New volunteer group helps BLM manage wild mustangs in Colorado

 Wild mustangs in northern Colorado. [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh]

Wild mustangs in northern Colorado. [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh]

By Amy Hadden Marsh, KDNK

Sound: camera clicking and person talking softly to mustangs...

Debbie Rudd leans across the hood of her Jeep and takes aim at a band of wild horses with her camera and a giant telephoto lens.

She lives in Meeker and visits the Piceance East Douglas mustangs as often as she can.

Quote: I'm a horse lover. I grew up with horses. I'm at a part in my life right now where I don't have any of my own. This is the way I can come out and get a horse fix, and mustangs are really part of the heritage of the American West.  

She’s part of a new group that’s working with the Bureau of Land Management to help with range improvements on the Piceance East Douglas Herd Management Area - or HMA –between Meeker and Rangely.

At over 190 thousand acres, it’s the largest of 4 designated wild horse rangelands in Colorado.

Rudd is on a plateau called 84 Mesa, in the heart of the HMA.   

Quote: We're in a vast, remote area of Colorado, and as we stand here, we are overlooking a big basin that's a lot of sagebrush ...

She’s photographing what looks like 2 bands of horses.

Quote: They usually live in smaller family bands anywhere from about three to eight or 10 horses...

Part of what the Piceance Mustangs group wants to do is identify the horses and their bands and keep an eye on births, deaths, and herd dynamics. Rudd says she’s fairly new at this.

Quote: Some horses really look alike. There's a lot of bays that have no markings ... 

While Debbie Rudd observes the herd and works on her identification skills, the rest of the group is fixing fence. It’s all part of Piceance Mustangs’ first official workday on the HMA.

Sound: fence in truck and people talking

About mid-afternoon, the rest of the Piceance Mustangs group returns to the campsite, sorts old fencing in the back of a truck, and eats lunch.

Sound: Someone here named Tracy? Yes, I am ... 

Tracy Scott is co-founder and president of Piceance Mustangs.

Quote: Fenceline that was between the HMA and private land so the cows were going back and forth and the horses were going back and forth ...

Scott says even though the group is brand new, it’s already received a private grant to start work.

Quote: One of our first projects is to develop some wells ... The wells that are there but they're not functioning ... 

Quote: My name's Jon D. Hill. I'm from Rangely Colorado. I have a family ranch that I'm the fourth generation on ... 

Jon Hill, Rangely rancher and former Rio Blanco County Commissioner is glad to hear that the group is looking at water and range improvements and mustang identification. He says one of the problems with BLM’s wild horse program is a lack of real management.

Quote: The BLM never had the opportunity to sit down and do a plan and be able to stick to it...

 Piceance Mustang co-founder and president Tracy Scott. [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh]

Piceance Mustang co-founder and president Tracy Scott. [Photo by Amy Hadden Marsh]

Tracy Scott believes volunteer groups on all of Colorado’s HMAs have lent credence to the program. But, that doesn’t mean she’s a fan of BLM’s current management practices.

Ideally, she says, sustainable, on-the-range management is key.

Quote: The first thing that comes up for me is birth control, to help slow the population growth ...

After a successful workday out on the range, it looks like her group and the BLM’s White River Field Office are closer to finding an answer to that question. For Western Slope Resources Reporting, I’m Amy Hadden Marsh.


Katie Klingsporn