BLM and wild horse advocacy group improve habitat for all creatures

Story and photos by Sarah Beckwith, Wind River/Bighorn Basin District public affairs specialist

An unlikely partnership between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a wild horse advocacy group built on years of successes with a fall habitat improvement project that will benefit wild horses, wildlife and livestock in the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd Management Area (HMA) near Cody, Wyoming.

The Cody Field Office and Friends of a Legacy (FOAL) spent a day removing saltcedar on public and private land in the HMA. Saltcedar is designated a noxious weed by the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council. It creates numerous negative impacts on water quality and quantity, native plant and wildlife species, and wildlife habitat.

Man (left) cutting saltcedar and woman (right) holding branches of saltcedar in her arms.
Jack Machen (FOAL) and Kelly Larsen (BLM) cut and remove saltcedar in the McCullough Peaks HMA near Cody, Wyoming.
A woman holding up branches of saltcedar to throw them in a pile
FOAL Executive Director Kim Zierlein adds limbs to a growing pile of saltcedar.

“By removing this invasive species that uses a lot of water, the wild horses, wildlife and livestock will benefit from more water in nearby reservoirs and from the space created for native vegetation to flourish,” said BLM Wildlife Biologist Abel Guevara, who organized the workday.

The group removed the saltcedar from an area surrounding a water well, which was installed several years ago through a partnership project with FOAL and Marathon Oil Corporation. Water from the well is pumped to two nearby reservoirs that are used by all creatures that inhabit the McCullough Peaks HMA. The resulting piles will be burned this winter when snow is on the ground.

A man cutting saltcedar with a long tool.
BLM Wildlife Biologist Abel Guevara removes saltcedar from the water well’s recharge area.

The Cody Field Office has partnered with FOAL since the non-profit group formed in 2005. Together, they effectively manage the herd, coordinate on opportunities for public education, and enhance habitat in the HMA.

“People often ask how our partnership with the BLM works,” said FOAL Executive Director Kim Zierlein. “I tell them it works through honesty and communication. I like how we work with the BLM. It’s been rewarding.”

A man using a chainsaw to cut saltcedar.
BLM Maintenance Worker Zach Cowfer uses a chainsaw to cut through some of the thicker patches of saltcedar.
Nine people pose for a group photo.
The group included (left to right, back): Cade Powell, Abel Guvara, Brandi Hecker, Kelly Larsen, Jack Machen, Sandy Sisti, and Zach Cowfer; (left to right, front): Kim Zierlein and Marshall Dominick.

BLM Cody Field Manager Cade Powell said, “The BLM’s partnership with FOAL is vital to sustainably managing the McCullough Peaks herd, as well as to maintaining healthy, productive public rangelands for wildlife and livestock that share the herd management area.”