Sheri Samson A fence line installed in 2010 to contain wild horses no longer reaches the shore after the recent drought.

Sheri Samson
A fence line installed in 2010 to contain wild horses no longer reaches the shore after the recent drought.

The Walker Lake shoreline has receded due to recent droughts, while the wild horses on the south side of the lake wander closer to the water. The concern is that the fence line, which was once installed after a 2010 “Save the Horses “campaign, is no longer reaching the water line. Photographs are revealing a gap larger than a four- lane highway. From the original fence line to the shoreline, a space is there for the wild horses to venture away from their pasture. Walker Lake residents are asking, “What’s up with that?”

Clydene Clinger stated that in the year before the 2010 campaign, there had been about five horses lost due to highway accidents. There were 104 horses accounted for at that time.

“As far as I can tell, we have about 187 horses that remain on this pasture at any given time. The pasture doesn’t look overgrazed and remains sufficient to house at least 250 horses in my estimation. The herd has an east access to wander toward Rawhide, so you see an ebb and flow in the herd’s size. Nature has its own way of nurturing and maintaining herd sizes, keeping in mind, there are natural predators that enter these pastures. As horses age they will migrate away to die.”

In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act was formed to manage and protect these animals, while ensuring population levels and balancing their existence with proper range land and resources. The BLM would remove animals that were in situations of harm, moving them to a more controlled environment. This allowed a herd to double in size every four years. The reason for the identified removal of the Walker Lake herd in November 2010 was based on the safety of the herd and to protect highway drivers. The BLM’s mission is to provide safe and humane treatment, while maintaining herd numbers to avoid health issues and give a natural ecosystem with a constant food supply. A humane baiting system is used whenever removal is necessary. Lisa Ross, the media representative from the Stillwater BLM office stated that the current situation, which shows a lack of fencing, is a concern that should be taken up with the Army base. “The herd is on their property and was left there at the prompting and direction of private citizens and the base’s commitment of providing safe pasture land.”

Terri Knutson, the Field Office Manager located in Stillwater, responded by saying, “Back in 2010 we were ready to complete a horse gathering by removing most of the herd and placing them back into a management plan. We reversed that decision due to public concern and requests. The base not only paid for all the necessary fencing, it was determined that they required fencing due to ordnances left underwater at the south end of the lake. Our agreement was to leave two open areas on the east side so as not to corral the horses. Currently there are too many horses out there, but the BLM will continue to observe the herd. Those wild mustangs originated from Garfield. We (BLM) moved them to the pastures on the south end of Walker Lake many years ago, although many people think they just migrated there naturally.”

In October of 2010, there were Hawthorne banners stating, “Save the Wild Horses”, which was a grassroots effort to retain the herd at Walker Lake.

“The petition group of 2010 stopped the herd’s removal and made sure there was a proper enclosure,” Clinger mentioned. This effort involved members of Hawthorne and Walker Lake, out of area advocates such as Respect4Horses and The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) and there was interfacing with various governmental groups. As far as any follow up, there is only one newspaper record from August 2012, in which ARM monitored the herd.

Today, there are concerned citizens wondering about the condition of these wild horses. Are there problems with interbreeding and a lack of oversight regarding the fencing which was once sufficient for the herd five years ago? What is the actual current herd size? As the horses feed near the water’s edge, it’s known that there are abandoned bomb casings which still lie under the south end of the lake waters. Residents are asking, “Is there any chemical risk to the animals, which is possibly leaching through the expanded green grounds where they currently feed?” In an effort to obtain answers to these specific questions, several calls were made by the Independent News staff, but no contact was made with an appropriate base employee at time of print.

In 2010, the horses were given over ten square miles full of fresh ground water, abundant native grasses and land which meant the herd had protected free-roaming use. Today’s photos reveal that antelope have been tracking into the horse’s area along the shoreline, where the fencing was once secured.

Clinger shared her own concerns. “We may need new funding and volunteers to see that our herd is protected again. We have rare and unusual mustangs. As a newborn fowl they come out dark black but as they age they become grey. I know of one white-grey mare that must be about 20 years old now. If someone checked the gene history of these mustangs, they would find this unique point within this herd’s colorings. This herd brings pride and joy to our county, with many visitors and tourists stopping to photo them along the Walker Lake landscape.”

Clinger was able to confirm that she successfully contacted an employee from the base, who stated that there would be an extension made to the fence line by the end of this year, but no specific details were outlined. Clinger mentioned that a completion needs to be done soon, as the horses will soon be attracted to the fresh, finer grasses which begin growing at the west side of the lake within the sage bushes during January and February.