- Custer Gallatin National Forest
- Secretary of Agriculture Tom VilsackSecretary of Agriculture
- Mary EricksonSupervisor of Forests, Custer Gallatin National Forest
- Tom TidwellChief of Staff Forest Service
- Pam GardnerDeputy Forest Supervisor, Custer Gallatin National Forest
Pryor Wild Horses Need Your Help - Open the gates to the Forest Service Land
Please sign this petition to open the gates to the Forest Service Land on top of Pryor Mountain, so the Pryor Wild Horse Herd can have ample grazing for the coming Winters. The Cloud Foundation has proposed this pilot program to the Custer National Forest in partnership with the Billings Field Office of BLM and private organizations like the Cloud Foundation and the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang --- the gates atop East Pryor Mountain would be opened on August 1st each year until the weather/snow pushes the horses back down the mountain. This will benefit the horses and the range land of the national forest.
The Custer National Forest constructed a two mile-long buck and pole fence adjacent to BLM land and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range atop East Pryor Mountain in the fall of 2011. The fence prevents horses that seasonally graze in the upland meadows from grazing on the Custer Forest lands to the NW of the fence.
Previous to the construction of the buck and pole fence, a wooden fence near the location of the current fence had been constructed but the horses and the weather caused it to be inadequate to contain the bands that used the FS lands primarily from the designated range upper boundary to the Dryhead Overlook and Tony Island.
Well-beaten horse trails have been present for decades indicating the historic use of FS lands by wild horses as reported by BLM employee Ron Hall in the early 1970s. Before the buck and pole fence was erected the majority of the Tillett Ridge and Sykes Ridge Bands utilized the FS land atop the mountain. Most returned to the designated range to drink at the spring fed waterhole near the boundary fence. Approximately 100 horses utilized the area in this way since 1994 when we began documenting the herd for various film projects.
The Proposal: The Cloud Foundation propose that the two gates in the current buck and pole fence be opened on August 1 to allow for seasonal grazing by that portion of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd that graze the upland area of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Those horses that choose to utilize the forage beyond the fence would be contained by a barbed wire fence and cattle guard beyond the Dryhead Overlook. With the exception of a few trespass cattle, the area has had no grazing since the construction of the fence.
Snow pushes the horses naturally off the mountaintop and back down onto Tillett and Sykes Ridges typically in November or early December, at which time the gates can be closed.
Need: The idea of providing the wild horses additional forage after the growing season was presented to the Billings BLM and they indicated that a seasonal opening would be “good for the wild horses.“
Wild horses that utilize the high meadows fatten up on upland grasses and forbs. Restricting their access to the FS lands in question has resulted in lower horse body weights going into winter. In spring, some horses are in a dangerously depleted state or are unable to survive the winter.
It is the belief of professional range conservationists that targeted, seasonal grazing as proposed will improve wildlife habitat, expand plant diversity, and protect against a catastrophic fire in the Custer National Forest lands in the area in question. A lightening caused fire was quickly extinguished several years ago but after 5 years of no grazing there is a build up of dead vegetation.
Extensive research was conducted in the 1990s on genetic variability, habitat suitability, range conditions, etc. (Managers’ Summary-Ecological Studies of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range 1992-1997. USGS/BLM/National Park Service/Montana Depatrment of fish, Wildlife and Parks) Many of the conclusions were drawn based on the measurements both inside site specific exclosures, including an exclosure in the FS area in question about a quarter of a mile northwest of the current buck and pole fence.
Plants inside and outside the exclosures within the PMWHR and in the Custer NF were analyzed (Gearhardt page 68.) Gearhardt states :”Of the 12 vegetation variables analyzed, none showed significant differences inside and outside of permanent exclosures .”
On Page 128 Coughenour state in his Ecosystem Modeling that: “Horse condition was also slightly lower then USFS access was disallowed.” The model predicts what we are currently seeing as far as lower body scores.
Grazing in the late summer and early fall is not detrimental to the range as the majority of plants have completed their growing season and, for the most part, their seeds have been set. Fahnestock and Detling state on page 54 of the Manager’s Summary the growing season in the uplands is “ca. April to August.”
Because the plants in the Custer National Forest co-evolved with large grazers it stands to reason, some grazing is beneficial and even essential for the health of these plant communities and will help to mitigate the damage from fire.
Wild horse viewing is an economic driver for local economies in the Lovell area in Wyoming and beneficial as well to businesses in Billings, Bridger, Cowley, and other small communities in the area. The Lovell Chamber of Commerce has indicated that wild horses are the number one tourist attraction in the area. The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has told us that over 60% of the people who come in the visitor center are looking for wild horses.
Allowing for seasonal access of wild horse bands can only increase visitation and will allow people who do not have 4 wheel drive or ORVs to see the Pryor mustangs on these beautiful upland pastures. Crooked Creek and Sage Creek Roads are passable by most vehicles and the meadows in question below the Dryhead Overlook provide unparalleled viewing of the wild horses—an opportunity no longer available to the public. It is logical to assume that tourist activity would increase in late summer and fall if the area in question is made available for wild horse viewing.
- Custer Gallatin National Forest
- Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
- Supervisor of Forests, Custer Gallatin National Forest
- Chief of Staff Forest Service
- Deputy Forest Supervisor, Custer Gallatin National Forest
Open the gates to the Forest Service for the Pryor Wild Horses
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