Court bid in effort to prevent thinning of famous herd

August 29, 2009


Wild mustang Cloud

Two charities have gone to court in an effort to prevent the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from removing horses from the Pryor Mountains of Montana.

News of the court action comes as the bureau said they would close off the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range beginning from Monday to thin the 190-horse herd by about 70 animals.

The Cloud Foundation and Front Range Equine Rescue have filed a lawsuit and a request for an injunction in the Federal Court in Washington, DC to prohibit the bureau from removing horses from the range.

The appellants argue that the removal of 70 horses will leave this unique and historical herd genetically non-viable and unable to sustain itself into the future.

Noted equine geneticist Gus Cothran, of Texas A&M University, has said "... a census population of 150-200 is required to achieve the minimum effective population size ... The [Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd] has been one of the most important and visible herds within the BLM Wild Horse Programme and it is important that it stays viable."

The Pryor Mountain herd includes a wild stallion made famous by a documentary maker. Cloud is a pale palomino whose life has been documented from the day of his birth by Emmy-winning filmmaker Ginger Kathrens.

The Equine Welfare Alliance accused the bureau of circumventing the wishes of Congress that wild horses be protected in the American West.

The House just passed the Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act and the Senate will review the bill when members return from recess in September.

"Is BLM just trying to do as much irrevocable damage to America's wild horses as fast as they can before the Senate can act?" asks Kathrens, who is volunteer executive director of the Cloud Foundation.

"Right now there are 12 entire herds being eliminated from 1.4 million acres near Ely, Nevada, because these lands are suddenly not appropriate for wild horses," Kathrens continues.

"However, no action has been made to reduce cattle grazing in these areas."

There are no grazing permits in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range and reasons for holding an unprecedented removal this year are not clear. The range and adjacent lands are in excellent condition following three years of drought-breaking precipitation.

Kathrens said Cloud and the wild horses of Montana's Pryor Mountains are world famous but fame and an outcry from the American public does not seem to impact the bureau's plans.

The Pryor Mountain wild horses are descendants of the Lewis and Clark horses who were stolen by the Crow Indians in the early 1800s.

George Reed, Secretary of Cultural Education for the Crow Tribe Executive Branch, wrote in 2006: "We advocate preserving our heritage, culture and language, and these Pryor wild horses are part of our culture."