Up next in the Barren Valley Complex is the Sheepshead-Heath Creek HMA, an area set aside for wild horses. The current population is 949, according to the Final EA for management actions in the Complex. If no action is taken, per Alternative 5, the poor ranchers would continue to suffer “undue hardship” because they can’t “fully use the forage they are authorized.”
In the original WHB Act, lands where horses were found were to be managed principally but not exclusively for wild horses. Today, some HMAs are ‘Horse Minimization Areas,’ because they’re managed primarily for livestock. Is this the case for Sheepshead?
The management plan allows 302 wild horses on 204,500 acres. The forage demand is 3,624 AUMs per year and the aimed-at stocking rate is 1.5 horses per thousand acres.
The target stocking rate across all HMAs is one wild horse or burro per thousand acres.
Unlike Coyote Lake, reviewed on these pages a few days ago, Sheepshead does not have a fractional stocking rate, so the proportion of forage diverted to privately owned livestock may not be as large as Coyote Lake.
The Sheepshead HMA intersects two grazing allotments. Table 5 in the EA provides data on allotment size, authorized forage and grazing seasons. Herd sizes and stocking rates are computed for cow/calf pairs, as their resource requirements are said to be equivalent to those of wild horses. One AUM will sustain one wild horse or one cow/calf pair for one month.
The total estimated forage for livestock inside the HMA, determined in the same manner as Coyote Lake, is 7,276 AUMs per year. The total estimated number of cow/calf pairs inside the HMA is 662. The total allotment acreage falling inside the HMA exceeds the size of the HMA, suggesting that it’s 100% subject to permitted grazing. The area available to livestock inside the HMA was set to 204,500 acres.
The estimated stocking rate allowed by plan is 662 ÷ 204,500 × 1,000 = 3.2 cow/calf pairs per thousand acres, twice the rate set for horses but a much smaller disparity compared to other HMAs in the ‘Short End of Stick’ (SES) series.
The weighted average grazing season is 11 months (7,276 ÷ 662).
These management indicators are compared in the following charts.
The pie chart tells you the HMA is not managed principally for wild horses, but it’s one of the milder cases of forage misappropriation in the SES series.
The forage allocated to livestock would support an additional 606 wild horses (7,276 ÷ 12), for a new AML of 908 (302 + 606).
The current wild horse population exceeds the capacity limit of HMA (949 > 908), which doesn’t include livestock.
The situation may not be as dire as it sounds because the BLM usually imposes a safety factor on forage consumption, meaning there’s more out there than authorized by plan, and the horses migrate between the HMAs in the Complex as stated in the EA. But it’s not a pattern that you’d want to maintain. Next year may bring a drought, or wildfire.
A higher percentage of forage has been diverted to livestock on Coyote Lake, compared to Sheepshead, which is not ideal for free-roaming horses in search of food. The forage allocation at Sand Springs, the third HMA in the Complex, is not known at this time but will be assessed in the near future.