Saving the Pryor Mountain Mustang: A Legacy of Local and Federal Cooperation

Christine Reed / University of Nevada Press / 152 pages

Saving the Pryor Mountain Mustang: A Legacy of Local and Federal Cooperation, chronicles the lengthy and evolving struggle of one local community to preserve an isolated wild horse herd on the Wyoming/Montana border. Even before passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the efforts of dedicated Lovell, Wyoming, advocates led to the establishment of the first federally protected wild horse range open to the public in 1968, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Because the range spanned lands managed by three federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service (NPS), all with different, and often conflicting, mandates, the advocates’ campaign was challenging.

It was believed from the outset, and later confirmed by genetic testing, that Pryor Mountain wild horses are descendants of the Colonial Spanish Horse. The Lovell advocates were driven by their concern for the humane treatment of animals, but even more so by their desire to preserve the horses’ historic bloodlines. Committed individuals successfully worked to persuade those opposed to the refuge that it could be a valuable tourist attraction to the area.

Author Christine Reed hypothesizes that the process of “consultation” used by local advocates beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the present is responsible for the initial establishment of the range and for herd management practices used by the BLM today. She claims that, unlike many national animal protection organizations that often turn directly to confrontational tactics such as lawsuits and administrative appeals to achieve their goals, Lovell advocates intentionally decided to work with the BLM and the NPS rather than against them. Reed contends that this strategy of building trust and cooperation between advocates and agencies was relatively productive and could serve as a lesson to others trying to influence management outcomes.

Each chapter of Reed’s book is filled with examples of modest and monumental victories by Lovell advocates, including their work to expand the horses’ range; their voluntary and extensive genealogy project of identifying individual horses, offspring and harems; their support of adaptive management for improving habitat health; and their construction of the educational Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.

Reed recognizes the Lovell community’s general distrust of “horse hugger” outsiders. She claims the local advocates’ success was a result of remaining insulated from “the drama of national politics” and using their “distinctive” consultative approach. However, she discounts the significance of the changing political environment that paved the way for improvement in the BLM’s management of the Pryor Mountain herd. BLM management decisions come more from the top down than the bottom up. No “circling of the wagons” changes the fact that Lovell advocates were the beneficiaries of both the consultative and confrontational approaches of national and grassroots organizations. Also, national organizations do routinely engage in consultation—a point that was overlooked by the author.

While it is true, as the author states, “there’s no ‘god’s-eye view’ allowing one to claim objectivity in the critical analysis of any social phenomenon,” there is also no reason to don blinders. Reed’s 50-year historical account is fascinating, and many of the Lovell advocates’ accomplishments merit praise, but readers should bear in mind that there is much more to this story.

—Andrea Lococo, AWI Wildlife Consultant