PUBLIC ECOSANCTUARIES FOR WILD HORSES
Janice M. Ladendorf
Today tourism produces ten percent of the world's gross national
product. For this trade in the United States, our wild horses are still an underutilized asset. For thousands of years, the beauty and talents of horses has been celebrated first by artists, then by authors. To see and admire horses, urban dwellers flock to
races, shows, state fairs, expositions, and other equestrian events. Movies and books which include horses are popular. Examples are Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, and Misty of Chincoteague. Millions of girls and women
dream about someday owning their own horse.
Both our mustang breeds and the remaining wild horses add the romance of our western frontier to the general attraction all horses have for so many people. His breed became the first wild horses on our prairies.
They were the Spanish horses who were ridden by Indians, explorers, mountain men, vaqueros, and our early cowboys.
When Americans first reached our prairies, they found millions of buffalo and thousands of wild horses. As they were caught and used,
their numbers declined, but a few thousands with a mixed heritages still live on our public lands. Because these free roaming horses are afraid of humans and their vehicles, they can be hard to find and run away from us. Where they can be viewed on the range
or in ecosanctuaries, they have become popular tourist attractions.
The public program began in 2010 when Bill Richardson wanted to use federal money to purchase the Ortiz Ranch, add it to the Cerrillos Hills State
Park, and use it as a wild mustang sanctuary for ecotourism. At that time, he was the Governor of New Mexico. Unfortunately, his proposal did not succeed, but he is still promoting wild life protection and is seeking alternatives to the slaughter of wild horses.
His proposal started the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thinking about developing such sanctuaries as an alternative to keeping horses in long term holding pastures. Initially the plan was to accept partnership proposals from private individuals, Indian
tribes, and state or local governments, but their first request for applications was limited to private individuals. It was issued on March 15, 2011. This request required the partner to accept two hundred horses, but this limit was modified in 2012 to one
hundred horses. Also, applications can now be accepted from non-profit organizations
Requests could be submitted for eco-sanctuaries, eco-sanctuaries with adoption centers, eco-sanctuaries with training centers, or eco-sanctuaries with combination adoption/training
centers. Every eco-sanctuary was expected to encourage public visitation and provide opportunities for learning. Partners will be expected to speak well of BLM programs. BLM managers believed establishing these ecosanctuaries could simulate local economies
and provide local jobs.
As the public partner, BLM will provide the horses, pay their standard rate for their keep, and may help provide funds for the required setup of items such as fences. The private partner must be qualified to provide good care
for the horses, accept a non-reproducing herd of mares or geldings, and provide tourists with the opportunity to view the horses. If their operation was a success, profits would be used to decrease payments for the upkeep of the horses.
So far, only
three such sanctuaries have established. Two are in Wyoming and one in Oklahoma. They are described below.
1) Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse Ecosanctuary
This former cattle ranch has been a family owned operation for thirty years and is thirty-five
miles west of Laramie on State Highway 11. This scenic route goes through the valley between the Sheep and Medicine Bow mountains. The Middle Fork of the Little Laramie River runs through the ranch and it is near other recreational sites. Three hundred wild
geldings now graze there on about 4,700 acres of land. It is also home to other Wyoming wildlife, such deer, elk, and coyotes. The ranch offers public, photographic, and group tours by appointment. Also included is a guest cabin and a gift shop. Beautiful
photographs by Jana Wilson can be viewed on the ranch website and in slide shows on YouTube.
2) Mowdy Ranch Mustangs
This family ranch is located twelve miles northeast of Coalgate in the hills of southeastern
Oklahoma, the historic home of the legendary Choctaw ponies. They have dedicated one thousand, two hundred and eighty acres of their ranch as a wild horse sanctuary and one hundred fifty three wild mares now graze there. Up to thirty-two people can sleep in
their lodges and they have dining facilities for larger groups and special events. Lodging and tours available by reservation. Their website includes some delightful photographs of their mustangs enjoying life on their sanctuary.
3) Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary
This sanctuary controls nine hundred acres and lies in the middle of the Double D Ranch. It is located on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming near the town of Lander. The
sanctuary currently has one hundred and thirty wild horses. It includes only yearlings or mares. Most have had some handling or been through the wild horse training program at Dept. of Corrections.
The partnership agreement between BLM and the Sanctuary
includes plans for a learning/visitor/information center, tours, a gift shop, and a campground. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe Tribes have approved the site and have contributed information to the learning center on native culture and the historic
role of the horse. A grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund helped pay for the center and it is open to the public. The Sanctuary opened on June 4, 2016. Reservations are recommended for tours.
The BLM is currently
holding over thirty thousand horses in long term leased pastures. Ecosanctuaries can be a beneficial alternative for all of those involved, but especially for the horses. There they should receive good care, be relatively safe from kill buyers, and can earn
part or potentially all of their keep by serving as tourist attractions. This program is off to a good start, but should be expanded. If the program is to be continued in 2017, some recommended improvements are described below.
1) All sites should be
encouraged to develop information centers and educational programs, describing the role played by mustangs in western history and Indian tribal life.
2) Foals and young horses should have great appeal for tourists, especially the children. Since BLM
is still catching pregnant mares and foals, a few could be sent on to the sanctuaries where they might attract adopters.
3) Ecosanctuaries could be established in anyone of our states. In the Midwest and East, far fewer acres would be needed and there
should be much less hostility towards the presence of wild horses.
One possibility is our southeastern states. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish did settle there to farm and ranch. When English settlers arrived, they found wild horses as far north
as Virginia. In those states, mustang history begins well before wild horses had reached the western prairies.
Minnesota is another possibility. The tall grass prairies extended as far north as the southeastern part of our state. One possible site for
a sanctuary could be near the Pipestone Quarry where all the plains tribes peacefully mined material for their pipes. Another one could be near Blue Mound State Park where buffalo now graze and tall grass prairies area being restored.
"Lander-area ranch to be a BLM Wild Horse Ecosanctuary: Double D Ranch is on the Reservation", County 10, Dec. 10, 2014.
Raia, Pat, "BLM Seeks Private Sector Partners for Eco-Sanctuary Development", The Horse, March 16, 2011.
Silva, Alejandra, "Home for Horses", The Ranger, May 29, 2016.
Published by Valley Equestrian News, 12-27-16