SWEETWATER COUNTY — People have until April 30 to submit comments on proposed changes to wild horse management on checkerboard lands in southwest Wyoming that could potentially lead to the removal of about 74% of the wild horses in four herd management areas (HMAs), including all those in the Wild Horse Scenic Loop area.

The Bureau of Land Management High Desert District is in the final days of a public comment period on a draft resource management plan (RMP) amendment and associated draft environmental impact statement for wild horse management in southwest Wyoming’s checkerboard lands.

The draft amendment will update wild horse management strategies within the White Mountain, Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas, encompassing about 2,811,401 acres of a checkerboard pattern of public and private land.

Except for Adobe Town, a majority of land in each of the HMAs is checkerboard, according to Kimberlee Foster, Rock Springs field office manager. White Mountain is 70% checkerboard and 30% BLM land. Great Divide Basin is about 50/50, and Salt Wells Creek is 72% checkerboard and 28% BLM land. In Adobe Town, only 10% of the HMA is checkerboard.

In the draft RMP amendment, four alternatives are being considered, with one labeled as preferred. Under the preferred alternative, all checkerboard land would be removed from the HMAs and would revert to herd area (HA) status and be managed for zero wild horses.

All wild horses would be removed from the White Mountain, Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek herd areas. A portion of Adobe Town would be the only area to include an HMA. It would be managed for 259-536 wild horses. The number of wild horses within the four areas would be reduced by approximately 74%.

The EIS/proposed RMP amendment doesn’t analyze individual gathers or where potentially gathered horses would be held. The BLM would analyze any future gathers separately through a site-specific environmental assessment process to incorporate and consider current needs and conditions, according to Courtney Whiteman, BLM public affairs specialist.

“Under this alternative, there would no longer be any wild horses in the area of the Wild Horse Scenic Loop, a popular place for viewing wild horses,” according to the draft RMP amendment document.

“Members of the public seeking wild horse viewing opportunities would still be able to view wild horses within the planning area; however, there would be fewer wild horses overall, and opportunities to view wild horses would be reduced.”

Another environment impact mentioned is that the removal of wild horses from the planning area is expected to result in positive impacts to wildlife, soils, vegetation, livestock and water resources.

The preferred alternative was selected based on analysis results from the draft environmental impact statement (EIS).

“The BLM reviews the analysis for all alternatives and determines the best course of action for the agency,” according to Kristen Lenhardt, BLM public affairs specialist.

Currently, wild horses in the four southwest Wyoming HMAs are managed under the 1997 Green River RMP and Rawlins 2008 RMP as amended.

In each HMA, the BLM previously decided on an appropriate management level (AML) for the herd based on the number of wild horses that each HMA could support in balance with other species, resources and uses. AMLs now in place include: Adobe Town, 610-800 wild horses; Great Divide Basin, 415-600; Salt Wells Creek, 251-345; and White Mountain, 205-300. In November of 2019, the BLM estimated that there was an excess of 1,995 wild horses in those areas as well as the Little Colorado HMA.

BACKGROUND

Changes in the BLM’s managment of wild horses in southern Wyoming’s checkerboard lands is required due to a 2013 consent decree with the Rock Springs Grazing Association.

In June of 2011, the RSGA filed a lawsuit against the BLM contending that the organization had violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 by failing to remove strayed wild horses from its private land in the HMAs. The consent decree requires that the BLM analyze potential resource management plan (RMP) amendments in order to resolve conflicts.

“Resolving land use conflicts in an area with closely mingled public and private lands can be difficult, especially when managing wild animals accustomed to freely roaming between them. We’re working to comply with the consent decree and resolve the conflict over wild horses’ use of private resources in the most effective way,” BLM High Desert District Manager Tim Wakefield said in a February 2020 press release.

COMMENTS

The comment period on the draft analysis is open until April 30. The 170-page document outlining the draft RMP Amendment and EIS for wild horse management in the Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices is available at https://go.usa.gov/xdDV3.

Public comments are not mean to be a voting process, Foster said.

According to the BLM, an effective comment will reasonably question the accuracy of information in the EIS; reasonably question the adequacy of, methodology for, or assumptions used for the environmental analysis; present new information relevant to the analysis; present reasonable alternatives other than those analyzed in the EIS; and/or cause revisions in one or more of the alternatives.

Comments should only pertain to the draft amendment proposal and EIS and shouldn’t take the form of vague, open-ended questions. They also should not be in favor of or against the proposed action or alternatives without productive reasoning, justification or supporting data.

GOING FORWARD

After the public comment period, the BLM will go through all of the feedback received and prepare a final EIS. The amount of time required will depend on the number of comments received, and the BLM is expecting a lot, Foster said. It could take up to several months to categorize and respond to comments.

Foster said responding to comments means addressing and updating the EIS to fix any assumptions or errors in science and preparing a report about the comments received. The final EIS is expected to be released in October or November of 2020 with a record of decision about 30 to 45 days later. The record of decision is a public document that will reveal and explain the BLM’s final decisions on the RMP amendment and EIS for wild horse management in the four areas.

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