Horse-trading: Land swap would help herd’s habitat

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

MEEKER – A herd of 150 wild horses may soon have a permanent home if a land swap between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Shell Oil takes place.

The BLM’s White River Field Office in Meeker is asking for public comment on an exchange that would secure a large patch of land that is currently owned by Shell in exchange for three parcels of BLM land.

Shell Oil currently owns a 5,785-acre parcel of land in the Piceance/East Douglas Herd Management Area northwest of Rifle. Shell’s land sits in the middle of the wild horse area.

The BLM is proposing to trade three parcels of federal land, totaling 3,482 acres, for the wild horse land.

“That’s the essence of this trade,” said Jim Cagney, assistant field manager at the BLM’s White River Field Office. “‘We’re looking to form a land bridge between the Piceance Basin and East Douglas parcels.”

All the parcels of land are located in Rio Blanco County in the White River Resource Area, between the White and Colorado rivers.

The proposed swap includes surface and mineral rights. Shell would provide 2,300 more acres of land to the BLM in the swap than it would get.

Vern Rholl, a BLM resource specialist at the White River Field Office, said the BLM parcels have higher concentrations of oil shale and are flatter and closer to main roads.

“They’re more conducive to oil shale development,” Rholl said.

In contrast, Shell Oil is sitting on land that lends itself to hunting, grazing, wildlife and wild horse management.

Shell has not developed its parcel but the BLM wants to make sure it would never face a developed piece of private land dividing up the horse management area.

“Shell has never given us any trouble,” said Cagney. “They’ve been great neighbors. But if they develop that land or sell it and it’s developed commercially, it could split that herd in half and that could cause all sorts of genetic problems.”

Cagney said that since the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was enacted in 1971, wild horses like those living in the Piceance Basin and East Douglas are protected.

He said most of the horses in that herd are descended from domestic horses freed onto BLM lands at the turn of the last century, when mechanized tools began replacing ranchers and farmers’ need for horses.

And during the Depression of the 1930s, Cagney said, more horses were let go onto public lands by people who could no longer feed and care for their animals.

Cagney is convinced the land swap is a good trade-off for all involved.

“I really think the exchange is a good one,” he said. “Everybody wins.”

An environmental assessment detailing specifics of the land exchange is currently available at

Copies of the assessment are also available by calling (970) 878-3800 or by writing the Bureau of Land Management, White River Field Office, 73544 Highway 64, Meeker, CO 81641. Written comments need to be received at the White River field office by March 30.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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