RAWLINS – The Carbon County Commissioners approved a zone change during their June 4 meeting that would see a temporary horse holding facility be built near Baggs.
The decision has set the wheels in motion for the proposed facility which only the second of its kind in Wyoming and the first privately owned in the state.
The Bureau of Land Management’s need for horse holding facilities stems from the ever-expanding population of wild horses along with their direct competition with cattle for the same parcels of grazing land.
When combined with horses being protected from hunting by federal law, the BLM has decided on a path of removal, with the horses being adopted by horse owners or other interested parties.
Chaunce Criswell first began thinking of the idea of a new horse holding facility near Baggs after seeing the limits in his current trucking company.
The company has hauled horses for the BLM for more than 25 years, and has seen every temporary holding facility in the Rocky Mountain Region. Thus, when Criswell began pondering further expansion, a horse holding facility seemed like the natural step.
According to Criswell, the facility, called Adobe Buttes, would hold 1,250 horses, though their permit allows 1,450 in “emergency conditions.”
Criswell stated his original intention of 2,000 horses drew concerns of smell along with the sight of additional piles of manure generated by hordes of formerly wild horses. These concerns resulted in reducing the total number of housed horses during the county’s zone change process.
Despite the reduction to 1,250 horses, the proposed building far exceeds the BLM’s current facility, which has a capacity of 800.
According to Criswell, this reduction in capacity has not been a total negative on their burgeoning operation, as it allows the square footage per horse to vastly exceed requirements set forth by the BLM.
Criswell stated the facility would provide three to five additional full-time positions for the residents of the Little Snake River Valley, along with dozens more temporary jobs during the summer months.
These temporary jobs would be filled by high school-aged locals in order to give them experience in a position other than the oil fields or fast food.
“There isn’t a lot of options for kids to work in other capacities in Snake River,” said Criswell.
While this facility would create more jobs and allow for BLM to take more wild horses off the range, not all of Carbon County’s residents are so pleased with the commissioners’ approval.
Don Cuin, a rancher from the Little Snake River Valley, argued the new facility would cost ranchers in the long term by taking away a semi-truck load of hay off the market every day the Adobe Buttes facility was open. Cuin stated this new facility, should it open, would present nothing but a drain on taxes and on rancher’s ability to feed their herds.
Cuin stated he also disagreed with the current system of round ups, arguing the horses provide no value to either the state or ranchers. Cuin contend the cost of wild horses is only increasing while providing no tangible benefit to those living near the herds.
Cuin described the round up system saying, “It’s just a band-aid.”
Criswell stated the burden of additional hay being used by Adobe Buttes would not fall on his fellow ranchers, as their facility is required to use dairy-quality alfalfa rather than the hay typically used in cattle ranching.
Criswell further stated he has been fighting misconceptions with the facility since the project’s inception, as only one other horse holding facility exists in Wyoming currently.
“It’s not a new thing, it’s just new in Wyoming,” said Criswell.
June 4’s approval by the commissioners means Criswell will begin pursuing the additional permits needed for the facility to become a reality. This includes Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA, as well as drafting a contract with the BLM to house wild horses.
Criswell stated he has not yet pursued these permits and contracts because he wanted to ensure approval by the local governments, before proceeding to the far more expensive permits required the other the EPA and DEQ.
Criswell stated that he and the BLM would be hammering out a contract over the next couple of weeks to house wild horses once permits have been approved.
Criswell hopes the temporary holding facility will be completed in late July or August, and begin taking wild horses in September or October.