Challis Herd Management Area
With passage of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, Congress found that: “Wild horses are living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West.” In addition, the Secretary was ordered to “manage wild free-roaming horses and burros in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.” From the passage of the Act, through present day, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Challis Field Office (CFO) has endeavored to fulfill the Act.
Wild horses have been shown to be capable of 18 to 25% increases in numbers annually. This can result in a doubling of the wild horse population about every 4 years. The Challis Field Office manages the Challis Herd Management Area (HMA) through monitoring vegetation studies, census flights and gather activities. Additionally, mares have been treated with the fertility control nicknamed “PZP”.
The East Fork of the Salmon River. The herd area is bordered on the north by the Salmon River, on the west by the East Fork of the Salmon River, on the south by the ridgeline between Herd Creek and Road Creek and on the east by U.S. Highway.
The Challis HMA encompasses 154,150 acres of public land in the Challis Field Office.
Elevations range from 4,600 feet to nearly 8,000 and reach slopes up to 80 percent.
High ridges with patches of Douglas fir and wide sagebrush basins, dissected by drainages with active riparian areas containing willows, birch and aspen.
Wildlife living in the area include elk, pronghorn, mule deer, sage grouse as well as many rodents, birds of prey and songbirds. The HMA also provides critical winter range habitat for big game species, as well as a full complement of large predators with mountain lions, bears, and wolves.
BLM studies each HMA to determine how many wild horses the area can support while providing for other land uses and resource values. The overall capacity of the HMA to support wild horses is called its Appropriate Management Level (AML). Challis has an Appropriate Management Level of 185 horses.
BLM periodically gathers and removes excess wild horses to maintain each herd at its AML. Excess animals are made available to the public through the National Adopt-A-Horse and Burro Program. Idaho BLM regularly holds horse adoptions across the state to find good homes for animals gathered from Idaho's rangelands. BLM also conducts satellite adoptions in Idaho to help place wild horses gathered from herd areas in other western states.
The dominant colors for the present day HMA are gray, black, and bay. About 21% of the horses in the 1973 inventory were grey or progeny of grays. Other colors noted were sorrel, red roan, and pintos.
Mature horses average approximately 1000 pounds. Confirmation is considered good with the large stature being the greatest trait of the herd.
Challis Horses. Photo Courtesy Kris Millgate, Tightline Productions.
General Horse Size
14-16 hands and 900-1000 pounds
Idaho's wild horses are descendants of domestic horses that escaped to or were turned out on the public lands prior to passage of the Horse and Burro Act in 1971. During the Great Depression in the 1930's, many farmers and ranchers released their animals onto public lands because they couldn't afford to feed them.
It is believed that the wild horses near Challis originally started from the livestock miners and ranchers brought to the area around 1870. John Bradbury is the first person known to have introduced horses into what is now the Challis wild horse area. Other early day ranchers frequently released stallions into the herd to improve or upgrade the quality. Additionally, several breeds of work horses were released into the area. Ranchers depended on work horses for their livelihood and therefore bred work stock among the wild horses.
The Challis Herd is comprised of hardy stock. They are generally larger than most wild horses that live in rugged, steep mountainous regions. Herd genetics are very diverse, with little possibility of becoming inbred.
A total of 46 blood samples were taken during the 2002 gather in order to create baseline data for establishing the current level of genetic diversity for the HMA. Dr. Gus Cothran, a geneticist, conducted the tests at University of Kentucky. A summary of these results indicates the following:
· Genetic variation is well above average for both wild and domestic breeds.
· Genetic similarity. The highest mean was with the New World Spanish breeds, followed closely by North American Gaited breeds. However, a dendrogram of genetic similarity of the Challis herd to domestic breeds placed the Challis herd within the cluster of the Heavy Draft and True Pony breeds. This likely indicates a mixed breed origin for the herd which also accounts for the high variability and high proportion of rare genes.
· Variation in the Challis herd is fairly high, most likely due to a mixed breed origin of the herd and a relatively high recent population size.
· The Challis herd is a single interbreeding group.
Wild horses are best viewed off highway 93 near the Spar Canyon Road (approximately 30 miles south of Challis) during spring, winter and fall. During the summer months, Horse and Corral Basins are the best viewing areas. These basins can be accessed via the East Fork of the Salmon River and Road Creek. The areas are primitive, so come prepared with food and water; four wheel drive vehicles are advised. Please adhere to the Challis Travel Management Plan. Maps are available at the Challis Field Office, 1151 Blue Mountain Road, Challis, Idaho.
Please note: There are seasonal closures within the Challis HMA from Oct1-Dec 31. Because the HMA lies largely in two different Wilderness Study Areas; Jerry Peak WSA and Horse & Corral Basin WSA, the area is subject to special management. Please contact the Challis Field Office for more information.
Recreational use of the Challis Field Office creates greater interaction between the wild horses and the public and can result in direct harassment, indirect disturbances and stress on the horses. If you visit an area where wild horses are present, give them their space and enjoy these beautiful animals from a safe distance. Herds are also threatened by off-road vehicle (OHV) users, disease, severe winter weather and fire.
A Challis Herd Stallion
Photo courtesy of Kris Millgate, Tightline Productions
Two horses from the Challis Herd.
Photo courtesy of Kris Millgate, Tightline Productions