ENNIS — Good fences make good neighbors. — At least that’s what Greg and Karen Rice hope.
The Rices are owners of the Spanish Q Ranch, just outside of Ennis, and the ranch is the first long-term holding facility for wild horses in Montana.
The 710 horses arrived on several truckloads in late February and early March as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. Four neighboring landowners appealed the transfer of those horses because of concerns about containing the animals, as well as the effect the horses might have on wildlife in the area, such as elk.
Other neighbors to the Spanish Q have supported the move.
The horses were held on feeding grounds until June 1 when they were released onto a 2,500-acre pasture. About 300 of the wild horses are two-year-olds, while the rest are five years or older. All are geldings.
Along with letting the horses acclimate to each other, the mustangs were held on the feeding grounds so required fencing could be built.
Eventually, the Spanish Q hopes to use about 12,000 of the approximately 15,000-
acre ranch for the care of the horses.
However, the Rices must fence out BLM land they lease from the private land where they plan to keep the horses.
The BLM requires all fences at the Spanish Q to be at least 48 inches, higher than the standard 38-to-42 inch fence. The fences along public land are four-wire fences, and they must also have extra space at the top and bottom to allow for the movement of wildlife.
Katie Benzel, a wildlife biologist with the BLM office in Dillon, said the fencing along public land must have an 18-inch gap beneath the bottom wire and the ground, and a gap of 14-inches between the first and second wire.
Greg Rice said he used five-wire fencing on his private land.
Along with the fencing requirements, Benzel said the BLM has set up vegetation monitoring stations in the pastures where the horses will graze.
Pat Fosse, a natural resource specialist at the BLM Dillon field office, said those monitoring stations will help the BLM determine if the range becomes over-used and if more horses will be brought onto the ranch in the future.
“If there is extra grass, perhaps we can bring more horses out,” Fosse said. “If the grass is a little too short, past what we identify as the 50-percent utilization by weight (mark), then we’ll remove some of the horses. If it’s pretty close, we’ll leave it at the same (number of horses).”
Fosse said the monitoring stations will be checked in the fall to make that determination. The Spanish Q’s 10–year contract calls for a maximum holding capacity of 1,150 wild horses.
The Rices are receiving $1.36 per horse, per day, but said they are responsible for the cost of the new fencing and the feed.
“This ain’t a runaway,” Greg Rice said. “At the end of the deal, it’s going to be alright, but the first two or three years are going to be rough.”
The $1.36 per day, per horse equates to $956 per day, or nearly $30,000 per month for the care of the 710 horses.
Karen Rice said the Rices agreed to take on the wild horses to save the ranch. She said they’ve owned the Spanish Q since 1969, and the family is fifth-generation ranchers.
“We’re good stewards of the land,” she said. “By gosh, Greg has been at this his whole life and our son has too … We’d never abuse this place. You just can’t live on it and abuse it, and we’re not about to start now … I hope to keep this place for our grandchildren. And we felt with a steady income we can do that.”
The Interior Board of Land Appeals is not expected to make a ruling on the appeals against the Spanish Q any time soon. Ruth Hughes, a legal assistant with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, told The Montana Standard on Monday that it could be up to a year until the appeal against the horse transfer to the Spanish Q is ruled upon.
The BLM’s other long-term facilities are in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska.
Fosse said there could be other opportunities for Montana ranchers interested in gaining a contract for a long-term facility.
“It’s up to the ranchers,” Fosse said. “It’s all private land, so they can put in a proposal for one of these contracts, and if they meet the requirements it may happen. It’s an opportunity for them to make some money.”
— Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org