Wild horse project facing appeals from neighboring landowners

The appeals filed by landowners adjacent to the Spanish Q Ranch near Ennis to prevent a Bureau of Land Management project to keep wild horses on the property have been consolidated by the Secretary of the Interior Board of Land Appeals in an effort to streamline the process and move ahead with determining whether or not the animals will come to the Madison Valley.

The BLM project outlines a 10-year plan to keep wild horses on the ranch property as a part of the National Wild Horse and Burrow Program. As part of the project, the bureau conducted an environmental assessment to determine potential impacts to the landscape. The assessment indicated that the presence of wild horses would do little to deteriorate the landscape, and in some cases could even improve the condition of wetlands and riparian habitat on the property. But that assessment is also grounds for the appeals filed by adjacent landowners to stop the project, explained Bozeman attorney James Goetz who is representing the Valley Garden Ranch.

The appeals contend that the BLM’s environmental assessment does not adequately address alternatives for the project, Goetz said, nor did it have sufficient input from the public or other agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service or the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Furthermore, the appeals contend that the environmental assessment overlooks stream and riparian issues as well as wildlife issues. Goetz said there is also evidence of inadequate fencing for the project and suggested that the BLM should have conducted a full environmental impact statement.

“We think it’s essentially a dumping of wild horses in the sense that they’ve greatly overestimated the carrying capacity of the property,” he said.

The BLM Wild Horse and Burrow Program protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands, according to their website. The program operates 179 management areas for herds of wild horses in 10 states, and the only such area in Montana is located in the Pryor Mountains, with a herd of approximately 120 horses.

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