Is Global Warming Affecting Cloud's Herd?

By Ginger Kathrens

Wild Horses
Lakota’s band heads for the water hole. The palomino is Cloud’s sister, Mariah. June 2006

Snowfall was normal or even a bit above normal this winter (2005-2006) on the Pryor Mountains of southern Montana, then temperatures in May soared upward and melted the snow in all the lower elevations. To put this into perspective, when Cloud was born in 1995 the band ate snow in the shade of the Douglas Firs through May and early June, before traveling to the upper level meadows.

Now, just 11 years later, rising temperatures have caused the horses to alter the timing of their migration to the mountaintop. Because of a lack of water the horses were forced to travel to the sub-alpine meadows in May rather than June.
This means that the higher elevation grasses have less time to germinate.

What can we do to help out this situation? Some pretty simple fixes have been suggested to BLM by other government agencies for the past two years - make mid level water available by repairing and turning on the already established water catchments on the mid levels of Tillet and Sykes Ridges. In fact, the catchment on Sykes was repaired by a non-governmental volunteer group several years ago but a combination lock prevents the pump from being turned on which would allow water from a fenced pond to run into a tank. Several years ago, I watched Cloud standing on the outside of the fenced pond staring at water he was not allowed to drink!

If BLM cannot get their act together by next spring, the same situation could arise again. It is critical for BLM to reassess their priorities. Instead of spending great amounts of their time and OUR money on darting of mares with infertility drugs and using helicopters and bait trapping strategies to remove horses, I suggest they turn their attention to range improvements on the Pryors.

In the 12 years I have spent with Cloud’s herd, I know of only one range improvement that has been made and that was the installation of a "Wild Horse Annie" cattle guard atop the mountain between the Custer National Forest lands and the BLM designated horse range. Yet in that same time, horses have been removed and darted and their predators killed.

The Pryors is a wilderness. BLM should allow nature to call the shots while they turn their attention to improving the range for all the wildlife, including the magnificent and unique Pryor mustangs.

About the author:
Ginger Kathrens, Producer and Director of Taurus Productions, Inc., is the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who filmed the two documentaries, "Cloud, Wild Stallion of the Rockies" and "Cloud's Legacy", and is the author of their two companion books of the same names. Her two Spanish mustangs, Flint and Sky, share her Colorado ranch with her wild horse, Trace. She is a founder of the Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance, committed to the preservation of wild horses and burros on our public lands. She recently founded the non-profit charity, The Cloud Foundation, to preserve Cloud’s herd and other wild horse herds in jeopardy on public lands. To learn more about wild horses surviving on our public lands, go to the Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance web site at www.savewildhorses.org. To find out how you can help Cloud survive, log on to The Cloud Foundation at www.thecloudfoundation.org.

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