Study that will track wild horses gets under way in Wyoming

Wild horses in Wyoming. © BLM
Wild horses in Wyoming. © BLM

The movements of American wild horses are to be tracked using GPS collars in a study aimed at learning more about how the animals interact with their environment.

The study will focus on the seasonal use and movements of horses in the Adobe Town herd management area, which lies in south central Wyoming between Interstate 80 and the Colorado/Wyoming border.

It encompasses nearly 478,000 acres of mostly Bureau of Land Mangement-administered public land with a small portion of intermingled private lands.

The topography is varied, with everything from eroded desert badlands to wooded buttes and escarpments. In between are extensive rolling to rough uplands interspersed with some desert basins and vegetated dune areas. There are also some sensitive desert riparian areas.

The research is a collaborative project between the bureau and the University of Wyoming. It will begin with a bait-trap gather and radio-collaring of up to 30 wild mares during February. No wild horses will be removed during this non-helicopter gather.

Bait-trapping involves setting up temporary corrals into which the wild horses are drawn. Once gathered, trained personnel will transport selected mares to the Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility where the GPS tracking devices will be fitted. The horses will then be returned to the wild

The 20-30 mares selected for the research will be 5 years old or older. All other wild horses gathered will be immediately released shortly after the selected mares are sorted and held for collaring.

All mares will be released at or near the same location where they were gathered. The two selected contractors are in the process of identifying trap-site locations and will begin the bait-trapping process soon.

Corrals could be set up in stages over a period of days to allow the horses to grow accustomed to the enclosures. About three to five trap sites are required to distribute radio-collared mares throughout the entire herd management area.

University of Wyoming scientists Derek Scasta and Jeff Beck, both in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, are heading the research.

Jake Hennig, a doctoral student in the department, also will participate.

Specifically, they hope to gain insights into migration patterns and herd movements within the area.

The bureau says it will use the study results to ensure wild horse herds continue to thrive on healthy rangelands.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture has provided $US120,000 to start the research. The BLM also has contributed funding.

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