wasn't enough to keep up with the number of foals born, and the herds continued to grow.
"Dan has done a great job for us," said Madrid. "But I would say we have not been able to gather enough horses."
Mitigating factors make the gathers slower in the Jicarilla than in Jarita Mesa. During hunting season, the Jicarilla horses are more skittish and moving constantly. The territory is larger. And it takes more time to round up the horses using Elkins' methods.
"Now the population is so high, and gentle methods are not working to keep herd levels under control," the BLM's Donna Hummel said.
Helicopters may be the most effective way to quickly bring the population under control, she said. Madrid agrees that in the short run, it may be the best answer.
But longtime mustang advocates like O'Dowd say Elkins' methods combined with contraception are better, cheaper options to managing the herds than what the BLM has continued to do -- round up horses with helicopters, adopt some of them out and put the rest on pastures where the agency has to continue caring for them. Currently, 30,000 wild horses are in BLM facilities.
The Carson National Forest and the BLM are at a crucial junction. The BLM is running out of room for the mustangs that aren't adopted and recently put out a request for ranchers or other property owners interested in establishing horse sanctuaries.
Madrid said the BLM isn't accepting horses from the Forest Service now because space is limited. He had been sending most of the horses to a prison program in Canon City, Colo., where prisoners trained the mustangs before they were adopted out. That program also is full. And the number of mustang adopters has declined in the last couple of years due to the bad economy and the high cost of feed, he said.
"We're really aiming to find a balance that is a sustainable herd," Madrid said. "I think the bait-and-trap with contraception will work [in the long term]."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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