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Efforts to curb wild horse population creates need for facility in Central Oregon

COURTESY USFS - Wild horses near the Ochoco National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service plans to convert the former Crooked River Grasslands Headquarters on Highway 26 into a wild horse adoption facility.

The agency expects to begin construction on the facility within the next couple of years, once it secures funding for the $3-million project.

The need for a holding facility comes with the updated management plan for wild horse and burro population in the Big Summit Wild Horse Territory, which includes more than 25,000 acres within the Ochoco National Forest about 25 miles east of Prineville.

Updated in May 2021, the new management plan says the property can support between 47 and 57 horses, compared to the 1975 plan which called for between 55 and 65 animals. The most recent survey counted 135 wild horses in the area.

This fall the Forest Service will start gathering wild horses off the territory.

"The gathers are part of a strategy to maintain a thriving natural ecological balance among wild horse populations, wildlife, livestock, riparian areas and vegetation," said USFS documents, "and to protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation."

To gather the horses, teams use hay to lure the horses into trap corrals.

Specialists gather horses one band at a time, four to eight horses. Until they build the facility at the Grasslands Headquarters location, they'll hold the horses in existing pastures and structures as well as temporary pens.

Veterinarians will examine the horses, and staff will care for the horses while they wait for adoption placement.

The Forest Service will also use contraception to control the size of the herd.

The management plan also addresses concerns about the genetic health and diversity of the Big Summit herd.

As they collect animals, specialists will compile genetic data. Managing the heard may include introducing new mares with complementary genetics to maintain genetic variability.

The Forest Service expect to bring the herd down to size over a period of five years. When they put the facility at the Grasslands Headquarters location into service, they expect it to hold about 35 horses, with each horse staying between four to six weeks before placed for adoption.

People interested in adopting a horse can reach out to the Ochoco National Forest at (541) 416-6500.

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