Drought means disaster in Sand Wash Basin as wild horses, other wildlife left without water

Just one water hole remains for hydrating 700-plus horses

Wild horses bathe and drink in a water hole in Sand Wash Basin. The drought has caused a severe water shortage for the 700-800 horses in the area.
Courtesy photo

If ever there were a question about the severity and speed with which heat of this caliber and a drought of this magnitude can multiply together to equal destruction, the present experience of the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin are proof positive.

“Some horses are eating mud,” said Cindy Wright Thursday evening, co-founder of Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin, one of the groups fighting to protect the herd of 700 to 800 west almost 50 miles west of Craig. “It’s bad.”

Tuesday, a hopeful Wright told the Craig Press that while the situation was dire, the resources to improve the situation for these horses and other animals in the region were available. They just needed to be activated.

“The impact’s pretty severe,” Wright said then. “But we have a meeting set up with the (Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday), and we’re hoping they will allow us to haul water or will have made arrangements to haul water.”

While the BLM has agreed in principle to help, the matter has to travel up and back down the chain to the federal level, and the paperwork is caught in a logjam — every wild horse advocacy group in the country is asking for the same thing, Wright said.

In the meantime, a single generator was working to move water overnight — solar panels keep the water moving during the day — into the last remaining water hole responsible for hydrating the majority of the 700-plus horses in the basin.

Then, Thursday night, the generator quit.

A desperate, frustrated Wright said Thursday that the national office had promised to sign paperwork this coming Monday or Tuesday that would allow more resources to get involved in hauling water to where it could be accessed by the animals.

“That’s not soon enough,” she said. “That’s too long. What are we going to do? The horses won’t last four days without water.”

Tuesday, Wright said the horses — each one of which has a name and is recognizable on sight to Warriors and the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Adovcate Team, another group with a similar goal — were down to a single water hole. Normally, the 225-square-mile herd management area sports between 20 and 30 such spots.

“These horses will die,” Wright said Tuesday of what will happen if the BLM didn’t agree to facilitate hauling of water from a well in the southern portion of the basin. “A huge number of them, anyway. Part of the reason is that, at this one, one water hole — there may be some seeps or puddles, but one major hole left — what happens is you have that many horses converging on one area and it increases the level of stress for the horses.”

That means more than equine agitation. It means increased competition for everything, from the scarce water itself to mates.

“These horses, their mentality is fight for life, and the stallions will fight for mares, similar to elk or deer,” Wright said. “When a mare is in heat, the stallion wants it, and we have major fights. That exposure of this many horses to one another, it just increases drastically the conflict and the deaths. Stallions get hurt, foals get hurt. Deaths just due to injury and to the added stress around the water hole happen.”

Wright said Thursday that her husband was bringing another generator up that night and that hopefully they could get something to tide the horses over. By sun-up, the solar panels could take over. But it’s not a sustainable long-term solution.

“It’s not the fault of our local BLM,” Wright said, stressing the helpfulness of the local office. “Their hands are tied federally. But it’s that every state is asking for water for wild horses. It’s not just Sand Wash Basin — it’s a national crisis.”

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