A group in western Montana is seeking private land to place up to 325 wild horses that can't be sustained on federal land.
The Rural Sustainability Organization in Drummond, Mont., has applied to create a so-called "ecosanctuary" on private land to provide long-term homes for the horses. Drummond is located between Missoula and Helena.
"We're still finding out if it's going to happen," Nancy Radke of the group, which has organized community projects in the Drummond area for 14 years, told the Missoulian. "We're working with landowners to have different pieces of land available."
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates it has about 33,760 wild horses roaming on its lands in 10 Western states as of 2013. Montana has 145 wild horses on the agency's Pryor Mountain land in the state, and Wyoming has 3,459 wild horses on 16 federal range areas.
"Our horse management areas are at capacity, and this is way more cost effective than holding them in short-term facilities," said John Hill of the agency's Missoula field office. "This is to provide for humane treatment for the horses."
The 4,000-acre Deerwood Ranch near Laramie, Wyo., was among the the agency's first wild horse ecosanctuaries. On Friday, owner Jana Wilson said the application process took about two years.
"We had raised cows and calves, but the calving season is really tough up here," Wilson said. "We got to the point where we were just bringing in yearling (cattle) to graze for the summer and selling hay, but that left the ranch open without anything going on for winter, and that didn't seem right. We thought the horse thing was a worthwhile venture to get into."
The Deerwood Ranch initially took in about 240 wild geldings in October 2012 and got 65 more last fall. The agency compensates ecosanctuary providers about $1.30 a day per horse.
The BLM requires participants to treat the horses as wild animals. They may be herded to rotate pasture usage and given supplemental feed in the winter, but otherwise aren't supposed to be handled, medically treated, adopted, trained or sold. They must also remain on specially fenced private land and can't go onto public grazing lease land.
In addition to the harboring fee, the agency also asks ecosanctuaries to allow public tours of their land.
Hill said the Drummond proposal should have a preliminary environmental assessment finished by June 23, followed by a 30-day public comment period.