Habitat + water = wildlife

Wouldn’t this be nice to see on the Buffalo Tract!

Santa Ana Pueblo talks the talk, and then walks the walk.


Mule deer.
Photo courtesy of Pueblo of Santa Ana. Used with permission.

Santa Ana cougar family

Mountain lion family visiting a tire drinker at night.
Photo courtesy of Pueblo of Santa Ana. Used with permission.


Photo courtesy of Pueblo of Santa Ana. Used with permission.


Photo courtesy of Pueblo of Santa Ana. Used with permission.

WHOA’s three strikes

scales_of_justiceLast week, the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) lost its bid to have the US Supreme Court hear its case against the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the Placitas free-roaming horses. WHOA had previously lost the case in US District Court and lost its subsequent appeal in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. WHOA then filed a Petition for Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court (No. 13-1385 v. Wild Horse Observers Association, et al., Petitioners). On October 6, 2014, the petition was denied, which simply means the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, not finding it compelling. WHOA has now exhausted its remedies and the case is effectively over.

WHOA’s initial 2011 lawsuit filed in US District Court claimed the Secretary of the Interior and the BLM had violated a federal law protecting wild horses because the agencies hadn’t recognized the free-roaming horses of Placitas as wild. WHOA also sought an injunction against an Algodones resident to prevent him from working with the BLM to gather free-roaming horses on his land.

Wait, there’s more

WHOA filed a separate lawsuit against the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB), in February 2014. In that suit, WHOA argued the Placitas horses are not livestock and shouldn’t be treated as livestock by NMLB. In July, New Mexico’s Second District Court decided the case against WHOA, ruling the horse are estrays and can be impounded under state livestock laws. In August, WHOA filed an appeal with the NM Court of Appeals. It will be some time before the outcome of that appeal is known.

While WHOA’s legal wrangling will continue a bit longer, so far the group is 0 for 4.

Note: Only horse herds identified, inventoried and designated as wild following enactment of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 are considered “wild” under federal law and subject to the law’s protections. No free-roaming/wild horse herd was identified in the Placitas area when BLM inventoried horses on public lands in New Mexico after the Act was passed. New Mexico does have one legally designated wild horse herd; it roams the BLM’s Bordo Atravesado Herd Management Area east of Socorro.


Three entities vie for BLM “Buffalo Tract”

horse_bufftractEveryone seems to want a piece of the Buffalo Tract, a 3142-acre chunk of BLM land that sits at the north end of Placitas. Along with San Felipe Pueblo and the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant Association (SALH) is interested in the parcel. The Land Grant is hoping to acquire 1500 acres of the tract through the federal Recreation and Public Purposes Act and is presenting its proposal at a public meeting:

Saturday, October 11, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Las Placitas Presbyterian Church

If successful, the organization would develop hiking/equestrian trails and picnic areas on the land. In a recent meeting, Land Grant representatives told us they are working to separately acquire 100 acres of the BLM tract for a solar farm, which would provide revenue to establish an historic working museum in northern Placitas (an architect’s model of the museum will be displayed at the Oct. 11 meeting). The Land Grant’s ad on page 12 of the October issue of the Sandoval Signpost has additional information.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana is also hoping to acquire the BLM tract, via congressional legislation or direct acquisition from the BLM. The primary aim of the “Santa Ana Wildlife Corridor Proposal” is to restore the natural habitat on the land and protect the wildlife corridor through which elk, mountain lion and other animals move between the Sandia and Jemez mountain ranges (read a summary of the proposal here). Most of the Sandia-Jemez corridor lies within the pueblo’s current boundaries. Adding the remaining portion that occurs on the BLM tract would mean the pueblo could ensure the viability of the entire corridor and protect it from development. We recently wrote about Santa Ana’s strong track record in land restoration and wildlife management. Santa Ana will present its plan at a public meeting:

Saturday, October 25, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Pueblo of Santa Ana Tribal Council Chamber
2 Dove Rd., Santa Ana Pueblo

San Felipe Pueblo, the third contender for the BLM tract, presented its plans at a public meeting on August 23. San Felipe Pueblo land manager Ricardo Ortiz indicated part of the BLM acreage would be combined with adjacent pueblo lands and used for a horse sanctuary and related tourism operation. The sanctuary would be managed by a Colorado organization. It was not clear how many horses the sanctuary would accommodate. Wildlife corridors would also be protected, Ortiz said, but he provided no specifics. In September, the local Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) began publicly soliciting funds for a San Felipe “Wild Horse Sanctuary,” with donations going directly to WHOA.

Hard math

Populations of free-roaming horses can double in size about every four years and triple every six years:1

Horse population growth graph
The same reproduction rate can be applied to the three or so small bands of horses that were in Placitas around 15 years ago, allowing us to see how a population of about 25 horses could grow to nearly 200 over ten years:

Horse population graph 2


During the last decade or so, Placitas has also had additional horses arriving from pueblo lands and, judging by the presence of an occasional gelded or shod horse, some horses turned loose in the Placitas hills by owners during the economic downturn. All this led to a population expansion that quickly outstripped the land’s ability to provide forage.2


1 Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward. Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program; Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources; Division on Earth and Life Studies; National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2013, p. 56. Available here.

2 According to the Task Force on Free-Roaming Horses of Placitas, Final Report (Sandoval County and New Mexico First, 2014), informal counts of the horse population by residents in 2011-2013 resulted in estimates ranging from about 115 horses in the immediate Placitas vicinity to more than 550 horses in the broader Placitas and Algodones areas, with unknown numbers in Diamond Tail, Crest of Montezuma, Ball Ranch, and other areas. One Saturday in 2012, the editors of this blog counted more than 40 horses along a three-mile stretch of Camino de la Rosa Castilla in northeast Placitas and another 12 in the nearby Cedar Creek subdivision.


We’re getting lots of new visitors this week, thanks to our full-page ad in the October issue of the Sandoval Signpost. And we’ve been cheered by the many kind words of support and appreciation.home-cup-tea-hot We started up a couple months ago and see more readers every week.

If this is your first visit, welcome! We hope you’ll grab a cup of coffee and take a minute to look around. We publish new posts a couple of times a week on issues related to free-roaming horses, preservation of the Placitas environment, and related activities of local groups.

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It’s another perfect fall day — hope you have time to get out and enjoy the beautiful Placitas landscape.

–The editors and contributors at Let Our Land Rest

Straight talk

shutterstock_45774745“Feral horses and burros are invasive species in North America. Exotic, non-native species are among the most widespread and serious threats to the integrity of native wildlife populations because they invade and degrade native ecosystems.

When invasive species are perceived as a natural component of the environment, the general public may regard them as “natural,” not understanding the damages they inflict on native systems.”

– The Wildlife Society

(The Wildlife Society is a national professional organization: “The members of The Wildlife Society manage, conserve, and study wildlife populations and habitats.”)