Wild horse round-up begins due to their overgrazing

This is from the Western Watersheds Project blog.

I’m not a great enthusiast for feral horses, although they are lovely to watch . . . prettier than cows. The horses can lead to overgrazing, but they are usually not the real culprit because the BLM does keep their numbers down, a minor factor compared to cattle and sheep.

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  1. Jeff Avatar

    Their was a compelling opinion article in High Country News about the difficulty of killing and disposing of horses in general, let alone the roughstock in the western high desert. It advocated culling herds and selling the meat versus essentially poisoning an old horse when it is “put down” and then left to deal with a toxic carcass not fit for man or animal to consume. I’m not for a whole sale slaughter of mustangs and burros, but it is more environmentally friendly to either feed people, dogs, or captive predators excess horse meat than to dump contaminated carcasses in landfills.

  2. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Jeff— Thanks for the added info. I knew that the wild horses were killed, but not the rest. Poisoning the carcasses… another example of the government not using common sense. I haven’t been able to open the link to the article on the WWS site, so I do not know what is written there. I have to wonder how much less ‘work’ wildlife services would have from cattle not grazing on public land.
    Once the land is restored, it would certainly open up areas that could be used for some of the animals that WS exterminates.
    However you have brought up an interesting point. There are so many zoos and refuges that could really benefit from using the meat to feed their animals. Most of these facilities let the public know the cost of providing food and the bills are enormous.
    I wonder if anyone has ever looked at the numbers?? I think that would be a good study for someone to undertake.

  3. elkhunter Avatar

    We see the wild horses all the time hunting coyotes. We had to put one down that had 2 broken legs, it was all infected, it was a sad sight. They are beautiful but I have heard that in large numbers they can do alot of damage. I know down in AZ and NM they have issues with the burro’s competing with the Bighorns for habitat.

  4. Phillip Dunn Avatar
    Phillip Dunn

    The government is lazy and they don’t want to spend the money. So instead they poison. Maybe if the wild horses and burros had more natural predators this would not have to happen as often.

  5. Jeff Avatar

    As I understand it, the governement isn’t poisoning the horses, rather public opinion and animal welfare groups have successfully fought to keep any mustang from being slaughtered. Adoption centers are overrun and some older horses are just not adoption material. This coupled with regulations regarding the euthanaia of both wild and domestic horses makes doing away with any horse very expensive and toxic. I think excess horses that are rounded up off the range should be slaughtered for human or animal consumption instead of being euthanized and then dumped thus wasting a lot of meat. I like horses and enjoy seeing Mustangs in Western Wyoming where I live, as well as my days guiding on the Green River in East-Central Utah and Western Colorado, however, they are big tough animals that few predators can tackle and as elkhunter mentions they do out compete many native ungulates. That is why the park service so aggressively pursued the burros in the Grand Canyon as thet were threatening the desert bighorns along the Colorado River. Reasonable objectives should be managed for and excess animals adopted, however at some point excess horses must be processed for consumption. The HCN news article said that there were only two USDA horse slaughter houses in the U.S. one in Texas and one in Illinois, but due to public outcry they were both closing or already closed, this is what has lead to the last undesirable option which is euthanasia and then the disposal issue of a 1200lb poisoned carcass. I know many dude ranches that take old horses into the deep dark north facing timber and put a .22 in their forehead. Bears and coyotes make quick work of the carcass and the cost financially and envrionmentally are much less, though I don’t think this process is completely legal on USFS land.

  6. Monte Avatar

    There are no “wild horses”. They are competing with legitimate wildlife for water and food, and damaging streambanks and rangelands. They should be eradicated. I love horses and own a few, but in the wild they are no better than feral hogs and should be hunted until they are gone. I think this problem is symptomatic of the media’s and some environmental groups’ unrealistic representation of “cute and cuddly” animals. Disney is a perfect example. Their cartoon movie “Spirit” represents feral horses as some kind of wonderful native wildlife. Urbanites watch this stuff and don’t realize the trouble feral animals really cause.

  7. kim Avatar

    Monte said

    “There are no “wild horses”. They are competing with legitimate wildlife for water and food, and damaging streambanks and rangelands. They should be eradicated. ”

    sort of like cows,,,,,,,,, !!!!!

  8. jewel Avatar

    I find it really hard to believe how some of you think about Gods creatures.

  9. Phillip D. Avatar
    Phillip D.

    Jeff I agree with your last statement. That is a better way to solve the problem.

  10. Preserve The Herds Avatar

    There is almost no facet of public lands that is not being “managed to death”. Public and political officials depend on the publics general ignorance of the complicated issues involved in wild horses and burros, big game animals in general, livestock, federal subsidies, hunting revenue, exploitation of resources through timber harvest, oil and gas, mining, etc. to peddle their wares and “catapult the propaganda”.

    Wild horses and burros, like any other species, can become “excessive” due to the constant disruption of ecosystems and natural cycles because of the still accepted arrogant justification to “play God” through issuing decisions that are of short term benefit versus long term, spinning data and statistics that suppport exploitation versus preservation and wise stewardship, and pretending officials have more knowledge and authority than they really do. You would never know it to here them tell it though.

    According to the “official reports”, the wild burros that are STILL threatening big horn sheep populations have been eradicated down to a paltry 2,700 throughout the entire West.

    Meanwhile, the tall dollar revenue generating big horn sheep are estimated as now numbering 50,000 throughout the same area as of July 2007. You don’t hear “wildlife” managers (aka big game specialists) discussing too often how much money a big horn sheep tag can be auctioned off for:

    2005 AZ-$199,000 NM-$177,800 OR-$130,000;
    20 tags totalling 2.2 million dollars for one event.

    In 1996, hunting, if measured as an “industry”, would place number thrity-five on the Fortune 500 List.

    Livestock have access to 10 times the rangeland and resources wild horses and burros do, were estimated as numbering over 9 million throughout the West (compared to 24,500 wild horses and 2,700 wild burros) and are fed on public lands for less than $1.50 per month (per cow including water) or that many ranching operations (65% or more of which are now corporately controlled) receive federal subsidies in addition to this healthy little perk.

    In 2005, the USDA handed out a total of $116,859,000 dollars in Arizona alone.

    Can wild horses and burros overgraze? Sure this can happen but mostly due to poor management – fences that prevent them from migrating, agriculture use of water that dries up springs and forage, predatory control to protect livestock and big game animals so that natural ecological balance cannot be maintained – but “excessiveness” can happen with ANY species.

    I have seen reports of big horn sheep being cited as the single and only casual factor of riparian degradation as well as elk populations destroying riparian areas and over grazing burned land that prevented any recovery or restoration of natural functions while wild horses were gathered twice in one year to “protect rangeland resources” from these same abuses but the “wildlife” was left alone to continue the damage.

    The Rainshadow Wild Horse Ecosytem in Canada is a beautiful example of how wild horses function in an environment free from exploitation and ignorant management actions that upset natures delicate balance.
    There is predation and none of the destruction has been noted to the environment that American officials routinely parrot as the result of the non-native, feral wild horse and burro population.

    You would think 56 million years of known evolution within North America for the equus species would be enough to earn them a native status compared to only the 100,000 or so documented years of big horn sheep.

    But sadly, the fact that wild horses and burros evolved to superior adaption within the North American continent is only used against them, this adaptation is merely cited as the dominance of an invasive species versus the natural superiority of a species that earned their right to survive over the course of their evolutionary journey.

    The only measure of worth they have in the majority of the Western paradigm is as domestic slaves, aka livestock or breeds, not as a species within their own right, and the “cute and cuddly” perspective that current environmentalist spew towards those that advocate their species preservation shows how they mirror their own accusations.

    Accusing wild horse and burro advocates of recognizing the equus species as deserving of a proper niche within the environment they evolved in is NOT the same as the stories being spun that try to steroetype these advocates with such cliche and derogatory hype as “the romantic images” and considering them nothing more than “pets.”

    The only officially recognized “true” wild horse was erradicated in the wild with less than a dozen maintained in captivity for almost 40 years.

    The African wild ass is, and has been, one of the most Endangered Species on the planet, listed since the mid-70s.
    Yet almost no studies or efforts to further recovery efforts have been made mainly because this species is still subjected to cultural prejudice of domestication and their relative value is placed lower than that of a snail or an insect.

    Euthanizing a wild horse or burro versus slaughering them for “productivity” was institued as PROTECTION from vicious exploitation of cruel, inhumane “cowboy types” and those like them that tortured wild horses and burros for the fun of it, for profit, and treated them in the most brutal ways imaginable. Despite their “federally protected status”, this continues to be a problem to this day, though certainly not as wide spread as it once was.

    When the day comes that these species are recognized as equally deserving of a chance to live as nature created them, are valued as part of the rich bio-diversity of our beautiful home, and are no longer exploited, lied about, abused, used and treated like trash, perhaps then a meaningful discussion could ensue on the place of wild horses and burros in America.

  11. Facts not opinions Avatar
    Facts not opinions

    Your information is incorrect. While I respect and agree with many of your opinions there is some misinformation in them.

    Preserve The Herds Says:
    You would think 56 million years of known evolution within North America for the equus species would be enough to earn them a native status compared to only the 100,000 or so documented years of big horn sheep.

    But sadly, the fact that wild horses and burros evolved to superior adaption within the North American continent is only used against them, this adaptation is merely cited as the dominance of an invasive species versus the natural superiority of a species that earned their right to survive over the course of their evolutionary journey.

    Fact: The first horse we know of was from North America. This first horse was called Hyracotherium, and was about the size of a terrier dog. It lived all over North America about 50 million years ago, and ate leaves from low growing bushes.

    Lots of different sorts of horses evolved since then, and they spread from North America into Europe, Asia and Africa. They became bigger, and better at running away from predators . They also became much better at eating grass, rather than the leaves of bushes and trees. Zebras, which are only found in Africa, are close cousins of the domestic horse we use for riding.

    Eventually, all the horses became very good at running over prairies and plains, but not very good at living anywhere else. And then , for why we don’t know exactly, about 15,000 years ago all the horses in North and South America died out.

    The horses you have in America today were brought over
    from Europe by settlers in the 1400s.

    Horses were native to North America, but the ones you have around you today are not.

    Superior adaptation? They all died out, so actually evolution decided that they were not meant to be in North or South America.

    Your are correct in the conflict of “livestock (money animals) vs horses. Their diets overlap considerably.

    some more facts:
    Horses eat more for their weight than cows, and also crop grass closer to the ground.
    A wild horse eats five or six times as much as a deer, and even more, compared to an antelope.
    Wild horses are the only animals that cannot be managed by killing them.
    Taxpayers are being asked to pick up the bill for 56,000 horses in sanctuaries or on BLM land. In its current budget request the BLM is asking for $42 million.

    I agree with you completely that the a major problem lies in the fact that people have a romantic notion of horses. If we treated them like any other animal, the issue would not be so complicated or costly.

  12. TJ Avatar

    Hey Ralph your perception of WILD HORSES is obscured. The whole concept of wild horses categorized as an invasive species is nothing but hogwash!Maybe I should say cattle or sheep-wash. Wild horses were here before the notorious conquistadors and the Spanish horse invasion.Fact!Only a few bands of wild horses in the northeast and southwest are direct descendants to those Spanish Colonial Horses. The remaining bands that are scattered throughout the west and northwest were more than just domestic breeds that were escapees of settlers.
    Nothing can be further from the truth.The categorization of Americas wild horses as being a feral species is just so that the Bureau of Land Management can regulate their population at their own discretion.If wild horses were considered to be a wild native species then The United States Fish and Wildlife Service would be responsible for them.The USF&WS wants no part of that and they profess their objection to it. After studying wild horses for over 35 years I will put it to you this way.If wild horses were a non native species,which they are,however,if they are going to be considered to be as such,the fact remains that over 50 generations of wild horses have been born and reared in the wild. Hence,that makes them a wild native species. Period!If you want to dispute that claim then you better step back and think about your objection before you debate it.

  13. TJ Avatar

    I will attempt to educate those whom are not aware of the truth. Anyone else that has been misinformed and misconstrue the essential nature of the wild horses role among other wildlife should read this.

    In stark contrast with BLM’s assertions, scientific studies have shown that horses actually benefit their environment in numerous ways; vegetation seems to thrive in some areas inhabited by horses, which may be one reason the Great Plains were once a “sea of grass.” Generally, range conditions in steep hilly areas favored by horses are much better than in lower areas frequented by cattle.

    Cows have no upper front teeth, only a thick pad: they graze by wrapping their long tongues around grass and pulling on it. If the ground is wet, they will pull out the grass by the roots, preventing it from growing back. Horses have both upper and lower incisors and graze by “clipping the grass,” similar to a lawn mower, allowing the grass to easily grow back.

    In addition, the horse’s digestive system does not thoroughly degrade the vegetation it eats. As a result, it tends to “replant” its own forage with the diverse seeds that pass through its system undegraded. This unique digestive system greatly aids in the building up of the absorptive, nutrient-rich humus component of soils. This, in turn, helps the soil absorb and retain water upon which many diverse plants and animals depend. In this way, the wild horse is also of great value in reducing dry inflammable vegetation in fire-prone areas.

    Back in the 1950s, it was primarily out of concern over brush fires that Storey County, Nevada, passed the first wild horse protection law in the nation.A team of Russian scientists, part of a cooperative venture between the United States and Russia, came in 2001 to study the effects of grazing animals on riparian areas in Nevada. They tested streams for nutrients and examined the desert and Sierra to learn techniques to improve the environment of their homeland. The scientists found that cows, which tend to stay around water sources, cause more damage to the stream banks than wild horses, which tend to drink and move on: “When we saw horses drinking from creeks, we didn’t see much impact except for hoof prints. The water looked clean, had good overhanging branches and there was no sign of erosion on the banks. There was an abundance of insects and animals, including frogs and dragonflies and water-striders.” Areas extensively used by cattle had fewer nutrients in the water and showed signs of bank erosion and other damage, concluded the study.

    Horses have also proven useful to other species they share the range with: in winter months, they open up frozen springs and ponds with their powerful hooves, making it possible for smaller animals to drink. Another positive effect of wild horses on biodiversity was documented in the case of the Coyote Canyon horses in the Anza Borrega National Park (California). After wild horses were all removed from the Park to increase big horn sheep population, bighorn sheep mortality actuality skyrocketed: mountain lions – wild horse predators – compensated the loss of one of their prey species by increasing their predation on other species.

    Wild horses should not be used as scapegoats for range degradation that is in fact primarily caused by private livestock: environmentalists have determined that the estimated 14,000 wild horses in Nevada, for instance, have little impact on the ecosystem compared with the hundreds of thousands of cattle that also roam the Nevada range.

    The Western Watersheds Project acknowledges that “the main cause of degradation of public lands in the arid west is livestock use and not wild horses. I hope that I made this as digestible as possible.

  14. mustangjack Avatar

    Hello Ralph,

    Thank you for the invitation to your blog. Although my book is half completed I am enthusiastic about its potential for conveying it’s political message. Much of the content will revolve around the propaganda that has been documented by BLM to placate the ranchers.

    The purpose of “It’s Reigning Wild Horses”isn’t to slander or bash ranchers. I understand their needs for the use of the open rangelands to graze their livestock. However,it is obvious that they have singled out wild horses to be eradicated for over forty years and they will not be content until the horse are reduced to unrecoverable numbers.
    There are five other ungulate species that are in abundance that compete to coexists with cattle,but because the horses are not categorized as a game animal no one can capitalize on that.

    Depending on the region where it applies,pronghorn,elk,caribou,deer,and antelope have a much further range than wild horses do. Wild horses usually will abstain to a fifty hectare area because they are territorial by nature and often do not wander outside that range. On rare occasions you may see a band forage outside that range but extreme climate conditions would have to dictate that. Horses will use alternate grazing areas when range grasses and legumes become scarce if the climate becomes too intolerable to sustain edible forage .

    Biologists for the BLM claim that wild horses overgraze and impede their ecosystems viability. That is a Fabricated claim in order to manifest a reason to reduce herd size. Per other native ungulate species it takes two to three times as much forage than that of a horse to fuel an elk just to stay warm in cold winter months.Due to an elks physiology they require a much higher protein and carbohydrate intake because of their migratory range. Antlered ungulates also have to absorb an exuberant amount of proteins to support their enormous racks. Large ungulates also require enormous amounts of other nutrients in order to fuel their explosive kinetic energy for eluding predation. Wild horse do not need that kinetic energy in order to escape predation because of generations of genetic deprogramming.They simply do not have natural predation other than humans. ie; if you ever looked at a horses muscle color you will see that it is a lighter red color compared to that of the elk etc..The reason for that is because lighter muscle requires less oxygen than that of darker muscle. The best way that I can explain that is by comparing the breast meat of a chicken which spends most its time on the ground rather than flying. The breast meat of upland game birds is dark in color,and that is because the game birds require much more oxygen to fly than chickens.

    Mature wild horse stallions weigh between 800-1000 pounds. A mature male elk weighs about the same and sometimes more..In order for large wild native ungulates to supply their explosive engines they begin to forage by gorging on early spring shoot and that foraging is constant throughout the summer and fall months. wild horses do not gorge because they regulate their metabolisms through their genetic programming. There is no competition between elk, deer, caribou etc and wild horses. None whatsoever.

    As for pronghorn,deer and antelope,the forage volume can double that of elk and caribou because their metabolic burn is at a much higher rate. I wont get into caloric and glycogen burn because that is just to complex. However, their need for fuel to be able to launch like a rocket and maintain that speed for long distances when evading predators requires an exuberant amount of forage. Pretty much like the game bird vs the chicken. So where does the wild horses rank on the volume of forage scale? At the bottom. Why? I will explain it briefly..

    An equid will only intake as much forage as it needs to sustain its energy.When forage ranges become sparse due to drought or wild fires their metabolisms will basically go into a suspended mode. I am not say that it shuts down completely but it emulates that of a bear’s metabolic system when it goes into hibernation. The other ungulates do not act in this manner. The elk caribou etc will forage off whatever it could find and that means even eating the buds which are essential to new growth. They will even decimate new growth to the point that it cannot rejuvenate. Equids will not!

    So am I saying that other ungulates are the cause of destruction on rangelands? Yes when balance is not acheived.That balance is not achieved by eradicating one species in order to maintain others. Wild horses have been targeted because they are the easiest to control by means of gathers. You cant hunt them legally so big game outfitters are out of the circle. Then those outfitters complain that the horses are infringing on their business because they claim they are pushing big game from their area. That is the biggest fallacy of all. Have you ever watched wild horses forage among elk and deer? I have and I will tell from experience that there is no competition between them.
    The Fish and Wildlife and Forestry Services exacerbate the problem for the horses because they too target the horses for removal to appease the big game commission. The cycle of eradication continues.

    Once Wild horses are gathered they are then processed for either adoption or for slaughter for human consumption. I don’t know of anyone that would adopt an elk, caribou,pronghorn etc nor are their any places in the world that have a supply and demand for them. Yes they are eaten around the world but the market is nowhere as large as the horse meat market. The cycle of eradication continues.

    Wild horses are under constant pressure from the BLM and ranchers and are Rounded up two maybe three times per year. Round ups or gathers are scheduled whenever the BLM deems them necessary or whenever the ranchers need to expand their range. The AML or Appropriate Manageable Levels change on a regular basis. It is a vicious cycle and the BLM knows there is no one that can disprove their consensus of wild horses is grossly miscounted.

    Up to date the BLM has reported that their are 28,000 wild horses roaming free and their goal is to reduce that down to 27,500. The 28,000 that they report are remaining is not a realistic number because as of 2005 the wild horse herds on a national level was 25,000. Do you see the contrast? Maybe not,so I will break it down for you in short.

    For one,horses as you know do not breed like rabbits.One mare will usually foal one per season and on rare occasion two. The foals will sometimes nurse up to 3 years.That in and of itself will slow reproduction down among those mares even more so. As reported by the BLM the 25,000 wild horses roaming free as of 2005, less than half of them were of mature breeding age.That means that mares would have to had reproduced at a rate of 1000 foals per year in order to have reached the 2007 total of 28,000. IMPOSSIBLE!
    So you see my point with the way the BLM fabricates and methodically manufactures wild horse totals in order to eradicate them from rangelands at their discretion.

    The wild horse management or mismanagement if you will has been a farce for nearly 40 years now and according to conflicting reports by the BLM they are planning to reduce herds to a national total of 11,000 or less. They claim 27,000 is their goal for now. In essence,if cattle range increases wild horse numbers decrease.If big game population increases,wild horse number decrease. Do you see the contrast?

    Anyone that reads this and wants to refute my claims I will be more than happy to inundate you with a plethora of vital information that contradicts the BLM biologists,Ecologists and the notorious wild horse specialist’s claims. I may not change your mind on your personal feelings about wild horses, but sure as there is corruption in the wild horse program I will shed some realistic fact about them.
    Please feel free to email me at WildHorseRefuge@aol.com

  15. Preserve The Herds Avatar
    Preserve The Herds

    Good job Mustang Jack and TJ!

    Loved the explanation of the elk and other prey species dietary differences, metabolisms and needs and the specific breakdowns of how differently wild horses actually impact ecosystems versus the worn out dogma horse haters are always spinning to get rid of them.

    The elk were of particular interest because I recently ran across some elk population numbers and based on your thorough description of how they eat, I thought it may be worth sharing to emphasize their potential impacts to rangeland health due to their sheer numbers.

    Between these 5 Western States, the estimated elk population for 2007 ranged between 675,000 to 700,000.
    The “gap” between the estimated elk populations is as large as the entire remaining free-roaming wild horse populations throughout the West.

    Don’t forget when BLM is quoting those wild horse numbers, they also pad it with burro populations so nobody ever really looks at the two populations as distinct.

    The wild horse AML throughout BLMs program is currently 24,456 (though always going down) and the wild burro AML is actually less than 2,700 now. (BLM includes a bunch of AMLs were no burro populations are actually noted to pad the burro numbers as well)

    But back to elk – The White River-Flat Tops region is home to the largest migratory elk herd on earth – 40,000 elk, which just also happens to be about 12,000 more than the “approved” population throughout the West of both wild horses and burros!

    For comparison purposes, here’s the breakdown of elk to wild horse and burro AMLs (allowable management level) in the 5 western states that comprised the 700k elk populations.

    Elk ~ 250,000-260,000 Wild Horses~ 812
    Elk ~ 125,000 Wild Horses ~ 617
    Elk ~ 130,000 -160,000 Wild Horses ~ 105
    Elk ~ 90,000 Wild Horses ~ 3,725
    Elk ~ 63,000 Wild Horses ~ 1,981 Wild Burros ~ 170

  16. Preserve The Herds Avatar
    Preserve The Herds

    By the way, Fact Not Opinions, you are the one with the incorrect information trying mask the truth with trumped up and inaccurate authority.

    As for your time frame of the equus species on North America, go talk to Dr. Paul D. Haemig, PhD Animal Ecology at haemig@ecology.info and learn a little something about the species. You are not only off by 6 million years, you fail to disclose that the genetic make up and creation of what horses are today had totally transpired before ever leaving North America.

    As for when they “died out”, it was 8,000-10,000 years ago (depending on who you are talking too) and no one is sure why. The two most popular THEORIES are sudden climate change and being hunted to extinction by man himself and their “dying out” just happened to coincide with many other large mammals becoming extinct throughout the world.

    If they are not “very good” at living anywhere but grassy plains like you claim, how come they seem to be able to adapt to almost any environment, so much so that no matter where they are found “wild”, greedy land barons scream about their “overpopulation”? Sounds like they are doing fine living anywhere we allow them to live.

    How exactly did you come up with taxpayers having to pick up the bill for wild horses living on BLM land and in sanctuaries? Let’s start with, BLM land is OUR land and we don’t have to pay for squat if they would quit spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the helicopter round ups to put them in those sanctuaries.

    It’s a beautiful money making scheme where everyone wins but the wild horse, burro or taxpayer. Most people WANT wild horses and burros roaming free but the key word is “free” and we can’t have that according to the Land Lords, can we?

    Better to pay someone anywhere from $2.50 to $12.00 a day to hold them in a sanctuary (after paying to have them removed) and give that forage to a rancher at $1.35 per MONTH for each cow and calf instead. Tell me, what can you feed for $1.35 per month? Then let’s not forget all that massive ranching welfare that goes on besides this little break in feed costs (as if these guys aren’t already getting enough), as they get hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer subsidies EACH year.

    Furthermore, removing the wild horses and burros and predators are all part of the public welfare ranching bill that we taxpayers get stuck with to benefit the few!

    Plus the size of cows has increased by almost 23% more than what used to graze public lands (as of 1984) and that doesn’t include the calf that is thrown in for free! The average cow weighs in at about 1250 pounds these days.

    You actually worry about the paltry amount the wild horse and burro program is spending compared to all that? Since you knew it cost $40 million last year to run the WH&B Program, why don’t you go look up some figures on ranching welfare if you really care about the American taxpayer getting it stuck to them? And I’m not talking about the small family ranching operations that might actually need some help, I’m talking about the majority of that money going to the already VERY wealthy or worse yet, the corporations that use ranching as a write off and get the kickers of those subsidies too!

    It still blows my mind that some Americans will argue so vehemently about the very IDEA of something being able to live “free”.

    I guess so many have gotten use to the bit in their mouths and somebody telling them which direction they should go, they can’t imagine life being lived any other way – and the resentment you exude at a wild horse being treated special from “other” animal shows.

    Obviously from your perspective, nature’s intent in developing the equines and all the other species was just to serve us, entertain us, pull our plows, fight our wars, inject them with our experiments and end it all with a nice bottle of Cabernet.

    I HAVE the facts and I found them because people like you puffed up their chests with such authority but told lies. At least you serve a purpose – to goad people into finding the truth for themselves!

  17. JB Avatar

    Thanks for the information! What a wonderful illustration of how our ideas about what constitutes a “native” or “wild” species is not so cut and dry.

  18. Mustang Jack Avatar
    Mustang Jack

    Preserve the Herds,you are so right when on all of your points.Wild horses are the most diverse and resilient wild species and they have shown how they can survive in any environment.Adaptability of the species is one of the reasons that they are targeted as an invasive species.What BLM specialists will never admit,is just how vital wild horses are to wildlife habitat.Why shouldn’t they be? After all,they are wildlife in spite of what they are classified as.Did you know that only a percentage of revenue collected from the sale of wild horses is distrubuted to maintain and manage range lands? A large portion of that money is used to support other non ecological platforms.

  19. Mustang Jack Avatar
    Mustang Jack

    Fact: The opposite is true – there are too few wild horses and burros on our public lands, and unless their numbers grow, the survival of these special animals is in jeopardy. During the 1800’s, it is estimated that there were more than two million wild horses and burros roaming the West. These animals, along with countless wildlife species ranging from bison to wolves to prairie dogs, were the victims of ghastly extermination efforts, primarily to make way for private domestic livestock grazing. Today, there are less than 20,000 wild horses and burros remaining on millions of acres of our Western public lands. Tragically, the interests of these “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” are being forfeited for those of the livestock industry and other commercial operations.

    Many wild horse and burro herds are being managed at such dangerously low numbers that their long-term health and genetic viability are seriously imperiled. In 1999, the federal government sponsored a wild horse and burro population viability forum in which several leading scientific experts including Drs. Gus Cothran, Francis Singer and John Gross, participated. One of the main issues discussed was that smaller, isolated populations of less than 200 animals are particularly vulnerable to the loss of genetic diversity when the number of animals participating in breeding falls below a minimum needed level. This scenario sets the stage for a host of biological problems associated with inbreeding including reduced reproduction and foal survival, reduced adult fitness and physical deformities. Only about one quarter of the herds under active management have a population objective of greater than 150 animals, much less 200. Numerous herds are being managed at levels between 40 to 70 animals and some even fewer. Either geographical or artificial barriers isolate many of these herds. Rather than address this grave problem by increasing population targets for these animals, the agencies charged with their protection, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (FS), have decided to further reduce wild horse and burro numbers by half to a shocking 15,000 wild horses and 1,700 wild burros.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros must be rounded up to save them from dying of starvation or thirst.

    Fact: While the BLM argues that wild horses and burros are being rounded up for their own good to keep them from dying of starvation or dehydration in areas affected by fire and drought throughout the West, animal advocates have frequently found that herd areas stricken by so-called “emergency conditions” weren’t nearly as bad off as the BLM claimed. Not only were wild horses and burros doing just fine, but livestock often remained in the same areas or were returned to the areas in short order. Of course, once the wild horses and burros are gone, they are gone for good – moving in the direction of achieving the overall objective of drastically reducing populations as quickly as possible. By attempting to justify extra removals as “emergencies,” the BLM is able to tap into emergency funds from other programs and go over and above their allocated budgets to meet this goal.

    Tragically, many wild horse and burro herds suffer needlessly due to the fact that they have been unable to roam freely throughout their entire herd areas because of fences and other impediments that have been constructed to accommodate livestock. Hence, they are unable to access forage and water to which they are legally entitled. Wild horses and burros have survived droughts and fires in the past and will survive them in the future, just as do other wild animals, if they are treated as wild animals and left alone.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros are destructive to the environment and must be removed in order to protect ecosystem health.

    Fact: Wild horses and burros, like any wildlife species, have an impact on the environment, but due to their natural behavior, their impact is minimal. In fact, wild horses and burros play a beneficial ecological role, for example, by dispersing seeds through elimination, thereby helping to reseed the landscape. They also blaze trails during heavy snowfall and break ice at watering holes, helping weaker animals to survive during harsh winter months. Wild horses and burros can also serve as food for predator species such as mountain lions.

    That said, if BLM and FS officials would have the public believe that they are genuinely concerned about ecosystem health, then they must refrain from conducting business as usual — viz., turning a blind eye to the indisputably overriding cause of habitat degradation: livestock grazing and public encroachment. For years, the agencies have permitted extremely high levels of livestock use on public lands, resulting in soil erosion, water contamination and depletion, as well as deterioration of vegetation. While wild horses and burros may be blamed for these problems, the agencies’ own data indicate otherwise. Little has changed since the release of the 1990 U.S. General Accounting Office Report, Improvements Needed in Federal Wild Horse Program, which concluded “… the primary cause of the degradation in rangeland resources is poorly managed domestic (primarily cattle and sheep) livestock.” Unlike cattle who tend to congregate and settle in riparian areas, wild horses and burros are highly mobile, typically visiting watering areas for only short periods of time. To make matters worse, livestock are concentrated in grazing allotments at artificially high densities during the critical growing season when vegetation is extremely vulnerable to permanent damage. This overgrazing sets the stage for habitat degradation that may not be immediately apparent, but can cumulatively cause massive vegetation die-off.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros are an exotic or a feral species and must be removed to protect native wildlife.

    Fact: Not so. The paleontological record shows that the cradle of equine evolution occurred in North America, beginning more than 60 million years ago. Conventional theories postulate that horses introduced by the Spanish more than 500 years ago were a different species than those horses who existed in North America prior to their mysterious disappearance approximately 10,000 years ago. However, mitochondrial DNA analysis of fossil remains indicates that E. caballus, the “modern” horse, is genetically identical to E. lambei, the most recent equine species to evolve in North America more than 1.7 million years ago. Hence, it can plausibly be argued that the Spanish actually “reintroduced” a native species, one which evolved on this continent and which has adapted and flourished both biologically and ecologically since its reintroduction. Interestingly, some scientists question the theory that all horses became extinct 10,000 years ago. They are only now beginning to analyze fossil remains that may eventually support this hypothesis.

    Moreover, simply because horses were domesticated before being released is biologically inconsequential. Observing horses in the wild demonstrates just how quickly domesticated behavioral and morphological traits fall off. According to Dr. Patricia Fazio, “The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co-evolved with its habitat.” By virtue of their evolutionary history, biology and behavior, these animals are native wildlife. In addition, the 1971 WFHBA rightfully recognized them as an “integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

    Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife – Compiled by Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D. (PDF version)

    MYTH: Ranchers depend upon livestock grazing for their livelihood and wild horses and burros are creating an undue hardship on their operations.

    Fact: While some small family ranchers do depend upon livestock for their primary source of income, the top grazing permits on our public lands in terms of numbers of livestock are held by corporate interests including the Hilton Family Trust, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., Nevada First Corp., and Metropolitan Life Co. In 1992, the General Accounting Office reported that just 16 percent of the approximately 20,000 public lands grazing permittees controlled more than 76.2 percent of forage available on BLM lands and most of these were either very wealthy individuals or big corporations. These wealthy corporate interests are much more concerned with paper stock than livestock, and with preserving their tax write-offs than a way of life. For the most part, removing wild horses and burros translates into just one more form of corporate welfare.

    Studies indicate that most ranchers are choosing to diversify their sources of income. Today, less than 3% of our nation’s beef is produced on public rangelands. Ranching on both public and private lands accounts for less than 0.5% of all income by Western residents. In 1994, the Department of the Interior concluded that the elimination of all public lands grazing would result in the loss of only 0.1% of the West’s total employment. Changing times and demographics, not a small number of wild horses and burros, are responsible for the decline of the ranching industry’s importance in the West. The time has come to help wild horses and burros and to assist ranchers who want to voluntarily transition from a profession that is taking its toll on their pocketbooks.


    Fact: Small family ranchers, just as small family farmers, have far more to fear from corporate interests than they do from responsible federal lands management policy. In fact, about 70% of cattle producers in the West own all the land they operate and do not rely on public lands grazing whatsoever. It can reasonably be argued that those ranchers who benefit from ridiculously cheap public lands grazing fees and other government subsidies associated with federal grazing permits have a distinct advantage over those who do not. Many of these ranchers who now fancy themselves as modern day “cattle barons” are millionaires and billionaires who made their fortunes in other businesses – e.g., Texas oilman, Oscar Wyatt, Jr. former chairman of Coastal Corp., McDonald’s French fries supplier John Simplot, and Mary Hewlett Jaffe, daughter of William Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard fame. The top 10 percent of public lands grazing permit holders control a striking 65 percent of all livestock on BLM lands and 49 percent on FS lands. The bottom 50 percent of public lands grazing permit holders control just 7 percent of livestock on BLM lands and 3 percent on FS lands.

    Because public lands grazing allotments require ownership of private base property and wealthy individuals and corporations own more private property (i.e., base property), they wind up with more federal grazing allotments. Hence, these wealthy operations benefit from numerous taxpayer subsidies, while small family operations struggle to make ends meet. These “cattle barons” and corporations are increasingly buying out small ranching operations — acres at a time. With rising operating costs and mounting debts, most small family ranchers are looking for work outside the ranch and a way out of ranching.

    Some ranchers have expressed an interest in a proposal that would provide for their needs as they transition into other lines of work. If a rancher voluntarily relinquishes his/her federal grazing permit, the government would compensate the permitee $175 per animal unit month (the amount of forage necessary to graze one cow and calf for one month). Not only would such an arrangement help ranchers and be a huge cost savings to taxpayers (see last myth), but it would also allow forage to be reallocated to wildlife including wild horses and burros.

    MYTH: Removed horses and burros are adopted to loving homes through the government’s “Adopt a Horse or Burro Program.”

    Fact: While the BLM has an obligation to ensure that the persons adopting wild horses and burros are “qualified” adopters, many people do not fully understand the responsibility and commitment that are required to care for an adopted animal, thus setting the stage for failed adoptions. Rigorous screening of potential adopters, education and monitoring are critical to the success of any adoption. Sadly, the BLM has failed in all of these areas. In 1997, the Associated Press uncovered enormous and egregious abuse within the adoption program, including the revelation that many individuals were adopting large numbers of wild horses only to turn around and make sizable profits by selling them for slaughter. To make matters worse, The New York Times reported on a Justice Department investigation that revealed that BLM had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on this issue, and that in fact many employees were well aware that adopters intended to sell horses for slaughter after receiving title. Only after being sued by wild horse advocates did the BLM agree to adopt measures to stem the tide of horses going to slaughter, but even then, countless horses fell through the cracks.

    Of immediate concern is an amendment to the WFHBA that was slipped into the Interior Appropriations bill in the last Congressional session, requiring horses 10 years-of-age or older or those who have not been adopted after three attempts to be sold at auction without limitation. Such “sale authority” will open the floodgates of wild horses being sold to slaughter for profit. More than 8,000 wild horses may immediately wind up on the dinner plates in fancy overseas restaurants, and countless more will follow unless legislation is swiftly enacted to repeal this ill-conceived amendment. H.R. 297, introduced by Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) in the House of Representatives and S. 576, introduced by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) in the Senate, will restore the slaughter prohibition for wild horses and burros. H.R. 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, reintroduced by Congressman John Sweeney (R-NY) and Congressman John Spratt (D-SC) will ensure that no horse meets this appalling fate.

    The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and its legislative history make it clear that Congress, with overwhelming public support, intended for wild horses and burros to be protected in the wild, and removed only when necessary, and if removed, guaranteed humane treatment. They were never to be sold for slaughter.

    Myth: With thousands of wild horses and burros awaiting adoption, the program is too costly and the only solution is to either sell or destroy “excess” animals who haven’t been adopted or are deemed “unadoptable.”

    Fact: In 2001, the BLM adopted a reckless strategy to reduce the numbers of wild horses and burros on public lands by more than half by the year 2005, without any environmental review whatsoever. Up to that point in time, adoptions had kept pace with removals. Increased removals resulted in a backlog of animals awaiting adoption. Many animals were automatically shipped to long-term holding facilities and never even put up for adoption. With more than 20,000 animals languishing in holding facilities, costs for the inflated number of removals and the animals’ care have mounted – all directly attributable to BLM’s own misguided strategy. BLM’s FY 2005 budget for administering the program was $39 million.

    However, if the BLM were genuinely interested in fiscal responsibility, the agency would provide the public with a detailed analysis of the full costs of administering its livestock grazing program. A recent analysis of the budget records concluded that the net direct loss (calculated as the Congressional Appropriations for the program less fee receipts to the Treasury) of the livestock program was at least $72 million for the BLM and $52 million for the FS; the full costs are likely to be three to four times these amounts. However, with the multiple taxpayer subsidies ranchers receive ranging from below-market-value grazing fees to fire and weed control to predator and “pest” control to range improvements, to price supports, to the regular removal of wild horses and burros, etc., it is certain that the agency loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Removing livestock instead of wild horses and burros would indeed be the most fiscally responsible action the agency could take.

  20. Barb Avatar

    Why is it, when humans make mistakes and errors of judgment, it always is the animals that seem to pay the price for it?

    I would any day rather see feral or wild horses on our public lands than privately owned cattle! Allowing ranching interests to run their cattle all over our lands (at taxpayer subsidies to boot!) is a true abuse of it.

    I sincerely wish the people in our country would finally begin to understand how the seemingly “benign” cattle industry has ruined the American West, it’s feral or wild horses, and mostly it’s native predator such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and more.

    Enemies to wild or feral horses say “they are not native to the U.S.”

    The last time I checked, neither were cattle.

    Because of continual mismanagement of our feral horses by the Bureau of Land Management, wild horses are again facing mass euthanization by a 4 inch rod to their brain.

    After years of wild horse advocates fighting hard against this despicable practice where horse meat has been sold overseas for high profit, the last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. was recently shut down. Now, the federal government again wants to make the horses pay for its mismanagement of its public lands.

    The federal government says there are “too many” wild horses on our lands. There are currently 1,000 wild horses on 33,000 acres of public lands in the West. That’s 1 horse per 33 acres. How in the world is that too many horses per acre?

    The real question we should be asking is: How many cattle are on our public lands? There are way more than 1,000 cattle on a comparable amount of acreage of federal lands.

    Why should private ranching interests have more clout over our federal lands than the taxpayer does? Feral horses have more of a right to be on our public lands than private ranching interests paying a fraction of current market prices to lease land for grazing because of taxpayer subsidies thanks to the good ‘ol boy network and and old fashioned views on how public lands should be used — as a feeding lot for privately owned cattle, not as they should be used — as a sanctuary for wild or feral animals who need that land to survive and for the public’s enjoyment of them.

    It’s time to put an end to abuse of our public lands and restore the west to at least part of its former magnificence. Protect the horses, not wealthy private cattle ranchers and corporations using our public lands improperly.

    For more information, visit Western Watersheds at http://www.westernwatersheds.org or the Wild Horse Preservation at http://www.wildhorsepreservation.com and Michael Robinson’s Predatory Bureaucracy: The extermination of the wolf and the transformation of the West.

  21. Barb Avatar

    Isn’t it very interesting, too, how ranchers will vehemently argue that feral or wild horses are not native to the U.S.

    Well, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and other predators ARE native to the U.S.

    Powerful ranching interests succeeded in eradicating the majority of predators throughout the West– they would pile dead bobcats and coyotes in huge piles — dead from being lured with poisons and cruel traps in order to make the West “sanitized” of anything that could be threatening in any way to their private ranching interests $$$$$$$ — and — with help from Uncle Sam too (!) starting in the 1900’s with the “Biological Survey” charged with carrying out none other than the total extermination of the wolf.

    We as a nation and especially those of us in the Western U.S. are absolute fools and idiots to put up with this nonsense any longer. Demand cattle get off our public lands to make room for our native predators and our cherished wild or feral horses.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan