Feral horses graze the Pryor Mountains. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently accepting comments on a proposed change in its wild horse management plan for the Pryor Mountains. The BLM needs positive encouragement to follow up on its proposed plan to reduce the Pryor Mountain horse herd to counter the on-going damage from feral horses.

Horse grazing subalpine meadow. Pryor Mountains, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

On March 15, 2023, the BLM published the Preliminary Environmental Assessment on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Joint Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP), Gather Plan, and Billings Field Office RMP Amendment for 30-day public comment (comment period runs March 15-April 14, 2023).

The Pryor Mountains are among one of the least appreciated mountain ranges in Montana. Lying south of Billings, Montana, the Pryor’s consists mainly of uplifted limestone. Three agencies manage the Range: the BLM, Forest Service, and National Park Service (Big Horn Canyon NRA).

The EA considers the effects of four alternatives in detail, including continued implementation of the 2009 HMAP with and without gathers (Alternatives 1 and 4). Two alternatives propose new objectives for Range and population management. Alternative 2 randomly removes horses to meet population objectives, stratified by age and sex. Alternative 3 considers herd lineage to inform removal decisions.

Horse herd on snowbank to limit biting bugs. Pryor Mountains, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

The one thing that the BLM and most ecologists agree upon is that there are too many feral horses in the Pryor Mountains. Horses are not native to the Pryor Mountains but are descendants of animals that were either released or escaped from captivity.

The Pryor Mountains are a unique place.

The Pryor Mountains rise from desert with just 6 inches of precipitation to subalpine meadows. Photo George Wuerthner 

Elevations vary from Elevations range from 3,850 feet to 8,750 feet at the highest peaks. The lowest elevations are among the most arid locations in Montana, with only 6 inches of precipitation. Some liken the lower elevations of the Pryors to Utah’s Canyon Country. And indeed, plant species typical of that area, including Utah juniper and black sagebrush, are found in the Pryors.

Flower studded meadows are common in the Pryors at higher elevation. Photo George Wuerthner 

There are 1000 species of plants in the Pryors, including 40% of all species found in Montana. Along the flanks, sagebrush and greasewood desert areas rise to flowery subalpine meadows flanked by aspen, lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir forests.

A feral horse herd has existed in the Pryors for decades. The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range was created by the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, on September 9, 1968. At the time, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range encompassed 33,600 acres of BLM and National Park Service-managed lands in Montana. In the years since, additional land was added to the Range, including land across state lines in Wyoming. Today, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range comprises more than 38,000 acres.

The issue is whether the current feral horse numbers exceeds carrying capacity and the Herd Management Plan. The original plan set the number of horses at 90-120 animals. Even with periodic reduction efforts, including fertility treatment of mares, the number of horses is now over 200 adults—some 70% above the  Approrpiate Management Level.

The Pryor Mountains horse herd is 70% over the Allotment Management Plan. Photo George Wuerthner

This population would seem to directly oppose the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which requires managing agencies to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance.” Instead, however, the excess horses have degraded the natural environment.

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros act mandates that the horses be managed to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance .” Unfortunately, years of overpopulation of feral horses have significantly degraded the “thriving natural ecological balance.”

Dramatic escapement of the Pryor Mountains. Photo George Wuerthner

There are concerns for the Pryor Mountains horse genetics from horse lovers. However, recent genetic tests concluded that Pryor horses originated from domestic livestock. They include ancestry from New World “Spanish” breeds (saddle-type horses) and related to European “Spanish” breeds. Other genetic analyses suggested that the Quarter Horse was the closest breed to Pryor horses. However, all of the genetic markers in these horses are found in other wild horse breeds, so there is nothing particularly exceptional about Pryor’s horse genetic background.

To preclude inbreeding issues in the herd, the proposed plan will measure genetic diversity and introduce mares or stallions from other herds to prevent genetic problems.

The lowest elevations of the Pryor Mountains resembles southern Utah canyon country. Photo George Wuerthner 

Strong support of BLM’s proposals is appropriate and needed. Support for Alternative 2 would randomly remove horses to meet population objectives, stratified by age and sex. Alternative 3 considers herd lineage to inform removal decisions. Both would reduce feral horse numbers but not eliminate the herd. Either. Public comments are invited until April 14, 2023. You make comments at this link.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

46 Responses to Pryor Mountains Horse Management Plan Revision Needs Support

  1. Linda Horn says:

    Can’t quite bring yourself to say ‘mustang’ like J. Frank Dobie and just about everyone who’s chronicled the West, eh George? Be honest. You have little use for them in the wild and perhaps would prefer to consign them to history. After all, a horse is a horse — and if you want to see one, just go to where zoning allows.

  2. Ed Loosli says:

    George:: The federal law calls them “Wild Horses” not “feral horses”, so you should stick to their legal description. Yes, these Pryor Mountain wild horses, like all wild horses now in the Western U.S. came from European ancestors (mostly Spanish). HOWEVER, please remember that these European horses descended from the original horses that evolved in North America, and thus, “wild horses” are very much native to the American West, where horses originated and evolved. Question: Are there cattle now being allowed to graze in the Pryor Mountain Wild House Area?? If so, they should all be removed from there and from all designated Wild House Areas.

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      Ed, both you & Linda made exactly the points I would have – so wont waste time doing it again!
      I will say – “feral” may mean wild in the dictionary, but it also is the term used by naysayers!! Surprised at George, frankly.

  3. Ed Loosli says:

    “horse” – not – house

  4. David says:

    Thank you George for providing a meaningful option to do more than simply read another polemic on our current obsession with destroying our environment. My supportive comments have been submitted to the BLM. Keep up the good work.

  5. Ed Loosli says:

    On average, within the official legally designated “Wild Horse Areas” cattle outnumber horses 10 to 1. So, why all the fuss about Wild Horses and not the main culprits in the destruction of our Western Public lands – exotic non-native domestic livestock.

  6. Ted Chu says:

    It is good to manage feral horse numbers at appropriate management levels so ranchers cannot scapegoat them for damage caused by their cows. Livestock damage is both additive and cumulative over time regardless of the species or combination of species involved. A hungry pronghorn doesn’t care whether its food was eaten by a horse or a cow, just that it’s gone.

  7. Ida Lupine says:

    I wish we could have ethics when it comes to this, instead of destroying whatever we have no use for. There must be a humane alternative. After all, this is yet another problem we have caused; let’s take some ethical responsibility?

    We owe a debt to horses for helping us build this country. They have now become a symbol of our American West. Something must have meaning, somewhere in modern times?

  8. Jeff Hoffman says:

    I don’t understand this relatively new obsession with wild horses. Horses are not even close to being a problem on this planet, while cattle are a MAJOR problem. While I will always applaud George for his work showing how harmful cattle grazing in the west is, this obsession with horses is rather disturbing. I can easily see this being pushed by ranchers to draw attention away from the great harms that they and their cattle are doing.

    • Ed Loosli says:

      Exactly Jeff:: In this one case, George is aiding and abetting the cattle industry by deflecting any criticism of the massive destruction done by the cattle (and sheep) away from them – and onto the relatively small number of wild-horses. There are multi-millions of exotic privately owned cattle destroying the Public Lands in the West, even in Wilderness Areas. There are only a few thousand wild-horses and even in their legally designated Wild Horse Areas, the habitat is being over-run and over-grazed by domestic cattle. Cattle raised on our Public Lands contribute less than 3% of the nation’s beef, so it is not worth the trouble and environmental cost to continue allowing cattle (and sheep) to be on our Public Lands.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        The economics of this never made sense to me. Ranchers are nothing economically compared to industries like Wall Street, banking, fossil fuels, etc. So where do they get all their power to continue grazing and destroying public lands at a steeply discounted rate? Some say it’s the cowboy myth, some say it’s the American love of beef (regardless of the fact that 97% of cattle are not grazed on public land). Don’t know, but this continues to mystify me considering the great harms done by cattle without any substantial benefit to anyone except some ranchers.

        • Maggie Frazier says:

          I remember reading how grazing cattle is “tradition” and part of their “culture”.
          Well theres a great deal of what used to be called tradition & culture that was set aside because it just doesnt work in this current time!
          The whole cowboy tale is old news.
          When I was a kid it was really cool – but having been educated as to the damage done to our environment? Not cool anymore.

          • Jeff Hoffman says:

            The problem is that the people running things in D.C. don’t realize that the cowboy myth is old news. I have no doubt that they either don’t care, or they want to perpetuate it. When I was running the campaign that eventually removed cattle from a state park near me, I was warned not to push too hard because the ranchers could take the issue to the White House (this was during Reagan). So there it is.

  9. Margo M Wixsom says:

    PLEASE follow the national Parks mission to protect habitat and wildlife by reducing/excluding feral horses from ALL park sites, especially at Pryor Mountain. Feral horses have no place in protected wilderness. We must stop the misguided selective sympathy for feral horses and cats, simply because they can also be pests. In wilderness areas they are simply destructive and unnatural. PLEASE follow all measures to rid our wilderness areas of ALL feral horses. In reply to horse sympathizers – line up to adopt these invasive species and take them home as your pets so we CAN restore wilderness areas with ONLY native species.

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      Might be a really nifty idea to remove the grazing allotment livestock – cattle arent native to the area or actually anywhere in this country. But the Wild Horses? They are. The “feral” title is used by BLM & livestock producers claiming the horses are completely to blame for destruction. Check out the numbers comparing cattle to Wild Horses. Its a pretty big discrepancy. The horses dont need to be adopted & “taken home” – just let them have the areas – the HMAs – that originally were set aside – many of which have been zeroed out by BLM or FS at the same time cattle are being trucked in.
      Feral and invasive? Not so.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Sounds like rancher BS. Horses aren’t the problem cattle are. Horses are native to North America, cattle aren’t native to anywhere because they were bred into existence by humans. Furthermore, the animal from which cattle were bred lived in marsh areas near forests, not in arid and semi-arid areas like the western U.S., where cattle do immense damage. Horses, on the other hand, are native to what is now the western U.S.

      So please, stop with the anti-horse crap. Remove the cattle and this particular problem will be solved.

  10. Millie Hoff says:

    I have the idea THAT THIS WHOLE PLANET would be just fine WITHOUT OUR “STEWARDSHIP”. All the money spent on arguements that never seem to find solutions….committees,lobbying,bribes, lawsuits…omg! STOP!!!!and start over.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      If you mean that humans just need to leave the natural world alone, I couldn’t agree more. The only stewardship humans need to do is to rectify the harms that they’ve caused by doing things like reintroducing native wildlife, protecting natural areas from human harms, and restoring native ecosystems. But if you mean that we should just let jerks like ranchers ruin the land and kill the native wildlife, then a big NO.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      Wow. He really isn’t very compassionate towards wildlife. A crony politician who has been in Washington for almost 50 years, giving to get something in return, and wildlife is always the easiest way, because very few will protest or even be aware what he is doing.

      Yes, he’s put aside land for protection, but that seems to be a by-the-book thing for every president. I’ll take every scrap.

      And Haaland has been a great disappointment. 🙁

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        But in this world where the vast majority of people are human supremacists, Biden’s actions and those of other presidents aren’t much if at all different than what the average person would do. Presidents like Reagan and Trump were excessive in their attempts to destroy natural land and kill the native life there, but they weren’t average presidents either.

        • Ida Lapine says:

          That’s true. I guess I hope for something different. Also, they always have to be aware of public opinion polls, and I know that must stand in the way too.

        • Ida Lupine says:

          Whoops, I think I have a duplicate comment from a typo. Ralph, could you delete that one please? Thank you.

          Here’s what I wrote:

          That’s true. I guess I hope for something different. Also, they always have to be aware of public opinion polls, and I know that must stand in the way too.

        • Rambling Dave says:

          Exactly. These so-called leaders don’t appear magically out of a vacuum or come from the planet Mars. They’re born and bred Americans, same as the average boob on the street, just elevated into positions of power and distorted by life-long privilege. The United States top to bottom has always been a violent, racist country based on hustling and its citizens willfully ignorant and generally not very nice. Read Morris Berman. He’ll tell you.

          • Jeff Hoffman says:

            Fully agree! Consider the kind of people who founded this country — upper middle class people who were angry that they couldn’t get into the upper class in Europe and who were slave-owners, and religious fanatics, all of whom had no problem killing the Natives and stealing their land — and it’s only logical that the U.S. would turn out like this.

  11. Ida Lupine says:

    ^^And demand more!

  12. Marc Bedner says:

    “Direct radiocarbon dating of discoveries ranging from southern Idaho to southwestern Wyoming and northern Kansas showed that horses were present across much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains by the early 17th century, and conclusively before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This earlier dispersal validates many traditional perspectives on the origin of the horse from project partners, including the Comanche and Pawnee, who recognize the link between archaeological findings and oral traditions.”


    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      What is your point? There is no question that native horses became extinct in North America before the colonizers got here, then were reintroduced as domesticated horses, some escaping and becoming wild. This study shows nothing different, with the possible exception of Natives and horses taking quickly to each other.

      • Marc Bedner says:

        I mainly posted the link to the article as a matter of scientific interest.
        As to the point of adding it to this discussion, I see it as evidence that horses were establishing a major presence in the west before cows became predominant. Horses thus have a better claim over cows not only because, unlike cows, they are descended from a species native to North America, but also, in much of the west, they were here first.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          Got it, thanks. We fully agree. This obsession with horses should be ended. We should focus on the real problem, which is cattle. As a horse-lover, I find this stuff pretty offensive considering that 1) horses are native here and 2) there are so many times more cattle than horses that I couldn’t even estimate that number.

    • Marc Bedner says:

      The recent study may not be the last word on horse evolution in North America, but rather a step toward a reconsideration of when, or indeed whether, native horses were driven to extinction. A 2017 academic paper raises the question:

      Although Western academia admits that the horse originated in the Americas, it claims that the horse became extinct in these continents during the Last Glacial Maximum (between roughly 13,000 and 11,000 years ago). This version of “history” credits Spanish conquistadors and other early European explorers with reintroducing the horse to the Americas and to her Indigenous Peoples. However, many Native Nations state that “they always had the horse” and that they had well established horse cultures long before the arrival of the Spanish. To date, “history” has been written by Western academia to reflect a Eurocentric and colonial paradigm.


      • Ed Loosli says:

        Marc:: Thank you so much for un-earthing this hidden gem of news. Is it possible to access the full Dissertation, as I cannot find it on-line??

        • Linda Horn says:

          Hi Ed — I knew I had Yevette’s full dissertation in my files, but my updated security system (Malwarebytes) doesn’t trust the third party website. Thankfully, it does trust the primary source: University of Alaska’s Scholarworks. I download it from here without a peep out of the sometimes nitpicky product that does a great job policing my frequent online activity:


          • Ed Loosli says:

            To: Linda Horn,,, Thank you so much for cleverly figuring out how to send us the well written and presented PhD Dissertation by Yvette Running Horse Collin. … I hope everyone interested in the history of humans in what are now called North & South America will read it, and hopefully, they will learn some things they never knew before.

          • Ida Lupine says:

            Yes, I’m glad to know this, and to see the colonizer point of view promoted right before our eyes, and this to refute it, is very heartening.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        I would generally believe the Natives over the colonizers, but all people lie in my experience. The Natives here used to say that they’ve been in the Americas forever, then recently they admitted that they’ve only been here for around 25,000 years, as the science shows.

        I was sent a picture of some sort of petroglyph by a friend that predated colonization of the Americas, showing Natives riding horses. So my guess is that Natives rode horses before the colonizers got here. Then the question is, why did the horses here become extinct if the Natives were riding them?

        Some things are unknowable, and the answers to these questions are probably some of them.

  13. Ida Lupine says:

    All kinds of good stuff. This one may be especially important in a future of climate change:


    • Rambling Dave says:

      I’ve spent significant time hiking in the Mojave and the wild burros definitely dig wells to find water. If one is observant, you can follow the burro trails through the terrain, choosing the most recently used ones, and invariably they’ll lead you to water. Most water sources are already marked on the USGS topos, but many times I came upon unmapped seeps and tiny pools hidden under cliffs and in otherwise dry washes, all dug out (“improved” as the Feds call it) by the burros. Burros are wonderfully adapted to the hardest deserts, places where humans don’t really belong and wouldn’t last long without technology.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        I think that some Natives lived in the deserts here, but their population was really low, and they were transient hunter-gatherers, not lingering very long in one place. Deserts can support life, they just support a lot less of it.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        That is really amazing. Other creatures’ abilities are certainly undervalued and underappreciated by humans, that’s for sure. Thanks!

        I look forward to reading all of the links posted as well.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          The reason that humans undervalue the intelligence of other species is human ego and hubris. That type of thing is at the root of all these problems. If humans felt at one with the rest of life and felt empathy with the rest of life, they wouldn’t try to make themselves feel more intelligent.

          There are many types of intelligence, and humans obviously excel at some of them. But nonhumans also excel at some of them, way beyond anything humans are capable of. Then humans set the rules for who is how intelligent, and guess who wins?

  14. Jannett y says:

    200 horses is the genetic quantity needed to stabilize a herd from becoming inbred George. How many cattle are out there. I’m sure it’s more than 200.


March 2023


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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