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‘Keeper’ Dick Senior talks about horses, water and misconceptions

<p>Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - This mare and her foal are in good shape. Most of the animals on this side of the Spring Mountains have good forage and are in better health than those found in northern Nevada and other parts of the country.</p>

Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - This mare and her foal are in good shape. Most of the animals on this side of the Spring Mountains have good forage and are in better health than those found in northern Nevada and other parts of the country.

<p>Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Senior said the ATV noise doesn’t seem to frighten the wildlife that gather for a drink. This buck waits patiently for a turn.</p>

Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Senior said the ATV noise doesn’t seem to frighten the wildlife that gather for a drink. This buck waits patiently for a turn.

<p>Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Horses frequent the Wheeler Well all year. In August the well frequently goes dry, but Senior says not to worry, there are 24 other places for them to drink within five miles of the Wheeler Well. The goal for the people who take care of the Wheeler Well in the Spring Mountain range has been to keep it open all year long for the wild horses and the animals that drink from it.</p>

Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Horses frequent the Wheeler Well all year. In August the well frequently goes dry, but Senior says not to worry, there are 24 other places for them to drink within five miles of the Wheeler Well. The goal for the people who take care of the Wheeler Well in the Spring Mountain range has been to keep it open all year long for the wild horses and the animals that drink from it.

Dick Senior is a self-taught naturalist in favor of protecting what is left of the wild horse population in this area. He is also known as the “Keeper of the Wheeler Well.” Senior renovated the well in 2010 and has been maintaining it as a watering station for wildlife ever since.

The well is 500-gallon tank, which was riddled with bullet holes and subjected to ineffective piping from years of neglect. It was first started by the Bowman family for their cattle. Senior has been taking care of the well so the animals in the area and the wild horses have a place to drink in the summer months.

The PVT sat down with Senior to discuss the care of the well. Senior is 84, and there is some concern over its future.

Dick Senior just published a new book called, “Adventures in the Mountains and Deserts.” There are seven stories which focus on Wheeler Wash and the Spring Mountains in the book.

When you first repaired the well, people really didn’t know what to think. Even after the renovation, the tank was still vandalized often, correct?

Yes, that’s true. After I got it fixed up again, vandals kept doing it. There was a guy that kept shooting it up but nobody has shot it up since. The vandals have stopped.

Q: So another concern has been keeping water running in the tank all year long since it goes dry during the summer. When does it go dry?

A: It goes dry in August. This year different people go up with 200 gallons at one time. I know another guy that even takes up 300 gallons in the back of a pickup. Something like that is good for about three weeks, but then the monsoons come about this time to help us out. Two weeks ago I went up there and the ice was really thick but there was some water around the edge and it was overflowing. The horses were still coming.

Q: You have quite the following now. Can you go over some of the things you have done to insure the well is taken care of well after you are gone?

A: There is another guy with me. My neighbor, Mike Crouch, and he will go up with me now. I think he will take over after I am gone. I gave him an all-terrain vehicle for the job. There are a lot more people too. My daughter wants me to always have someone go with me now since I am working on 85 now. I told her it was not necessary since I keep my phone on with me, and if I am lying dead in the road people can still find me. Crouch goes up with me all the time. Two months ago, a guy gave me about 400 feet of new tubing (PVC for the well). So, I redid the whole line leading up to the tank with new PVC. Everything is going well. We clean up the area around it. There are great places to camp up there. There are also others doing a great job, too, since I started this thing. Another party goes up there to clean up the road and the well area. Lynn Adams and Linda Hurley got a group of people together to help out.

Q: Wasn’t there also a concern that the ATV traffic would scare away the horses from the well?

A: It does not seem to bother them at all. I know this because I watch them. I would walk up to the tank and they are on the other side and I take their picture. In fact, there is one picture of Howdy in my book, where he is there with his female friend and a little one. There was no water in the tank. I had water in my ATV and I put some in the tank and he lapped them up. The stud, Howdy was right there and I shouldn’t have done this but I got right in between them and put more water in the tank and he drank it up. We would always sit under the trees and watch them and they are not bothered by it. So, when ATVs come by they don’t run away.

Q: The ATV riders around the well are now being respectful of the well? They are not vandalizing it and they know what it is for?

A: Yes, they are respectful and know about it. I have never seen anyone ever run the horses away. They usually stop and watch them.

Q: Has there been any recent vandals coming to the well, like hunters shooting at it?

A: No. I think the word is getting out about the well. People see other people up there. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service will put cameras up there once in a while, too.

Q: The biggest thing hunters would say is that the horses drive away game from the water and won’t let them drink. Have you ever seen horses mingling with other animals? Is that true?

A: I was up there once, and I saw some elk and a big bull elk with antlers. Horses don’t usually like elk with antlers and that scares them, but they were getting along good. The elk ran away, but the horses stay there. The Forest Service didn’t get that picture, but they did get one of some mountain lions there. The other animals would come up and wait for the horses to leave. The horses will not drive the deer or the elk away, the other animals just wait and stay back and wait for the horses to drink. If deer are there, and the horses come in, I have seen the horses and deer drink from two different sides. If you see a band of horses drinking and another one comes in, the other band will wait for them to leave.

Q: Why is the Forest Service putting cameras out there?

A: They heard that the horses were skinny and that they were dying because they didn’t have any water, but it was not true. The well was dry, but there are 24 places on this side of the mountain where they can get water and it’s within five miles. This person putting out the misinformation was a horse activist just like me.

Q: What are some of the things that the government is saying that is wrong about the horses?

A: To start, I am in the middle. I can see both sides. I belong to a horse activist club in Las Vegas. There are quite a lot of things the government is trying to do with the horses, other than rounding them up. They wanted to roun dup all of them here. We know there are at least 150 on the other side of the mountain and this year I was hard-pressed to count 35 horses. I know where all of them are. I would say our count is the most accurate. The government takes a count by helicopter and they take pictures. I asked them to look at their pictures they are counting by and they won’t let me see them. They would take a picture and they would say they saw 10 horses in the picture but there were probably five they didn’t see. This is the BLM.

Q: Is the Forest Service more accurate with their counts than the BLM?

A: These two are working together, so no. One rubs the other one’s back. They both work for the government and they both want to keep their jobs. That is the way they do things with the horses. It takes $700 to catch each horse. That is what it costs. They are proposing to put them in a corral and take the ovaries out of the females and then let them go. We ask them if any of them died and they would say, “We let them go and have not seen them.” They don’t know because they don’t watch them. It seems like the BLM and the Forest Service will always inflate their count.

Q: Do you think the horses take the food away from the other animals?

A: No, they eat different things. The horses eat grass if they can find it. When they come up to flowers, the horses will kick it and eat the roots and all. Deer won’t do that. They eat buds and twigs off of trees and bushes. That’s what they eat. All the grass will grow around bushes and the deer will eat that along with the horses, but they just live in different areas.

Q: Have you ever seen the area when there are too many horses?

A: If that happens, then you see the ground is all chewed up. The areas around the water gets beat down. Elk can do that too. I think elk are more destructive than horses. I have never seen too many horses cause the water to dry up though and that is the claim.