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Horsepower in the Wilderness

Story and photos by Vickie Anderson, Butte Field Office

On an open, grassy mountain slope, 13 members of the Mile High Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen (MHBCH) loaded their pack animals with fence materials and headed down a steep drainage. In between trips, the equines dined on the lush grass with sweet abandon.
For two beautiful June days, the volunteers strapped steel posts, rolls of barbed wire, and wood posts/braces onto horses and a mule and carried them into the rugged Humbug Spires Wilderness Area. The materials would be used to build a fence to keep cattle grazing the nearby Forest Service allotment from crossing into the wilderness area.
MHBCH volunteers Frank Olenick and Darrell McDaniel (also a retired BLMer) and Butte FO employees Pete Armstrong and Vickie Anderson headed up the work party. It took 26 loads to transport 20 rolls of barbed and smooth wire, 130 steel posts, 200 metal stays, 10 wood posts, 12 wood braces, and 68 wood scabs to four different staging areas.
In July, a Montana Conservation Crew (MCC), led by maintenance worker Pete Armstrong, built a little over one mile of fence in the rugged terrain. The fence will be completed next summer.
Since no motorized vehicles or equipment are allowed in wildness study areas, the Backcountry Horsemen volunteers were instrumental in getting the materials to the fence location nearly one mile away. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.
This first cooperative effort between the MHBCH and the BLM Butte Field Office resulted in 205 volunteer hours. 
men packing fence materials on horse

Mile High Back Country Horsemen members Darrell McDaniel (left) and Jason Speers secure fence materials onto Jason’s horse “Chevy” while Jocelyn Dodge (USFS) holds their riding horses.  The north side of the Humbug WSA is in the background. 

horses on the trail 

Pack animals loaded with fence posts and braces and led by members of the Mile High Back Country Horsemen begin the descent into the steep terrain of the Humbug Spires Wilderness Study Area.