Letter: West Douglas Herd area facts

Dear Editor:

The “Wild” Horse and Burro Program is complicated at best and is dramatized by activists to get people’s emotions stirred to act, even if that action is based on misinformation. It is disappointing and discouraging to realize that if someone doesn’t present the facts, the misinformation becomes “fact” in the unsuspecting person’s mind. 

The function of a conservation district is, “To make available technical, financial, and educational resources, whatever their source, and coordinate them so that they meet the needs of the local land manager for conservation of soil, water and related natural resources.” The Districts have multiple resources to provide best management practices (BMP) for rangeland health and we are happy to share them anytime. The basics include the timing, numbers, and duration of animal grazing. It doesn’t matter what species. Livestock are managed based on these BMPs. Because the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRHBA) prevents horses from being managed in this manner, the only tool BLM has is to gather and remove them.

The feral horses found on BLM managed lands are referred to as “wild” horse because of the WFRHBA. However, it is proven that they are feral animals. The BLM conducted an aerial survey in March 2021 (before foaling season) and estimated 1,437 horses in Rio Blanco County when there are to be 135–235 horses in the Piceance East Douglas Herd Management Area (PEDHMA). Add this year’s foal crop and there are at least 1,700 horses in the county. All horses outside of the PEDHMA shall be removed according to the WFRHBA.  

The absurd mistruths in “The West Douglas herd” letter to the editor last week are unfortunate and we hope readers will do their own research. BLM has very defined plans that go through a rigorous National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Therefore, they do not “arbitrarily” select herds to round up. The BLM does not “slaughter” horses nor send horses to “slaughter” as the author would like you to believe. If they did, why are there over 50,000 horses in short holding and long-term pastures costing the American taxpayer over $50 million per year? And by the way, that is in addition to the 90,000 horses and burros that remain on the range in the ten western states where it has been determined that range would sustainably support only 27,000 horses and burros. 

Now let’s talk drought. In any area where there has been an overpopulation of horses for many years, they have already degraded the rangeland and potentially the water sources. Such is the case in the West Douglas Herd Area. Then add long-term drought and they will be without feed and/or water. A death by starvation or dehydration is the most inhumane act that we as humans could impose on an animal. Yet the author of last week’s article, who is a veterinarian, would encourage you to support that type of treatment of the horses rather than to gather them and provide them feed and water every day the rest of their life so they never have to search for it again. 

I received multiple pictures this past spring where the ranchers were hauling water to their cows and the horses were drinking from the tanks before the cattle had the opportunity. This is at the rancher’s expense, but they were willing to do it because it is the right thing to do. Without it, many of the West Douglas horses would have died earlier in the year.

Obviously misinformation is being published in papers around the country. The following is a quote from Bob Ball, Special to The Tribune, July 30, 2021. “Anthropomorphizing horse emotions (“Old Man … suffering … from broken bonds with family and friends”) as opposed to a realistic evaluation of the resources the BLM is responsible for is unproductive. BLM is responsible for maintaining the sustainability and health of each wild horse herd as whole, this includes not degrading the health and productivity of the rangelands the herds rely on.” We would encourage all readers to read this article as Bob Ball does a nice job of describing the many factors involved with truly managing rangelands for the betterment of the range and all species that use them at https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2021/07/30/bob-ball-blm-follows-law/

The White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts support the BLM in removing the excess horses to protect the health of the range and the horses themselves. We thank the local staff for all their efforts in developing thoughtful and well documented NEPA documents. We also thank the contractors for handling the horses in a thoughtful and humane manner. 

Callie Hendrickson

White River and Douglas Creek Conservation District Executive Director

Special to the Herald Times