Second wild horse eco-sanctuary proposed near Landerby Kelsey Dayton
— February 11, 2014
For many, the horse is one of those animals symbolic to the American West. Yet on America’s public lands the animal costs the government millions of dollars each year and finds itself in the center of roiling political debate.
The Bureau of Land Management, charged with managing wild horse populations on public land, uses birth control, adoptions and roundups to help keep the populations in check due to the stresses the animals can add to the range. Horses that are gathered and not adopted are sent to holding facilities. There are currently about 50,000 animals in long- and short-term holding facilities.
As the BLM works to find ways to better manage the animals, some might find homes at so-called “eco-sanctuaries” — private ranches where owners partner with the BLM to care for the wild horses and provide tourism and educational opportunities to the public. The country’s first eco-sanctuary is located near Centennial, Wyoming.
The second wild horse eco-sanctuary could be near Lander; the 900-acre Double D Ranch about seven miles outside of Lander. If approved the ranch could be home to up to 250 wild horses, gathered primarily from Wyoming public rangelands. The Double D Ranch eco-sanctuary would be funded by the BLM, and open to the public for eco-tourism, which would help cover some of the operating expense. The BLM would sponsor the eco-sanctuary, paying amounts comparable to costs in the Midwest for long-term pasture use, which is about $1.30 to $1.40 per day per horse, including the BLM’s administrative costs, said Sarah Beckwith, a spokeswoman with the BLM.
Money from tourism — such as admission fees and souvenirs — helps offset the BLM costs, she said. It’s difficult to estimate how much revenue tourism might generate. Tourism dollar figures for the Deerwood Ranch, the country’s first eco-sanctuary, were not readily available.
Long-term plans for the Double D Ranch’s wild horse sanctuary include a learning and visitors’ center with a focus on Native American culture and the role of the horse in it, as well as tours, a gift shop and a campground. Public comment on the proposal is now open and closes on March 14. After the scoping period ends, the BLM Lander Field Office will write an environmental analysis to determine the impacts of the eco-sanctuary followed by another public comment period.
If the plan moves forward, the Double D Ranch could get horses as early as late summer. In addition to the ranch near Lander, the BLM is considering a similar partnership with a ranch in Montana and another with a ranch in Oklahoma, according to Scott Fluer, wild horse specialist with the BLM.
The BLM’s wild horse eco-sanctuary effort targets horses 10 years old and older that have gone through multiple adoption events and still have not found homes. In recent years wild horse adoption numbers have declined, leaving more horses in holding facilities, Fluer said.
The BLM still uses birth control, called PZP, to manage horses on the range, but it is only effective every two years.
As of January 2014, there were 14,860 horses at short-term holding corrals managed by the BLM – 1,200 of those animals are in Wyoming, according to Beckwith. There are an additional 33,511 horses in long-term pastures. In fiscal year 2013, which ended Sept. 30, congress appropriated $71.8 million to the wild horse and burro program. Of that, holding costs accounted for $46.2 million, or 64 percent, Beckwith said.
Some people believe the use of an eco-sanctuary is better than leaving horses in long-term holding. Suzanne Roy, director of the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, says it’s preferable, but it’s still not a solution. “There’s nothing natural about removing horses from their natural habitats and breaking up their family bands and keeping them in storage facilities and pastures,” she said. “These are sex-segregated facilities where the horses do not get to live as nature intended.”
If people want to see wild horses they can visit the herd management areas and see the animals living naturally on the range, she said.
Roy adds that the term “eco-sanctuary” is misleading. “This is just a greenwashing of the BLM’s holding program,” she said. “It’s a step above the long-term holding because it’s open to the public. It’s just putting a nice word on the BLMs broken round-up, remove and stockpile program with wild horses.”
Instead of focusing on the eco-sanctuaries, Roy suggests the BLM should focus on managing the horses on the range, using PZP as birth control to stabilize the herd numbers. BLM should also adjust herd management numbers. Lower population numbers causes the horses to reproduce at a higher rate. Roy believes the range resources should be shared fairly between wild horses and livestock.
“The eco-sanctuaries are not a solution to the BLM’s problem, because they can’t keep removing the horses from the range by the thousands every year. It’s just not sustainable,” Roy said.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said the organization supports ranchers using their land however they wish, as long as it’s properly fenced. The association requested of the BLM that, if approved, the eco-sanctuary house Wyoming horses instead of bringing in horses from elsewhere.
Magagna said the problem is the program don’t address the large issue of thousands of horses on the range that should be removed. “The only simple-ish answer that would address the problem in a reasonable time is to allow the destruction of horses either by process slaughter or shipping them overseas.”.
At the Deerwood Ranch near Centennial, owners Jana and Rich Wilson continue to avoid the politics they know swirl around wild horses. They started offering tours of the ranch in June 2013 and continued through the early fall. About 350 people toured the ranch during that period, including students on a field trip. They offer tours in the winter when the weather allows.
“It’s just a thrill to come over a hill and see this huge group of horses together,” Jana Wilson said. “It’s kind of an ‘oooh’ and ‘aah’ factor when you finally go out and find the horses.”
Email comments to BLM_WY_Lander_Ecosanctuary_EA@blm.gov. To learn more about the proposed ecosanctuary visit this BLM website.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton
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Thanks again, Ms. Fazio.
Your explanation and citations are consistent with my beliefs as well, if I understand you correctly. The implications mentioned as “(b) and (c)” regarding the distinction of “ecosystem” rather than “geography/range” as determinant of native status appear to be the point of confusion for many. Thank you for your time.
Not to belabor the point, but I offer one final piece of information from Dr. Ross D. MacPhee’s letter sent to the National Academy of Sciences:
“… the presidential executive order of February 3, 1999… established the precursor to the current National Invasive Species Council (NISC). Section 5c of the order mandated that “The Council shall update the Management Plan biennially and shall concurrently evaluate and report on success in achieving the goals and objectives set forth in the Management Plan”. The most recent evocation of the plan is entitled the ‘2008 – 2012 National Invasive Species Management Plan’ (2008-12 NISMP). The 2008-12 NISMP contains an executive summary that reads in part that “the term invasive species is further clarified and defined as ‘a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.’” This definition requires reference to a further series of contingent definitions, which are defined in the executive order as follows:
“(a) ‘Alien [or non-native] species’ means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem.
(c) ‘Ecosystem’ means the complex of a community of organisms and its environment.
(e) ‘Introduction’ means the intentional or unintentional escape, release, dissemination, or placement of a species into an ecosystem as a result of human activity.
(f) ‘Invasive species’ means an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
(g) ‘Native species’ means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.
(h) ‘Species’ means a group of organisms all of which have a high degree of physical and genetic similarity, generally interbreed only among themselves, and show persistent differences from members of allied groups of organisms.
The implications of these definitions is that (a) a native species cannot be invasive in its original ecosystem; but (b) native species can be introduced into ecosystems not their own, in which case (c) they can be considered alien with respect to those ecosystems.” …
Dr. MacPhee has made it clear (to the wild horse community) that he wants nothing to do with the politics of the federal wild horse issue nor is he an advocate. He wishes to remain neutral as a paleomammalogist and ancient DNA specialist. He will be publishing more on this issue in a peer-reviewed journal, as will Dr. Jay F. Kirkpatrick, The Science and Conservation Center, ZooMontana, Billings and me.
I hope we have not worn everyone out, Mark, but I appreciate a truly substantive and friendly exchange.
Thank you Ms. Fazio. I acknowledge the data you cite as well as the conclusion you have reached about horses existing and then returning to the continent. I sense that I am having difficulty making my point, but it is simply that the term “native” in the sense that you describe it, and in the sense that it is most commonly used, is an inadequate measure of whether or not the horse “belongs” here at this time. I will, however, review your links asap. Have a nice day.
We still don’t seem to be on the same page. What you are saying is not alien to my eyes or my ears. I have heard your arguments before. Perhaps additional statements by Dr. Ross D. MacPhee will clarify his (our) position. See https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-zNiS1uqCWZ9PimwJpaVdY7NC57hxdGKDCLXbCEYb8c/edit?pli=1
Also, here is another statement that says the same thing but more succinctly:
THE WILD HORSE IS NATIVE TO NORTH AMERICA
By Ross MacPhee, PhD, Curator – Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
It needs to be more widely understood that the horse’s status as a native North American species is beyond serious question.
A “native” species, in evolutionary terms, is defined as one that differentiated or diverged from its immediate ancestor species within a specific geographical locale. The contemporary wild horse in the United States is recently derived from lines domesticated in Europe and Asia. But those lines themselves go much further back in time, and converge on populations that lived in North America during the latter part of the Pleistocene (2.5M to 10k years ago).
The morphological (fossil) evidence and the more recent DNA evidence (although preliminary), points to the same conclusion: the species Equus caballus—the species encompassing all domestic horses and their wild progenitors—arose on this continent.
The evidence thus favors the view that this species is “native” to North America, given any rational understanding of the term “native”. By contrast, there are no paleontological or genetic grounds for concluding that it is native to any other continent.
From a scientific standpoint, it is completely irrelevant that native horses died out in North America 10,000 years ago, or that later populations were domesticated in central Asia 6000 years ago. Such considerations have no bearing on their status as having originated on this continent.
Reintroduction of horses to North America 500 years ago is, biologically, a non-event: horses were merely returned to part of their former native range, where they have since prospered because ecologically they never left.
Thank you for the civil nature of this discussion.
Hello Ms. Fazio,
You are now recognizing the exact point of contention: Dr. MacPhee states, “On the basis of the extensive paleontological record for the presence of Equus caballus on the North American continent up to the end of the Pleistocene, and emerging morphological and ancient DNA evidence that these horses and modern domestic horses belong within the confines of a single species, I contend that the horse is, by any science-centered definition, a native North American species.”
I, too, have expressed this point. There is no question that horses genetically indistinguishable from today’s mustangs once existed in North America and so mustangs are therefore “native” to the continent.
“[He] also contend[s] that wild horses in the American West cannot be considered alien, because they evolved in that very grassland milieu as their fossil record abundantly illustrates.”
In short, his definition of the term “native” is based entirely on the fact that the horse previously existed in the same range as inhabited by today’s mustang.
He does, however, assert “the whole matter of what is or isn’t an alien/invasive species has been burdened by the unintended or unforeseen consequences of misapplied definitions. These definitions need to be examined in light of the best sources of evidence currently available.”
With this, he concedes the point that I have been making all along, which is that the term “native” implies much more than geographic presence–it further suggests a finely-tuned relationship among the plant and animal communities that constitute an ecosystem. And, of course, any such relationship has been inexorably altered by the extinction or extirpation of the major species existing on this continent concurrent with the horse.
He is correct to suggest that we should ask probing questions of this sort, and it is the task of science to pursue them, not blare them down. There is “native”, and there is native. Those who recognize the nuance of “degree” in this respect find it illogical to assume a hands-off approach to horse management, given the altered nature of its relationship with existing wildlife.
I respectfully disagree with nearly everything you have stated. 2+2 is not 4, in your view. Due to time and patience restraints, I will blow the chaff away. However, in focusing on just one point… the horse as native… I shall quote Dr. Ross D. MacPhee, a renowned paleomammalogist at the American Museum of Natural History. He wrote the following in a letter he sent prior to release of the document cited below, while the National Academies of Science Committee was forming to study the federal wild horse and burro issue. The NAS refused to take up the native horse issue. That was no surprise. The result of this study, however, was this document… National Research Council. Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013 http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13511
MacPhee wrote: “On the basis of the extensive paleontological record for the presence of Equus caballus on the North American continent up to the end of the Pleistocene, and emerging morphological and ancient DNA evidence that these horses and modern domestic horses belong within the confines of a single species, I contend that the horse is, by any science-centered definition, a native North American species. I also contend that wild horses in the American West cannot be considered alien, because they evolved in that very grassland milieu as their fossil record abundantly illustrates. Finally, I contend that, in this case at least, the whole matter of what is or isn’t an alien/invasive species has been burdened by the unintended or unforeseen consequences of misapplied definitions. These definitions need to be examined in light of the best sources of evidence currently available, which for the wild horse issue surely includes pertinent paleontological and ancient DNA studies.”
You may take this up with Dr. MacPhee, as I seem to be getting nowhere, even though I am a scientific protégé of his. Using the best available science is alien to the Bureau of Land Management and to argumentative individuals, who refuse to be confused by hard data and facts… blinded by their own sun and unsubstantiated opinion.
I agree that we have the obligation to “protect wild species from extinction and purposeful extermination”, but would suggest that the status of the mustang as representative of “the root of our domesticated stock that shaped and shared civilization” is immaterial to this consideration. My judgement is based on ecological, not political or sociological considerations, and the fact that my conclusions are different from your own does not indicate hatred of the species, Ms. Fazio. Let us hope that management decisions will ultimately be decided on the basis of science rather than emotion.
You suggest that horses have as much “right” to occupy North American ecological niche as any other wildlife species, “if not more”. I disagree. In fact, I would suggest that humans have no right to re-introduce species from areas in which they have been extirpated if the result is that they will upset the natural balance that has been established over the past 10,000 years. You ask for peer-referenced studies proving that the horse does not, in fact, occupy the same niche they did during the early Holocene? Of course, these will not exist since no one ever considered it necessary to prove the point. For exactly the same reason, no published, peer-reviewed papers will demonstrate that such a niche does, in fact, exist. The acknowledgement of “different predators” alone would to most appear a fairly compelling argument that communities are not as they were. It is difficult to judge the effectiveness of the gray wolf as a predator on the horse, because it has not existed in the major part of the horse’s range (Nevada) for hundreds of years with the change in climate experienced there. Certainly, lions kill foals or dying adults (or penned animals, which is why some people labor under the misconception that cougars are effective predators on the horse), but otherwise avoid herds for their own protection. In California, where lions are protected, horse herds continue to expand. There is no effective predator on the continent today, save man.
You suggest that humans, too, are not native because they spread from Asia. No biologist I know regards a species as non-native on land to which it spreads by natural means. If this were the case, then the only location to which any animal would be regarded as native would be that first patch of soil onto which the first of its type fell. The descendants of that animal would all be “non-native”, wherever they spread thereafter.
This has been the most interesting story and thread that I have read on wyofile. everyone should be commended. Where could the next Wy. sanctuary be.
I repeat… Wild horses are a NATIVE North American wildlife species, which gives them just as much right to occupy North American ecological niches as any other form of wildlife, if not more. Family Equidae evolved here over 57+ million years, but what makes horses truly native is that the caballoid horse (Equus caballus) was present at megafaunal extinction. The horse that Columbus brought back to the New World, first in 1493, was also E. caballus… in its domesticated form.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is a weak, ineffective, vague law that needs to be re-written, excluding the BLM from wild horse and burro management. BLM’s historical hatred for wild horses presents a conflict of interest that has persisted since the agency was created in 1946. Wild horses belong under an agency that emphasizes wildness and protection, not merely control and removal. As a degreed animal scientist, I do not disdain cattle or sheep or any other form of livestock, but there has to be a balance on the range, especially in the Herd Management Areas and Wild Horse Territories set up for wild horses.
Where is the scientific evidence that disproves the horse is native? Just where is documented proof that ecological niches where horses evolved are not still present, albeit at different latitudes caused by global warming during the late Pleistocene Epoch and, perhaps, with slightly altered vegetation communities and different predators. I would welcome facts via peer-reviewed scientific papers, but I see only prejudice and hatred. Horses don’t “compete” with native wildlife. They are native wildlife.
Wild horses do have natural predators. Wolves and mountain lions, where they exist, take down foals, the old and the sick on a regular basis. Mankind has eliminated so many predators, however, that population control for horses has become gathers, vaccines, and sterilants… many with serious deleterious effects.
The prolonged drought in much of the west has effected and will continue to effect all forms of life, including our own. We may all have to face new models for existence, but, in my view, humans have an obligation to protect wild species from extinction and purposeful extermination. Wild horses are not just part of the Web of Life in North America but represent the root of our domesticated stock that shaped and shared civilization.
And, by the way, Mark, humans are not native to North America. Even Native Americans are not native… I see nothing enlightening about your remarks.
This is not a wild horse eco-sanctuary. If approved there will just be another large pasture with docile neutered horses, no spirited stallions with mares and fillies or colts or bachelor stallions competing for mares. Their day consists of eating, standing, and waiting for a hay truck. If BLM and the ranchers and mining interests have their way, there will be no wild horses (mustangs) any where in this country. If this is what you want like it or approve of it, but it is not a wild horse sanctuary.
The fact that horses are protected are iconic species and protected by law is not justification for their existence on western range lands. There have been poor laws in the past, and this one is no different. In areas where they are abundant, their impact on native species is severe. They range much farther up the mountainsides than cattle, and so are able to consume what little forage and water remains after the cattle and horses are finished eating the most readily available foods in the low lands. Furthermore, horses remain on-range the entire year, whereas cattle are removed from many high desert locations during the winter. Thus, horses compete with native species during that period of time when they are most stressed.
DNA evidence does reveal that America’s feral European horses are indistinguishable from the Asian wild horses that are believed to be very closely related to those horses that inhabited American thousands of years ago. Translation: Feral horses are today no different from the wild horses of yesteryear. However, it is misleading to claim “native” status since the ecosystem to which these feral horses return is nothing like that from which the horse was extirpated by man (also a native species) at the close of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. The plants and animals today are entirely different from those that existed on these same grounds at that time, and most are ill-prepared to adapt to the invasion of the horse. Ironically, the only horse predator of that time still in existence is man, and he is prevented from taking an active role in limiting horse numbers. By law. Logical?
Above all, we must not allow this to be turned into a “horse v cattle” question, as advocates of either to these animals would prefer. The fact is there is environmental costs to either, and so population numbers must be weighed against the benefits we perceive in each. In short, we should not allow the question of “how” to limit horse numbers stand in the way of the decision to do so.
Firstly, wild horses ARE native to North America. The hard data and published papers clearly show this. Domestication does not change that. More recently, Dr. Ross D. MacPhee, a well-recognized paleomammalogist at the American Museum of Natural History, has confirmed the horse as native, as has an ancient-DNA specialist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Please see https://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife for a review of the literature on this topic. This review is being up-dated and revised for peer-reviewed publication.
Secondly, the horse slaughter issue has been addressed within the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2014. The USDA advocated for the removal of funds for horse meat inspection, banning horse slaughter within the U.S. until September 30, 2014. One reason for the USDA’s action is the proven toxicity of domesticated horse meat from veterinary pharmaceuticals (for example, Phenylbutazone, or “Bute,” a pain reliever known to cause potentially fatal human diseases). Other bills are coming down the Congressional conveyer belt to ban the shipment of horses for slaughter to Mexico and Canada.
Lastly, the Bureau of Land Management cannot handle the national Wild Horse and Burro Program. It was the worst agency that could have been picked for this role. It has either failed out of ignorance or failed by design to manage, protect, and control wild horses on federal rangelands. Had the agency used porcine zona pellucida (native PZP), registered by the EPA as ZonaStat-H, to control populations, as directed by reproductive physiologists, 15+ years ago, there would be few horses in holding, if any, and wild horses would still be in the wild at Appropriate Management Levels. The National Academies of Science came out with a report in 2013 on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, giving the agency an F minus on how it is applying science to wild horse management. Some wild horse ranges and Herd Management Areas are managed well, e.g., the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range and McCullough Peaks HMA, but most are not… dismal failures. The BLM needs to be replaced, and the sooner, the better. Creating “eco-sanctuaries” is not only a misnomer but a tiny Band-Aid on a gapping wound. These areas are also deceiving the public into believing these are “wild” horses, when they are sterilized remnants of their formerly wild selves, demonstrating no natural harem band behavior… a Deceptive Trade Practice, if I ever saw one.
Magagna said the problem is the program don’t address the large issue of thousands of horses on the range that should be removed. “The only simple-ish answer that would address the problem in a reasonable time is to allow the destruction of horses either by process slaughter or shipping them overseas.”.
I cannot even fathom what is going on in this man’s head! These horses should not be removed. The cattle and sheep that are grazing the public lands the PROTECTED UNDER LAW horses are supposed to be grazing on should be removed instead.
Actually, there is some support for the Jurassic Park approach, such as bringing back mammoths and other extinct North American paleolithic fauna. Most conservationists and naturalists such as myself don’t think much of the idea. It’s harebrained. Rather than try to bring back the mammoth, whose glacial and periglacial ecosystems no longer exist, let’s focus on protecting the American bison, which is still around, and grizzly bears. That sort of thing.
The argument over whether horses are native to North America is rather pointless, especially since cattle most certainly are not native to North America, nor are various exotic African or Asian game species sold at private hunting ranches in Texas and other places. Sooner or later some bright Texas game rancher is going to figure out a way to import African lions for hunting. Now, what a journey that’ll be, especially when the fences don’t hold them.
The idea of introducing a non-native predator to prey on a species that is not native to this continent and calling it naturalism is a real head-scratcher.
I appreciate DeweyV and Mark Harner’s comments. This is a seemingly intractable problem.
I personally don’t have much interest in trying to determine whether mustangs are “wild” or “feral.” I’ve worked with both (mustangs and feral rez horses). Practically, having trained my own mustangs and my own rescued rez horse, which I took in as a yearling, it’s the same thing. There’s an inherent difference between wild and domestic horses raised from foals–with wild horses there’s always that last bit of trust withheld, at least for a very very long time, and even then that trust is specific. Mustangs are one-man/one-woman horses (with a few exceptions). That’s why the key qualities of a mustang trainer are patience and grace. You cannot cut corners with mustangs. You lack both qualities, forget it.
Dewey’s right about one thing. Trained mustangs are some of the surest footed, most reliable, hardest working horses around. They are perfect for the mountains as both saddle and pack horses. Indeed, some of the most persistent buyers of mustangs at auctions are outfitters. And normally you don’t have to even shoe them.
I do think, for reasons of wildlife and range conservation in general, that reducing cattle numbers to a significant degree would provide tremendous benefits to the range, as University of Wyoming Law Professor Debra Donahue cogently and controversially argued in her 1999 book, The Western Range Revisited. Removing thousands of wild horses from the range certainly wouldn’t lessen the impact of millions of cattle. From an ecological standpoint, that’s why I think we have to solve the cattle problem before we try to solve the horse problem.
Beyond that, I have no real answers for mustangs. The emotional and political impact of slaughtering thousands of mustangs makes it a toxic proposal not likely to go very far. We may get one or two slaughterhouses approved somewhere in the US in the next few years. I personally don’t think that’s much of a practical solution. In any case, I could never sell any of my own horses to slaughter; I’d put them down myself first.
The BLM management program is a travesty, with the exception of the prison horse programs, which in my view do a very good job, but even they don’t ensure the adoption of all their horses.
To me as a naturalist, introducing predators to horse ranges has a theoretical attraction to it, but it would have to be a big cat for success, something like the African lion, and that of course ain’t gonna happen. By and large, wolves would be useless on wild horses. Mustangs have the mule’s sheer hatred of canines, and attacking wolves’ most likely fate would be to get stomped to death. Wolves of course could take a few horses on the margins, but that is ecologically insufficient.
So, what’s going to happen is that we’re just going to muddle along doing what we’ve been doing, filling up the holding pens beyond capacity, placing a minority of horses on “eco-refuges” and in prison programs, adopting out even fewer of them, and doing nothing about too many cattle on the range, all breaking the budget while nowhere providing an honest solution.
Maybe when gasoline reaches $10/gallon, wild horses will have a practical value to more people.
Wildlife populations would benefit from reductions in both mustang and cattle populations. However, the effort to focus attention on livestock rather than horses simply leads to a reversal of numbers with no benefit to habitat or native species. Additionally, it presents an even more intractable problem since limiting horse numbers is far more difficult. Range managers have the tools necessary to reduce cattle allotments when the will to do so exists (and have, significantly, over the past four decades) but there exists no such acceptable control method for horses. Certainly, “eco-sanctuaries” are no solution and do not even live up to their name. Moving horses from one piece of land to another simply means that the damage they disrupt native species elsewhere. Where is the “eco-tourism” in viewing mustangs on land where native plant and animal communities are destroyed in order to accommodate a non-native species? And to suggest that horses are indeed native to the landscape is to pretend that geography rather than ecology defines the term “native”. Sure, they lived in this location 10,000 years ago, but among a set of species that was entirely different from those that reside here today. As Mr Hoskins mentioned, there are no longer American lion; or smilodon, or dire wolves. Horses have no effective natural predators, which explains why their population doubles every four years in suitable habitat. Certainly, they are well-adapted to this ecosystem, but this does not mean that the other creatures existing in this system are capable of existing with them. The damage they inflict on native plants and animals cannot be ignored, and so we must find better ways to address this issue than a few hundred acres of converted cow pasture.
They are feral horses.
Turned out ranch stock left to fend on their own and multiply when and where they can.
Having said that , the strongest smartest hardest working saddle horses I’ve ever ridden were former BLM range ponies.
Wyoming’s open range horse herds are wildlife per se. But then again , this is the state that thinks wolves are useless and also not worthy of being designated wildlife. The problem is partly semantic here. So goes the bureaucratic brouhaha.
I don;t know what the answer to the ” wild ” horse issue is, but we should take a second look at slaughterhouses. On the other end of the spectrum I’m with Hoskins. Limit cattle or replace them with excess Yellowstone bison. One four-stomached cow consumes more graze than 2-3 elk and several more deer, and displaces the native ungulates in doing so, while their owners enjoy subsidies coming and going for the grass water and defacto property rights.
As an owner of mustangs, I’m fully aware of the complexities of “what to do” with wild horses. Adoption simply isn’t feasible at a large scale; they are wild animals and too few people have the patience and grace to work with them. I do appreciate that a few good men and women do have that patience and grace. With those attitudes, you can train mustangs to become wonderful partners for the mountains or the range. But a few good people can do only so much.
So-called “eco-sanctuaries” certainly are better than the prisons otherwise known as BLM holding pens, but they are no answer either. There are simply too many horses and too few decent places to put them.
Birth control is absurd. Large coursing predators like lions would be of some benefit in controlling horse populations, but begin a discussion about bringing back the American lion from extinction to prey on wild horses and see where that gets you.
Be that as it may, we need to turn the discussion around. Rather than talk about a wild horse problem, we should talk instead about about a cattle problem. Wild horses across the American West number in the mere thousands. Cattle number in the millions. Millions. A rational person would ask–if the range is overgrazed and damaged (and it most certainly is), shouldn’t we drastically reduce cattle numbers before we worry about horses?
Of course, when you ask that question you understand quickly that reason doesn’t apply. This is cowboy country; it always has been and always will be.
Nonetheless, as long as we ignore the one-ton longhorn in the room, we’ll never achieve resolution of the wild horse problem.