The 2023 large project funding bill that the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Natural Resource Funding Committee approved last week includes a $270,000 grant to support the removal of feral horses from the Wind River Reservation.
The money would “pay the balance” of the final gather operation needed to reach the “target level” of 1,000 feral horses on the reservation, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust director Bob Budd said.
“They would then have all the gathers they need to do funded and hopefully get those done in the coming year,” he told the committee last week.
Budd noted that “there are as many as 10,000 feral horses on the reservation right now,” creating a “serious habitat issue and a serious natural resource issue.”
“You’ve got wild horses now in bighorn sheep summer range, and that’s up at 9,000 or 10,000 feet,” he said. “You’ve got them in elk range on the northwest corner of the reservation, (and) in the fall and the winter they come down into the crucial mule deer winter range.”
The situation prompted the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation to sponsor the proposed feral horse gather grant, Budd said, pointing out that the organization is supplying about half of the money for the project using funds that they “raised privately.”
He shared a map with the committee showing the locations of feral horses on the reservation in relation to the migration routes for deer and bighorn sheep herds in the area.
“If you look at that southern bunch of yellow, that’s Temple Peak – which is one of their premier bighorn sheep herds,” Budd said. “That’s where (the horses) are getting up into that 10,000-foot range.
“They’re on their summer range, then they’re crowding them down and they get to their seasonal transitional range, you got horses there, and then when they get to their winter range you’ve still got horses. So it is a critical issue, and when you look at bighorn sheep populations, anything we can do to support them is pretty critical at this point in time.”
‘This will go a long way’
The legislature passed a bill last year allocating $500,000 to wild horse management in the state, and $400,000 of that total went toward “Tribal gathers” of feral horses, according to a memo from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s office.
Budd said that money covered “one major gather” on the reservation, and there are also “two others that would be paid for.”
“This was a request (for) one more … that would get their numbers to the target level,” he said.
Wyoming Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, expressed appreciation for the “additional help from the Natural Resource Trust” on the feral horse issue.
“I think this will go a long way,” Boner said, adding that the previous $400,000 allocation expires June 30, so “it’s good to know that we’ll have something in queue ready to go for next fiscal year.”
The bill draft that the committee approved last week will now progress to the 2023 General Session, which begins Jan. 10.
The legislation says the purpose of the feral horse removal project is “restoration of rangelands.”
Associated goals outlined in the bill include:
-Maintain seasonal habitats for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, antelope and other native ungulates
-Increase the productivity of rangeland and subalpine habitats
-Maintain and improve impacted riparian areas and wetlands
Any unexpended or unobligated funds appropriated in the large project funding bill revert back to the income account in 2027, according to the legislation, and the act is set to be effective immediately upon becoming law.