Written by Mira Reginato, undergraduate student at Chico State University as a class assignment for ANSC 294
On April 1, 2021, Laura K. Snell, Modoc County Director, University CaliforniaCooperative Extension - Livestock and Natural Resources advisor in Alturas, California,volunteered her time and energy to share with my fellow classmates and I at California State University, Chico, about her involvement and research with various projects such as ModocCounty Colt Challenge, Devils Garden Plateau Research and Education Team, among many otherkey roles she plays within Modoc County. According to Laura Snell, although she wears many “hats within the small community” her work targets appropriate rangeland management practices on public and private lands, management of rangeland moving forward and the health of speciesthat utilize the counties natural resources.
Upon graduating from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, obtaining her B.S. in Water Science and master’s degree in Agronomy with a concentration in Range Science, Snell hasn’t let anything stop her from finding new ways of improving Modoc County’s public and private lands. As the county’sLivestock and Natural Resource advisor she is tasked with strengthening relations with land managers and policymakers to promote and protect all lands and livestock that call the Devil’s Garden home. While many relations are apartof her duties as an advisor, Snell participates in the Wildlife Society, Public Lands Council, Society of RangeManagement, and other local proactive groups. It is obvious that Snell far exceeds her duties and obligations in her positions as she finds ways to further her love, knowledge, and passion for the industry even during her leisure time.
Figure 1. Fence line comparison of wild horse impacts to public land. Picture by Laura Snell.
As a member of the Devil’s Garden Research and Education Team, sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA and Forest Service, Snell has proven to provide “science- based research”, including but not limited to wild horse management. You might ask, why would the county’s Livestock and Natural Resource advisor partake in wild horse management, shouldn’t that be left to wild horse advocates and experts? While that might have been a valid question prior to Snell’s finding, Snell is an expert in her field and carries out those appropriate duties, but when she found herself on a routine rangeland inspection she realized that the Devil’s Garden wild horse population had far exceeded its appropriate management level (AML). In the image featured you may notice that on one side of the fence there is a prosperous rangeland ecosystem, full of warm season grasses and forbs. However,to the left of the property line, the once flourishing stream has now run amuck due to trampling and overgrazing.According to Snell, this year’s wild horse observations by aerial survey have indicated that the Devil’s Garden wildhorse population is currently at 2,300, that is five times the appropriate management level (AML) on the 250,000 acres of wild horse territory. As a result of the growing populations wild horses have well exceeded their extended territory acreage,occupying almost 600,000 acres of private land, tribal lands and public lands owned by California taxpayers like youand me. While the wild horse and burro populations are concerning, when Snell was posed with the question, “why doyou think it is important for the Federal Government to protect wild horses?” she commented that up until recent yearswild horses were domesticated and used for calvary, in the timber industry and for farming. Additionally, wild horses have always been at our disposal. Snell continued by stating that we used to gather the horses when they needed to beput to work, but as technologies have advanced, we slowly stopped retrieving the domesticated, now feral animals from the wild. Although they are unmanaged, wild, and free to do what they please there is a special relation and power the wildhorses hold in the United States. While wild horses are extraordinary to see in nature and embody freedom, in order to protect their herds, other livestock and natural wildlife who all share the samenatural resources, management actions need to take place. Snell pointed out that because of the huge populations, the uniqueness of the loved wild horses based on their historical background is getting smaller, they are shrinking in size bythe inches and their body conditions are decreasing drastically. With the help of other agencies and community support there was 506 wild horses gathered last year. That is 506 horses that were either able to be sold with limitations to worthy buyers or they wererelocated onto government funded wild horse reservations across the country.
In Modoc County Snell is always encouraging her advisees and community members to “get out of the researchbubble and do something about it”! In 2019 she did just that during the first ever 4-H and FFA Colt Challenge whereyouth socialized and trained 20 total weanlings from that years gather. Management efforts such as this require precision,respect of policy makers and knowledge to be carried out properly and presented in such a way that federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service not only support but fund such events. Modoc County is lucky to have a go getter like Laura K. Snell who puts facts before bias and earns her supporters!
Figure 2. Laura and her Devil’s Garden Horses Farrah and Charlie
Picture taken by Jessica Milby.