Water partnership benefits wild horses in Wyoming's McCullough Peaks

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For years, water runoff from an oil field moistened Dry Creek, providing water for wild horses, livestock and wildlife in Wyoming’s McCullough Peaks.

“It was a nice source of water in an otherwise dry area,” said Sarah Beckwith, of the Bureau of Land Management’s Cody office.

So when Marathon Oil Co., which owned the Oregon Basin oil field, was ordered by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to reduce the amount of water flowing into the creek, the company approached the BLM to provide an alternate water source for animals in the arid Big Horn Basin.

To offset the loss, Marathon drilled three exploratory wells this year, one of which is producing water. To supply animals with a steady source of water, the company will install a trough of some type in 2013.

“Finding that water was the first big hurdle,” Beckwith said.

“Water is a key ingredient for sustainable habitat in the McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area,” said Marshall Dominick, a founding member of Friends of a Legacy. “By developing reliable, life-giving water sources, our partnership will provide a win-win situation for all creatures that live there, as well as for us humans who benefit from the existence of those creatures and their habitat.”

In addition, the BLM cleaned out several reservoirs to capture more snow melt and is planning to construct other water-holding devices on the sagebrush prairie. The groups will also partner with FOAL, a Cody nonprofit wild horse advocacy organization, to remove nonnative vegetation around waterways to reduce the amount of water being sucked up by trees like Russian olives and salt cedar.

“This partnership is a proactive step toward looking at alternative ways to provide additional sources of water to the Dry Creek drainage,” said Mike Stewart, BLM Cody field manager. “I am so pleased that Marathon came forward with this idea to benefit wild horses, wildlife and livestock and comply with its permit at the same time.”

The work is partially funded through grants Marathon and FOAL secured.

The McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Range is home to about 150 adult horses of mixed heritage, some of which date back to the first North American horses brought from Spain. The BLM and FOAL are actively trying to maintain the herd at about 100 animals through the use of birth control darting as well as with trapping and removal.

The BLM hopes to remove about 20 horses in April and put them up for public adoption April 26-27. The horses would be captured at water sources.

“Hopefully by doing this in conjunction with field darting, captures won’t be necessary anymore,” Beckwith said.

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