Between now and mid-April, the BLM plans to reduce the wild horse population on the Challis Wild Horse Herd Management Area by collecting 150 horses in baited corral traps and putting 50 of them up for adoption. The remaining 100 horses will be released after the mares are treated with a fertility control vaccine.

    The BLM has been conducting a fertility-control program on the herd since 2004.

    Created in 1971, the Challis Herd Management Area is one of six such areas in Idaho. It covers about 264 square miles in a generally triangular area east of Clayton, bordered by state Highway 75 and the East Fork of the Salmon River on the west and U.S. Highway 93 on the east.

    According to a news release from the BLM’s Challis Field Office, the range can support 185 to 253 wild horses in conjunction with other animals and resource uses. The current population is estimated to be more than 280. The document notes that the availability of winter forage is the limiting factor in the wild horse population.

    A record of decision on the baited-trap action signed by Challis Field Manager Todd Kuck on Jan. 17 states that the purpose of reducing wild horse numbers is to protect herd health and improve sage grouse habitat. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service’s sage-grouse management plan for Idaho directs the agencies to manage herd numbers to achieve sage-grouse habitat objectives.

    Six livestock grazing allotments cover 88 percent of the Challis Herd Management Area. Even so, protecting sage grouse habitat was the primary consideration in the decision to carry out the baited-trap gathers, BLM Twin Falls District spokeswoman Heather Tiel-Nelson said in an interview.

    “We’re at a place where if a bait-catch trap can help us reduce our numbers, it’s worth trying,” Tiel-Nelson said. “We’ve never done it in Challis, so it will be interesting to see if we’re successful.”

The record of decision states that the gather at this time is advantageous because winter range limits wild horse distribution, bringing them near locations where trapping is feasible, and wild horses will be more receptive to the hay bait due to scarcity of natural food.

    The record of decision includes numerous criteria for how the roundup will be carried out, including:

l    No traps will be placed within the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.

l    Whenever possible, capture sites will be located in previous capture sites or disturbed areas. No new roads will be constructed.

l    The project will follow the BLM standards for trap and temporary holding facility design, capture and handling, transportation and appropriate care after capture.

l    Weed-free hay will be used in capture sites and temporary holding facilities.

    Tiel-Nelson said the hay-baited corrals will have gates that are tripped when horses enter them.

    “They have to be checked really frequently,” she noted.

    Tiel-Nelson said the BLM has not yet decided on the number or locations of trap sites. She said access as snow melts will partly determine those.

    Every four or five years, the BLM conducts roundup-style wild horse gathers on the Challis management area, and removes enough horses to keep the herd within the desired size. Tiel-Nelson said those gathers will continue.

    She said horses caught in the bait traps that are removed for adoption will be held at the Challis wild horse corrals, and the BLM will probably host an adoption event there. Any horses not adopted there will then be shipped to the agency’s corrals in Boise.

    The BLM says that since 1971 across the West, it has placed more than 235,000 wild horses and burros into private care.  Even so, about 50,000 animals are living in short-term and long-term holding pens, costing taxpayers $45 million a year, according to the Mustang Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 2001 to help increase the number of adoptions of BLM horses and burros.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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