Unless some unexpected last-minute appeals arise, federal land manager Lori “Chip” Kimball said a proposal to move 1,000 wild horses onto land in Butte County looks like it will move forward.
Kimball said discussions with a local landowner are still occurring, but that she has signed off on an environmental assessment to allow roughly 1,000 wild horses to be moved from a Ft. Pierre-area ranch onto leased ranch pastures in southeast Butte County.
Kimball, the South Dakota field manager for the federal Bureau of Land Management, said she’s now waiting for the 30-day appeal period to run its course on Sept. 15.
Without any surprise objections, the plan is to move the horses around the end of September.
The horses are “excess wild horses” managed through the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program.
“We found that there is not going to be a significant environmental impact from moving the horses,” Kimball said. “If we get an appeal by Sept. 15, then we will look at the points they brought up in the appeal and see if we need to make changes, reevaluate the Environmental Assessment.”
“One way or another,” she said, “we will address the concerns.”
Depending on issues raised in any appeal, “It may or may not delay the arrival of the horses.”
The assessment was sent to individuals and groups who identified as interested parties.
Kimball said the assessment reflects that “the number of horses that we’re planning on bringing here is less than the carrying capacity of the land.”
The BLM, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is charged with protection and management of wild horse herds under an act of Congress. But it’s also under orders not to let herds on public lands overgraze.
Since the horse numbers can double in four years, that means BLM has to lease ranch land for the animals that aren’t adopted through a national program.
About 1,000 of these “excess” horses have been pasturing on the Standing Butte Ranch in Stanley County under a grazing contract with Spur Livestock, which contracts with the BLM.
When a move became necessary, Spur proposed a grazing lease with NW Ranches in southeast Butte County.
Normally a move of horses from one leased pasture to another wouldn’t raise eyebrows.
But because of the federal involvement, BLM has to go through standard regulations to approve the move.
Kimball said the plan to move the horses includes special fencing to keep the wild horses from mixing with other horses pastured on nearby private land.
“In all fairness, we do take the adjacent landowner concerns into consideration,” Kimball said.
She added that the Belle Fourche BLM office staff has taken special interest in the herd.
“We hired a contractor to manage this herd,” she said. “But we’re going to do what we can to help as well.”
Kimball said, “We care about the horses, we care about the land, we care about the adjacent landowners; we’re part of this community.”