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State Herd Area: Salt Wells Creek (WY)

The Salt Wells Creek HMA encompasses an area from Highway 191 south of Rock Springs, WY east approximately 50 miles and south to the Wyoming-Colorado state line. The appropriate management level is 251 to 365 wild horses. The HMA consists of a total of 1,193,283 acres of which 61 percent is public land, 3 percent is state land and 36% is private land. Wild horses are managed on private land under an agreement between the Rock Springs Grazing Association, Wild horse advocates including the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros and Wild Horse Yes, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The climate within the area is typical of a cold desert. Summers are generally hot and dry with long, cold winters. Temperatures can range from well below zero to the upper 90s. Annual precipitation ranges from a low of 7 inches up to 15 inches at higher elevations. Some wind is seemingly inevitable. Direction of prevailing winds is variable but is generally westerly.

Topography within the area is highly variable, ranging from mostly flat to slightly rolling foothills carved by drainages, and desert mountains featuring steep slopes, cliffs, and canyons. Preferred habitat for wild horses in this area is the rolling hills and flats found at lower elevations.

Wild horses in the area have many domestic bloodlines in their background including American Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Arabian, and smaller draft breeds such as Percheron. Nearly every coat color, pattern, and combination thereof, can be found within the herds. The animals tend to be of moderate to large sized for light horses. Habitat conditions are such that the horses are in very good condition. The combinations of size, conformation, coat colors and patterns, and excellent physical condition have become a draw for potential adopters and a matter of reputation for “Rock Springs” horses. The normal breeding period runs from March through September each year but peaks around mid- to late-June. The peak of foaling for wild horses in the area has been documented to be on or around June 1.

The horses’ social structure, combined with their size, strength, and adaptability allows them to compete favorably with wildlife and domestic livestock. Horses usually have adequate water from winter snows and spring runoff which fill reservoirs and intermittent streams. During late summer and early fall, horses depend on the fewer perennial sources of water (i.e., reservoirs, streams, springs, and flowing wells), and on water wells pumped for domestic livestock and wildlife. No predation of wild horses has been documented in the area and is considered to have little or no effect on wild horse populations.

Most rangelands in the area provide seasonal and year-long grazing for livestock cattle and sheep. Wildlife are also an integral part of the environment. The area provides habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including big game species (elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and moose).

There is potential for competition between wild horses and antelope, deer, and elk; however, this potential is generally minimal during all four seasons. This potential is minimized by maintaining wild horse populations at the appropriate management level, and evidence suggests the relationship might be symbiotic. There are a number of documented cases in this area where antelope and elk follow wild horse herds during bad winters because the horses are able to break through deep and crusted snow, allowing the antelope and elk to feed behind.

The Salt Wells HMA does include several major perennial drainages including Bitter Creek, Salt Wells Creek, Vermillion Creek, Sage Creek, and Trout Creek which provide riparian habitat and fisheries.

Wild horses generally prefer perennial grass species as forage. Shrubs are more important during the fall and winter. There are a variety of vegetation types in the Salt Wells Creek area including sagebrush, sagebrush/grass, saltbush, greasewood, desert shrub, juniper, grass, meadow, broadleaf trees, conifer, mountain shrub, half shrub and perennial forb, and badlands. The predominant vegetation type is sagebrush/grass.

Riparian areas are very important for wild horses, wildlife, and domestic livestock. They generally have deeper, richer, loamy soils, higher in organic matter. Natural meadows and cottonwood bottoms are valuable components for all foraging animals (domestic or wild). The communities along stream courses provide food, cover, and water for many species of wildlife.

Because of the use demands on riparian areas, management considerations have focused on protecting these areas from depletion. Fencing and utilization limits with herding of domestic livestock have been effective tools in maintaining and improving the qualities of riparian ecosystems. Achieving and maintaining Appropriate management level of wild horse herds is important to keeping utilization at acceptable levels and preserving riparian habitat.

Lands in the Salt Wells Creek area include BLM-administered public land, State land, and private land. The Salt Wells Creek area contains a substantial acreage of checkerboard lands (railroad grant lands where private and public land occur in alternating sections for 20 miles on either side of the railroad which crosses Wyoming from east to west). Lands south of the checkerboard are predominantly solid block, BLM-administered public land. There is no fencing between the checkerboard and solid block public lands.

Checkerboard lands create special problems for managing wild horses. The location of private lands throughout the Salt Wells Creek area affects wild horse management on public lands, in part, because private lands are not fenced from public lands.

The public enjoys seeing wild horses roaming free in the Salt Wells Creek area. Visitor use has not been documented due to its random nature and the fact that anyone is free to drive out and see wild horses.

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