Sand Wash Basin herd population survey and monitoring
Kymm Gresset, Field Manager
In August of this year, the Little Snake Field Office conducted a fixed wing aerial survey of wild horses within the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) to observe our wild horse populations. From the survey, the estimated population is 344 horses, with approximately 60 excess horses outside of the HMA and places our herd within the established appropriate management level (AML) of 163-362.
Our partners have been instrumental in monitoring and tracking the Sand Wash Basin herd throughout the year. Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin reported approximately 75 horses died due to harsh winter conditions this past year. Healthy rangelands are needed to support herds through trying ecological times. The 2021 Sand Wash Basin Gather removed 684 excess horses and has allowed the range to recover after overutilization of food and water resources. The gather allowed horses that are still on the range to survive and stay within AML this year.
“We are lucky we ended up with the numbers we did. Had we not conducted the gather in 2021, we could’ve saw double or even triple the amount of loss due to weather conditions,” said Tyrell Turner, Northwest District Wild Horse and Burro Specialist. “Our goal is to have sustainable populations that have enough resources to survive drought or abnormal weather conditions without major losses to the population.”
To promote long-term success of the Sand Wash Basin herd, we are continuing infrastructure investments within the HMA both internally and with our partners. The Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin and Sand Wash Advocate Team will continue to monitor the population, impacts of fertility control, and meet regularly with the BLM to discuss herd management. Colorado First Conservation District will also begin a vegetation production study within the HMA. The study will provide accurate range production data to ensuring that the BLM has the best carrying capacity estimates to determine the appropriate managed population range for the HMA, the appropriate level at which to permit livestock grazing use, and to inform Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s big game management.
The Sand Wash Basin HMA is located about 45 miles west of Craig in Moffat County on approximately 158,000 acres of public land, 2,000 acres of private land, and 840 acres of state land. This area is one of Colorado’s most well-known areas to view wild horses due to the unique appearance of several bands. BLM and our partners take great pride in managing this herd and will strive to ensure the herd remains healthy and resilient to changes on the range.