Another agreement is in place to send wild horses to the Spanish Q Ranch in Ennis and the mustangs could start arriving as soon as Dec. 10.
The project, which was initially started about three years ago, would call for 800 wild horse geldings to be placed on the Spanish Q by the Bureau of Land Management. The ranch would serve as a long-term pasture for the horses and be the only one of its kind in Montana, said Dean Bolstad, deputy division chief of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program.
The Spanish Q is owned by Ennis residents Greg and Karen Rice. Historically, the ranch has been a cattle operation.
Back in 2009, the Rices were one of 20 ranches that submitted a proposal to become a long term holding pasture for some of the BLM’s surplus of wild horses. The proposal was accepted and the BLM moved through their environmental analysis process.
However, as the agency was about to award the contract to the Spanish Q, the project was put on hold for some private reasons.
“It’s a private matter and as we get it straightened out things will be back on track,” Karen Rice told The Madisonian at the time.
Earlier this year, the Rices submitted another proposal to the BLM, this time for fewer horses on fewer acres of their ranch, Bolstad said.
The current proposal calls for an initial 800 horses on about 15,000 acres of ranch land for the first year, with an additional 350 horses in subsequent years should the pastures on the ranch allow for it, he said.
The horses may utilize some state land within the ranch, but will not be held on any BLM land that lies within the ranch, Bolstad said.
The first proposal by the Rices was also objected to by a few area sportsmen’s groups, which were concerned about the impact on wildlife from the horses and their necessary fencing.
Bolstand said some of these concerns were addressed with mitigations in the initial proposal and are part of the current proposal.
Typical ranch fencing has a top wire of about 42 inches. Wild horse pastures must be fenced with 48-inch, smooth wire fencing. However, to accommodate wildlife passage, the bottom strand will be 18 inches off the ground, he said.
Additionally, perimeter fencing will be flagged, Bolstad said. According to the proposal, nearly 13 miles of fencing will have to be constructed on the ranch before the horses can fully utilize it.
“All the fences have to be in place in any particular pasture and up to the standards required before the horses can graze,” he said.
The horses will graze on the ranch in a rotational pattern that should help keep the range in good shape, Bolstad said. However, the proposal does acknowledge that the horses will compete for grass at times with deer, antelope and elk.
In the winter the horses will be held on lower elevation pastures where they’ll be able to be fed supplemental winter feed if needed. In the spring they’ll be moved to either the west or east portion of the ranch and then mid-way through the grazing season moved to the other side of the ranch before being brought back to lower elevations for winter. This rotation will be reversed the following year, he said.
The contract with the Spanish Q is for 10 years and while Bolstad didn’t have the exact amount the BLM will pay the ranch for holding the horses, he said it was about $1.35 per head, per day.
The long term holding pastures are an economic benefit to the BLM, which manages more than 37,000 wild horses, he said.
Wild horses exist in 10 western states, including in the Pryor Mountains of southeast Montana. The BLM has determined the public lands utilized by the wild horses throughout these states can only hold 26,550 horses, Bolstad said. The surplus horses are either auctioned off, sold or moved to long term holding pastures.
Most of the long term holding pastures are located on the tall grass prairies of Oklahoma and Kansas, he said. If the surplus horses don’t find a home, they are housed in corrals by the BLM at the cost of $5 a day per head.
“It’s a matter of cost and also it’s a lot better environment for them to live in,” Bolstad said.
The horses will arrive in Ennis after Dec. 10 in shipments of 70 to 110 head every other week until the capacity of the facility has been reached.
“Horses will also be replaced as they die, are sold, or are sent to adoptions. Upon arrival, the wild horses will be placed into pens and held for approximately two weeks to recover from the stress of shipping and acclimate to the new environment,” reads the proposal.
Calls to Karen Rice on Monday were not returned by Monday’s press time.