Placitas Open Space: No grazing allowed means no grazing allowed

Allowing the Placitas Open Space (POS) to recover from the ecological damage caused by feral horses in the last few years has been an ongoing struggle. The recently completed POS fencing is critical to that effort, as it keeps out horses and preserves the habitat for wildlife that lives in or travels this important wildlife corridor (grazing is not permitted on any Open Space managed by the City of Albuquerque).

Last Sunday, two Open Space Trail Volunteers were working on the fence line on the south side of the POS when they were accosted by folks who were upset that a new section of secondary fence would prevent any horses inside the POS from accessing a watering tank that sits just outside the POS. The verbal assault was so threatening that the volunteers called the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) for assistance.IMG_0254

The water tank was placed on the POS boundary years ago by an adjacent property owner, at a time when horses frequented the partially unfenced POS. He declined to move it last February when the POS fencing was being completed by a City of Albuquerque (COA) crew, so they had to route the fence around it. Now that the POS is fenced and (presumably) free of horses, there’s no need for horses to be able to access an outside water tank from inside the POS (by putting their heads through the fence).

The POS has been horse-free since February. However, three horses apparently showed up in the last week or so, prior to the fence incident. The horses could only have gotten in through a cut in the fence or by someone opening a gate and coaxing them in. In fact, fence cuts were discovered twice recently (see our July 27 and July 18 posts below), but were quickly repaired by volunteers and a COA crew. The people who accosted the volunteers apparently knew that three horses had recently entered the POS and were concerned they wouldn’t have access to water. According to WHOA president Patience O’Dowd, the three horses on the POS were a “mare with cancer” and her two nursing foals. However, our horse-owning correspondents saw no horses on the POS matching O’Dowd’s heart-rending description. They did see two mares and a yearling.

The incident has generated some misinformation. According to a recent post on a Facebook page used by WHOA supporters, the Open Space volunteers’ fence work was “illegal” and they were asked to “stand down” by the sheriff. However, the police report indicates that at the scene on Sunday, SCSO contacted Matt Schmader, superintendent of the COA Open Space division, who confirmed he had authorized the fence work by the volunteers. But in light of the situation, the volunteers temporarily suspended the fence work.

Quail origThe absence (mostly) of horses on the POS in recent months, combined with the generous monsoon rains, has allowed the native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs to leaf out and put on some growth (see our August 11 post). People hiking the POS report seeing more small mammals, black-throated sparrows are back, and hawks are soaring above. But it takes years for high desert habitat to fully recover from ecological damage. If the POS is allowed to recover, this important riparian and grasslands area will again be able to support the many different wildlife species that call it home.

Our thanks to the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division and the volunteers who are working hard to preserve this unique recreational area for our community. Let’s keep it civil and truthful, folks, and try to abide by laws that benefit everyone.

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Update: An LOLR contributor reported this morning (Aug. 7) that the three horses that had mysteriously appeared on the POS in recent days have now mysteriously disappeared in the wake of Sunday’s incident. WHOAAA!!!