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After reading the article written by Ms. Patti Wiliams last week, I would like an opportunity to debunk her propaganda. The statements in her article were the most commonly spread talking points out of the pro-wildhorse groups.
Fact: There are too many wild horses on the range and their numbers must be reduced.
This is absolutely true. There are more wild horses on public lands now than there ever have been. This may sound outlandish, but you must remember that prior to the passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act (WHBA) in 1971, there were NO wild horses. Horses that were on public lands were considered “range bands,” and belonged to the person that held the grazing permits or to the local Indian tribe. These individuals gathered the horses for their own use or for sale at no cost to the taxpayer. In this way, the horse herds were well managed and not a detriment to the environment. Quite frankly, I consider the WHBA to be a taking by the federal government.
Fact: Wild horses are suffering from drought and starvation out on the range.
Fact: Wild horses and burros are destructive to the environment and must be removed in order to protect the ecosystem health.
These two statements go hand in hand. Ms. Williams is correct when she says that mismanagement is at the root of theses problems, or even more true, non-management. When comparing the grazing effects of all the species on public lands, you must actually compare apples to apples. Beef cattle and sheep are managed on a schedule. They spend a relatively small amount of time, ranging from a couple weeks to a couple months, in each pasture. In this way rangeland health is protected by ensuring that forage has an adequate amount of time each growing season to regrow. Wildlife species are not managed on a schedule but they have hunting seasons to control their gross numbers and in most cases do a good job of seasonally migrating to conserve resources. Wild horses, on the other hand, do not have a real management strategy. They stay in the same area for months at a time until the range is fully degraded and then they might move on. A horse’s wide flat hooves compact soil until there is no chance for a seedling plant to grow. This leads to erosion and long-term rangeland health degradation. Wild horses are not considered livestock or wildlife and are not managed as either. They supersede any legal restrictions, such as the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act. These situations are only enhanced when wild horse groups challenge and remove the BLM’s only real management possibility, the horse gather.
Fact: Wild horse herds double every five years.
Actually, horse herds double every four years. With only one predator, the mountain lion, and a lifespan of 30 years, wild horses have practically no natural way of controlling their population naturally. Thus, humans must step in and manage horses accordingly.
Fact: Wild horses are a non-native species.
What we consider the modern horse in North America is indeed an introduced species, as outlined in Ms. Williams’ article. However, I do not think that this is pertinent to the discussion, as all species must be managed, whether they are native or not. But for some reason horse advocate groups find their breeding to be important. What are considered wild horses now are primarily derived from stock that ranchers turned out around the turn of the century to be “range band” broods. These breeds were most commonly quarter horses, but also contained morgans, percherons, and thoroughbreds. In a recently conducted genetic study of several horse herds, there was found to be no influence of Spanish barb breeding except in one herd, and that was only the same amount found in the average quarter horse.
Cloud Foundation talking points:
Ms. Williams and the Cloud Foundation make a good point in their statement that there are currently more wild horses in captivity than on the range. This is costing the taxpayers $100,000 per day. This program is costing the taxpayers an absolutely inordinate sum of cash. The BLM must get rid of this program and simply auction the horses to the highest bidder if the adoption process does not work. There is no reason that the taxpayers should foot the bill for horses that don’t turn a profit.
West Douglas Herd Information:
Ms. Williams doesn’t quite have her information up to date in this section. According to the BLM’s Resource Management Plan, the document they must follow in all decisions, the West Douglas herd was supposed to have been zeroed out in the mid-1980s. This was due to the resources in the area being unsustainable for horse use and the inability to maintain a genetically feasible herd. The effects of constant inbreeding are easy to see in these horses today. However, constant court filings by horse advocate groups have held this back. On August 5, 2009, a court case again postponed the gather. The judge ruled that the BLM had not done a recent enough census of the horses. Why the population matters in an area that is to be zeroed out, only a judge could tell. After conducting a new census over the winter of ‘09-’10 the BLM rewrote their plan accordingly and were set to finally follow the legal writ of the RMP. However, this was not good enough for the horse advocate groups who filed again in August of 2010. There was no contempt of court ruling. In September of 2010, several groups and individuals decided to intervene in the case on the behalf of the BLM. This included the Douglas Creek Soil Conservation District, Rio Blanco Stockgrowers and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, as well several affected individuals. This case is proceeding now.
Wild horses are a species that must be managed in order to preserve our natural resources. Ms. Williams statements from individuals in other countries hold no water with me, because I don’t believe non-American citizens should get a voice in our internal land policy. Please remember that all other large grazing species on our public lands are managed in such a way as to maintain and improve the integrity of our lands. As a rancher who sees the ill effects of wild horses every day, I have first hand understanding of the situation. Please Ms. Williams, get your facts straight and don’t let the Cloud Foundation misinform you.