BLM protects Muddy Creek and Sinbad herds by allowing them to seek water and forage naturally

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is protecting the Muddy Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) wild horses and the Sinbad HMA burros from harm by removing unauthorized water troughs on BLM lands. In late May, a citizen campaign was run to solicit money to help haul water and supply water tanks to these areas without any coordination or consultation with the BLM. The unauthorized watering caused harm to the herds, by habituating them to an unnatural water source and drawing them away from better forage areas. If allowed to continue, this unauthorized activity could potentially domesticate wild horses and burros and cause them irreparable harm.

sinbad burros on dry pond
Wild burros on the Sinbad Horse Management Area

On May 30, to ease public concerns, the BLM flew a helicopter over the HMAs to verify that there is indeed water in the animals’ natural rock water tanks. Approximately 40 rock tanks with water were seen in the Sinbad HMA within a four-mile radius of the open flats where the public typically see the burros. BLM staff also noted that approximately 16 rock tanks with water were available within a two to five-mile radius of the McKay Flat/Horse Valley area for the Muddy Creek wild horses. Many of these rock tanks contained hundreds of gallons of water in each location. There is also ample forage for the animals in these two HMAs.

Pool of water in rocks
Natural rock tank holds water for wildlife

The wild horses and burros from the Muddy Creek and the Sinbad HMAs traverse the range during dry conditions and throughout summer months. Shallow water sources and ponds near well traveled roads tend to dry up causing concern for the public which may not be aware that natural water sources beyond the visitors’ view provide ample water.

“Over the years, the BLM has learned that, even though one water source dries up, it is not an indication that all water sources have dried up on an HMA. Placing unauthorized water troughs in areas where ponds annually dry up this time of year, sets the animals up for potential failure and does not allow them to instinctively migrate or traverse the landscape into other water sources located in the HMA,” said Utah Wild Horse and Burro Program Specialist Gus Warr. “The beauty of this high desert area and its slickrock features is that, once the ponds on the flats dry up, water is available in the side canyons, natural rock tanks, and the Muddy Creek River that allows for the wild animals to utilize the resources throughout the HMA and not focus on one area.” 

Muddy Creek horses galloping across desert
Muddy Creek horses gallop across desert

The BLM Price Field Office, who oversees management of these areas, is keenly aware of the challenges when it comes to available water and forage. Since early April 2020, the BLM has been conducting weekly visits to the area to check on the health of the wild horses and burros—as well as water and forage resources. The BLM was proactively monitoring the herds before receiving any reports that animals were allegedly out of water. “The BLM has been managing drought concerns for these herds for years, going back to 1999 when a drought occurred,” said Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Mike Tweddell.

It is the duty of the BLM to manage wild horse and burros under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to ensure healthy horses on healthy rangelands in their natural habitat. In the past, the BLM has hauled water to compromised animals of these areas, but found they are typically reluctant to drink out of artificial water troughs. Additionally, placing unauthorized water troughs into dry ponds encourages the animals to stay in the areas possessing only ephemeral water instead of moving out of the area into the more remote locations with abundant natural water sources not easily seen by the public.