Wild horses thought to create beautiful fields of wildflowers in Pryor Mountains

Unfortunately, the flowers may be the result of overgrazing by the horses-

Wild Horses © Ken Cole
Wild Horses © Ken Cole

This article and its premise may spark a lot of controversy.

Wild horse range pressured by overgrazing. By Brett French. Billings Gazette.

I should add that I have never been to the Pryor Mountains of Montana, which are east of Cody and near the Wyoming border.





  1. Hilljack Avatar

    Sounds like the same issues faced in the Strawberry Mtns of Oregon. How long does an introduced species need to be here to be considered native. As far as I can see these are just more non native animals that don’t belong on public land. At least catching them for resale puts some money back in the system.

  2. kt Avatar

    OK: 179 wild horses: So HOW MANY welfare cows or sheep graze here? Where is the AUM data on that? You can tell this fellow did hard agency time in Nevada. There, in places like Ely BLM, horses cause 100% of the problem (according to ageny fantasies in grazing documents). Yet the hordes of cattle and domestic sheep – always many times the number of the horses – nary a problem to be found. As if cows ns sheep floated above the land, and spent 100% percent of their time in the air floating in a methane cloud of teir own making – never touching down to earth trampling springs and seeps to death and obliterating microbiotic crusts in uplands.

    I also note that in many higher elevation areas, forb meadows are “natural”. Yes, the composition of particular forb plant species may be off – but grass trumping everything else – needs scrutiny.

    AND can someone who knows this country explain if there are sage-grouse in the areas where the agency wants to lure horses with guzzlers? Are they sacrificing the lower elevations – rather than deal comprehensively with BOTH domestic livestock and horses?

  3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Kt, that is a good point. There is nothing mentioning how many cows and sheep are grazing there and that is always a situation that gets overlooked. Wild horses in general are something I have always thought were a catch-22. They are very pretty to see and it is neat to see a herd running free. However, as a non-native species, I am interested to see from a standpoint other than ranchers’ how much they do affect the land. I am not advocating for their removal, just curious.

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    I got the photo last week while in Nevada with kt. They were nice to see. They do cause impacts to places but not as much as livestock do.

    There is a plan to remove 100% of the horses in areas of the Ely BLM District. The horses in the photo are some that will be removed.

    Here is the article:
    BLM’s Wild Horse Elimination Plan Angers Ecologist

  5. Ken Cole Avatar

    One of the other things that comes up often is the misconception that horses have no natural predators. They do, they’re called mountain lions but they are persecuted to such a degree in places like Nevada that they don’t regulate the horses very well.

  6. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    The solutions are so simple. Allow strong extended family infrastructure to develop, quit harassing these horses at lower elevations so spin off bands then make their homes in these lower areas… and forget about flowers taking over the grasses. If strong infrastructure is established the horses will use these “flowers” at appropriate times of the year…as seed heads in the fall, some of the yellow flowers while in bloom and ….it is endless what would happen if an ecological sound sustainable program was instituted with these herds.

    My social order, ancestorally trained bison herds hardly touch a blade of grass for weeks in the fall. Instead they are in the timber eating locust pods and acorns, nipping the tops of forb seed heads from the native prairie, eating certain broad leaf side leaves..you name it. They know what to eat and when.This is their harvest season so as to fatten up for the winter. No grassivore here, man, nothing but natures pure herbivore.

    The herd management this guy talks about, if true as written, is symptomatic management at best. “enlightened” guys like him can take isolated facts of “bands’ and apply with no thought of how this would adversely affect human families if applied in like manner. He and most wildlife and domestic herd managers need to acknowledge themselves for what they are…managers expert in creating dysfunctional herds. Yes they would do well in the magical world of abnormal psychology. Only with, “I have sinned, please forgive me” repentance … only then will they start instituting programs as corrective therapy for the herd animals they made dysfunctional.

    P.S. horses, lots of them, were native to N. America …. just not in recent times.

    P.S.S. And if “managers” would only let the males, from colt up, form into related male bonded groups then all this “wild, kick ass” horse stallion stuff wouldn’t be happening…just like the greatly increased amount of fights wouldn’t be happening amounst corral induced reductions now occuring in Yellowstone bison….a scene only the unknowing…the photographers and film makers delight in with all the abnormal increased fighting by bison bulls during the rut.

    Yes, it is so simple but of course that is what makes it so difficult for “experts” to implement.

  7. kt Avatar

    Yep. I Googled Pryor Mountains cattle grazing – and look at what came up – video of one of the area’s fine cow operations. I could not watch the whole thing – got as far as the muck hole with bellowing cattle, and Exited the You Tube pronto. Maybe the Agency Manager in the article could start managing the place to look like something other than a Cow Hellhole.

  8. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Horses are the whipping boy of the public land livestock industry.

    It’s amazing how keen public land managers are at identifying horse damage, yet when the same damage ‘expresses itself’ 100-fold following cattle on public ground – the same land-managers suddenly become blind, deaf & dumb.

  9. kt Avatar

    There was a frothing hatred stirred up for horses by the Cattle Industry during the Bush Admin. Those same people are definitely still running the show. The most disgusting thing is to be around them (the BLM’ers) in Mixed Company, and hear their insinuations, and Wink, Wink, Nod, Nod. Yep. Good Old Boy XXX is comin’ back to Nevada to run the horse program. He knows what to do. I recently was around a DC BLM horse mgr. of some kind dressed in near-full cowgirl regalia with a belt buckle that could have sunk a battleship whose wink, wink we will fix this all meant only one thing – massive round-ups while welfare cows and sheep stay in place. The BLM horse program is utterly captured by cattle interests.

    Horses do cause damage – but in most cases, it pales in comparison to the scale and scope of cattle and sheep damage.

    The horse issue will never be cleared up as long as horse groups and politicians fail to put ending public lands grazing at the forefront of fixing the horse issue.

    I have come to believe that there have always been many more horses than the BLM would ever admit to (because that would have meant sharing more “forage” with cows) in many of the big HMAs. THe whole program has been based on lies from the Get-Go.

    Also – I didn’t mean to insert the ranching image with the Pryor (prior!) cow you tube – it just happened when I posted the link.

  10. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    It was hard watching the vid for me also. But to see the myth of savvy Western Cattle families for what it is. To see the effects of “image” and what this does to horsemen in making them less so is what I saw in this film…the same as I saw all the time in Yellowstones back country.

    Here it is, the supposed salt of the earth cattle family, moving their herds. the stuff of legends and Louie Lamour books. It is what this country all aspires to live vicariously through.

    Look at the teen in white. Ya he has learned to PLAY cowboy and this is getting him in trouble. His lariat loops are way too long and can easily catch a leg if things go wrong on his horse ….. whether the “break away” strap holding is too thick or not…which it was on most all saddles I saw in the back country. This ropes loops can get hung up over the saddle and no breakaway makes a difference.

    Also notice the stirrups. The guy never changed out of the winter ones to allow for less boot area…something that has to be right to keep from having the foot go all the way through the stirrup ..and drag you to your death. Then look how he carries his off rein arm. Straight down. Pure show for the camera here. Takes a lot longer to get this arm up to the saddle horn if hell breaks loose.

    The little kids know more than he does. He has regressed just like all those rancher hot bloods I saw in the back country.

    Then look at his saddle bags flopping way out and up. Bad for the horse. Just like getting punched a thousand times with small hits to ones sides. If your going to gallop a horse either you tie down those saddle bags or get smaller ones. The flopping is bad for spooking any other horses near him also. And finally if he was ever trailing a pack horse these saddle bags can get pulled up by the pack horses lead rope and wrap the bag around the back and get hung up in the slicker or your belt. Have a wreck or two and you correct this type of thing. Not with these image boys however.

    There is more but to shorten this a bit finally see him double riding with the young kid behind. It looks so family but if shit happens that kid hangs on for dear life and the guy can’t extract himself or counter the hores movements. The most near fatality I ever saw was a father and young son doubling up going across the snow melt flood swollen Thorofare. On exiting the far bank the three inch diameter rock slope, a virtual field of marbles, made the horse lose footing. Back over the top they went with this ‘seasoned” cowboy unable to pull down on the reins to stop the reverse sommersault from happening because the kid was pulling him backwards.
    Yes, the guy had spurs he had not a single need for and one of these got caught up in the front cinch ring. All three went down stream FAST, most of the time with the prone horses head under water and the father and son under this horse scraping the bottom like the bottom of a ship running aground. They went 150-200 yards this way..heading right into a big pile of trees. I got off my horse fast and ran the shore.
    Fortunately they hit a shallower gravel bar just before the water got blue deep and the horse and bodies (kid still clinging to daddy) spun around. Knee to thigh deep water and when I got there the kid lifted his head out of the water, saw me and finally released his hold. Got the horses head above the water and he lunged a bit…enough to allow the guy to barely move and out from under his horse. The guy wouldn’t have made it alive another 50 yards.

    The horse was about gone to. Threw the kid to shore and helped the dad stand up…. then cut the cinches to get the saddle free while holding the horses head up so it could breath.

    Yes, these were part of a real cowboy ranching family…. pack trips in the high mts. for vacations on top of it all. Mom and adolescent daughter stayed on shore screaming. And since the families stock was now split up on both sides it was quite the job getting them back together.

    And finally there is the interview with the grand patriarch in this pure Western romantic setting. He is a guy who should have stopped all this from happening, should have known enough to train the kids in the right way, should have checked all the gear out before the ride commenced…but image again is most important to him. Hell, he had to be proud of that little boy being tough enough to withstand falling off his horse TWICE. Yes “it hurts” the kid says, but life of a tough cowboy is already ingrained in this kid. he will follow in his grandfathers footsteps if possible and image continues as number one importance to all of them.

    Fine, let this fine extended family play a Walter Mitty life….if it wasn’t for all the ecological damage his dysfunctional herd of “cows, calves and yearlings” create havoc with. He sees the warmth of family but he doesn’t see the need for the same thing in the animals he is responsible for.

    It is all so superior, this human idea homo sapiens is the best and brightest of all the species around us. Take the farce to the family level and this family doesn’t even know how to ride … the image of what they want most want to convey.

  11. JB Avatar

    It is interesting to compare the different arguments thrown around by livestock interests as to why everything but livestock needs to be eliminated:

    Bison = Disease risk
    Wolves, coyotes, bears = Kill livestock
    Elk = Compete for forage, disease risk
    Wild horses = Non-native species that “damage” the land

    I’m sure I’m missing others?

  12. Craig Hortman Avatar

    Everyone should have the chance to visit the Pryor Mt. wild horse herd as I did about a month ago. I hope that they leave the horses alone.—The Pryor Mt. wild horse range is a national treasure.

  13. kt Avatar

    JB: Trees = Water sucking weeds. Kill with Hazardous Fuels $$$.

    Like ancient pinyon-juniper. Why eliminate? Taking up space where grass or real weeds for cattle forage might grow.

  14. Chris H. Avatar
    Chris H.

    Actually, horses were native to North America. For example, Pliohippus Was very similar to the wild horses now out west albeit smaller. I think there is some debate as to why horses disappeared from North America about 10,000 y.a.

    I do understand the worry about feral animals making life tough for the rest of the environment. A good example of that would be the burros that used to be in the Grand Canyon.
    Nonetheless, I think that while the horses now out on the range are descendants of feral horses from Europe, they could also be a re-established population of an extirpated species.

    I agree with everyone above in that livestock information was deliberately left out of the equation here.

  15. Ryan Avatar


    In researching I couldn’t find out if the wild horse range allowed cattle grazing or not.

    That being said, wild horses cause significant damage in areas that Cattle and sheep are not present in. I.E. Sheldon wildlife refuge, Hart mountain, etc. I’m not a fan of cattle of sheep on public lands either, but the horses per AUM are hadrer on the range than cows.


    Could you write a longer diatribe next time? Your theory seems nice, but the data seems to prove otherwise in most cases with regards to ungulates.

  16. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    It was interesting to read your description of the BLM gal with her big belt buckle. This is very typical of range managers in both the BLM and Forest Service. They spend most of their time working with the livestock industry and soon start to dress and talk like them. I have heard it referred to as “Cowboy Up.”.

  17. Tilly Avatar

    I’ve never found the argument that “different horses were native here” very persuasive. After all, so were woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and the North American cheetah! Should we also reintroduce their modern-day equivalents into N. America?

    Excellent points on the relative harm of livestock and horses.

  18. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Ryan, what data do you refer to whether it is cattle or horses…or wildlife? Dysfunctional herds, maybe? Ken’s earlier posting linked to an article from Nevada saying 700 horses from the White River herd had been removed over the last ten years. Herd now is 168.

    Lets see, each year sharp shooters pick off 1/4 to 1/2 of a corporations employees.
    How many saved employees would even be able to work functionally, let alone show up for work in an environment such as this. How productive could they be? Apply the same principles and logic to herd animals whose very evolutionary existence as a species depended on this and maybe data from herds in chaos isn’t what we want to use to justify anything.

  19. Barb Avatar

    The bottom line is that cattle make people money — wild or feral horses do not.

    I cannot understand how some value animals only for what profits they can bring to the table.

    It’s selfish, short-sighted, and the kind of thinking that destroyed our entire ecological system (buffalo killed off to bring in non-native cattle, beavers being almost decimated, etc, etc).
    On another note, can anyone steer me to a good resource? Someone claimed that the Yellowstone wolves are “decimating” the elk population in the park. I do not believe this to be true. I need a credible article based on facts — anyone? Thanks.

  20. Ryan Avatar


    I fail to see the relavance to your argument. For highly complex activites maybe (i.e. running a business, etc) but for an animals with non complex behaviors, i.e. eating, pooping, not getting eaten, and breeding I fail to see the relavance. If anything the removal of members of the herd and associated chaos would make them better at survival. Basically you arevjust promoting Anthropomorphism, in lower level animals.

  21. Ryan Avatar


    “Livestock grazing permits were purchased and retired in 1993, creating one of the largest and most important blocks of ungrazed sagebrush-steppe habitat anywhere. Sadly, while permitted livestock have been removed, horse numbers have increased, damaging many springs and riparian areas, just when climate change makes these watered areas so important for the survival of wildlife. ”


    For many years, the numbers of wild horses and burros at the refuge remained relatively low, with populations hovering between 100 and 300. However, in the past 15 years, their numbers have increased rapidly to a high of perhaps as many as 1300 and without natural predators at the refuge, other than an occasional encounter with a mountain lion, their numbers will continue to increase, putting native species at risk and damaging sensitive riparian habitat.


    Horses eat approximately 30% more than cattle per AUM and tend to uproot native plants and graze lower than cattle to the ground. Causing much more damage than cows. Not that I want cows on public lands, but controlled cattle grazing 3-6 month windows is better than 12 month contuinued wild horse grazing.

  22. mikepost Avatar

    Once again arm-chair ecologists support a cute and cuddly invasive and destructive species (the wild horse) for emotional rather than scientific reasons. That kind of irrational argument makes their arguments about other invasive and destructive species (such as the cow) lose all credibility. Managing ecosystems is about making hard choices based upon empirical data. Indulging childhood fantasies about ponies should not part of that process…

  23. fenriswolfr Avatar

    “For highly complex activites maybe (i.e. running a business, etc) but for an animals with non complex behaviors, i.e. eating, pooping, not getting eaten, and breeding”

    How about running a family or a herd? But then again, all these ‘animals’ do are eat poop and breed huh?

  24. Barb Avatar


    The REAL “invasive and destructive species” is cattle or other non-native livestock, not the few (in comparison to cattle!) feral horses living in the West.

  25. Chris H. Avatar
    Chris H.

    I was not condoning “rewilding, although it is intriguing. Even if we all agreed it was a good thing, the environment on the ground is not right. The Great Plains are fenced and basically agricultural and there are not enough large parks and/or wilderness areas. Those that we do have have few or no safe corridors. I just stated that feral horses in the west could be considered as such.

    Being from Kentucky I naturally have a soft spot for horses although I have never considered them “cute”or cuddly”.
    But they have a place somewhere. Feral horses are a problem people created – not unlike many others. Some problems even created by “professional” ecologists.
    Ecology is a relative newcomer among the sciences and it is not an exact science ( like chemistry). Armchair quarterbacks have added a lot to the field – don’t sell them short.

    Truth be told I’m not sure what I think “the right thing to do” is for wild horse management.

  26. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Wild or feral horses and burros can do a lot of damage. Their numbers need to be kept in check.

    However, other than locally it’s important not to let this issue displace the much greater problem of grazing by cattle and domestic sheep.

    Because most people like horses, it is also important that surplus horses be killed humanely unless you are prepared for endless controversy.

    The biggest emerging problem is the abandonment of domestic horses by owners who can no longer pay to feed them. This can be gruesome, as the below article shows.

    Horse found with brand cut out of hide. Nev. case draws outrage from animal-protection groups, reward offer

  27. Ryan Avatar


    You’ve watched too much disney.


    Shifting blame from one problem to another does not solve the problem. We have a feral horse issue on a ranch that I help manage the hunting on. These are just old ranch horses that never got broke. The herd has grown from 10 origional horses about 20 years ago to nearly 80. Unfortunately they cant be sold to canada or mexico for food and nobody wants them. By end of summer they are all going to be fertilizer as there is no other option to rid the ranch of them.

  28. JB Avatar

    “Once again arm-chair ecologists support a cute and cuddly invasive and destructive species (the wild horse) for emotional rather than scientific reasons. That kind of irrational argument makes their arguments about other invasive and destructive species (such as the cow) lose all credibility. Managing ecosystems is about making hard choices based upon empirical data. Indulging childhood fantasies about ponies should not part of that process…”

    Mike: I find this comment intriguing. Science can not tell you what species belongs where, it can’t tell you which species are good or bad, and it can’t tell you which management action is best. In essence, all science can tell us is: if you take action Y you increase the likelihood of outcome X.

    This use of value-laden terminology (e.g. destructive, damaging, ecosystem health, ecosystem integrity) to describe the likely consequences of the presence (or absence) of species is indefensible (though common) from a scientific perspective. The actions that we take are neither “good” nor “bad” for an ecosystem–ecosystems can’t tell good from bad ;). Rather, our actions on the land are good or bad for people. Killing predators is good (in the short term anyway) for certain ranchers and (one could argue) hunters; allowing predators to exist is good for people who like to view or hunt them; similarly, allowing wild horses to exist is good for people who enjoy viewing them.

    Don’t get me wrong, science might tell you that wild horses consume more forage than native species or that they are harder on native plants, but when you label these consequences as “destructive” you have just inserted your own values and emotions into the science–the very practice you warn against.

  29. JB Avatar

    For those interested in why the use of terms like “ecosystem health” is inappropriate from a scientific perspective:

    Wicklum, D. & Davies, R. W. (1995) Ecosystem health and integrity? Can. J. Bot. 73:997-1000.

    Abstract: The concepts of ecosystem health and ecosystem integrity are discussed and found to be ecologically inappropriate. The phrase ecosystem health is based on an invalid analogy with human health requiring acceptance of an optimum condition and homeostatic processes maintaining the ecosystem at a definable optimum state. Similarly, ecosystem integrity is not an objective, quantifiable property of an ecosystem. Health and integrity are not inherent properties of an ecosystem and are not supported by either empirical evidence or ecological theory.

  30. Ryan Avatar


    Interesting discussion, but where do you draw the line? A non native species that causes harm on native species wouldn’t that be bad for the ecosystem as a whole. 99% of scientists would tell you that it is not a good thing.

    Even as a hunter and a fisherman I despise non native species, whether is be turkeys that were introduced to the west, or the plague of bass, catfish, shad, German brown trout, and brook trout that pollute our waterways. As much as I enjoy hunting phesants and chuckars over my pointers, I would gladly trade them for shaptails and sage grouse.

  31. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    Looks like you are psychologically preparing yourself in your own way to justify the killing-either directly or indirectly- of these “wild” horses. Minimize or devalue any bad deed and you can justify just about anything.

    We had a ranger who went up to the elk calf he shot in front of the Mammoth Motor Inn and kicked it in the head for good measure. Will you feel like doing the same? Or will you give it, not god, a prayer? Remember, the abuser always blames the abused. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap.

  32. JB Avatar


    I think the answer to “where do you draw the line” is inherently political, not scientific. As a society we do all sorts of things that negatively impact native species. We actively plant exotic, invasive species, we build dams, roads and subdivisions, and our own DNRs actively introduce and promote non-native species (e.g. pheasants, rainbow trout). We do these things because somebody in a position of power finds it is politically beneficial/expedient/convenient to do so, not because science says its good or bad.

    What’s frustrating about public lands ranching is that the benefits are accrued by so few people to the detriment of so many.

    P.S. I fully admit to having a soft spot for horses, though I must also admit to having the typical bias against non-native species (so I guess I’m conflicted). But I wonder… how long does a species have to be present for it to be considered “native”? Good luck trying to draw that line!

  33. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I sometimes read about non-native species that have become “naturalized,” e.g., dandelions.

    I have also read that non-native species, including invasive species have been found to undergo mutation so that they are no longer genetically the same as where they are, or were, “native.”

    Predators brought into to control invasive species can themselves have direct and indirect effects that might be considered a problem by humans. Consider, for example, gall flies (actually the gall fly larvae) to control knapweed. Deer mice love the larvae. Because deer mice are a major vector of hantavirus, the interaction between them (a native) and the two exotics (knapweed and gall flies) serve to facilitate the spread of hantavirus (is it an exotic too?)

    A guess a new ecosystem has developed, none which serves human interests.

  34. Ryan Avatar


    I don’t really don’t have an issue with it to be honest. Its no different killing chickens or shooting ground squirrels. That being said, I’m not excited about the prospect of it to be honest, its a problem I would much prefer to not have in the first place. That being said the ranchers hands are tied for options that are economically feasible.


    “What’s frustrating about public lands ranching is that the benefits are accrued by so few people to the detriment of so many.”

    You can try and shift focus, but these issues are seperate issues, there will still be a feral horse problem when all of the cattle and sheep are off public lands. This constant shifting of blame does not solve the problem, ignoring it will not make it go away.

  35. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    JB, you forgot cougars eating livestock and badgers and prairie dogs competing for forage and digging holes that will break legs.

    I have to agree with what Ralph said about wild horses and burros needing to be managed. The bottom line is that they are a non-native species. My main objection to cattle and sheep being grazed on public land is that the land suffers from one person’s livestock

  36. mikepost Avatar

    JB, I think the historical record will show that every artificial (make that man made) introduction of a non-native species has always eventually created a situation full of unintended consequences where we end up wishing we had not done it or if accidental, wish we had prevented it. I am afraid I can’t quite wrap my head around your Zen master veiw of what native species are.

  37. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    The questions I have for everyone ..is it the species that causes the problem ie. “wild horses” or is it the way we manage them? To me herd animals have ways to deal with most grassland ecosystems that are environmentally compatable to the resource….if they are left to the evolutionary ways of life they developed with. It doesn’t matter much over time if they were native or not.

    The second question is….do prey species, specifically ungulates, have the inherent means to stay healthy as a population without predators present? In other words is it a bust cycle without predators?

    Third question… can humans maintain compatability with their environment without other species to control them?

    In other words do omnivores and predators have a unique position in their ability to keep themselves healthy as a species while the lower orders of life, such as Ryan refers to them, have to depend on those “higher order” species to be “managed”?

    I believe each species can do it on their own, thank you maam.. I don’t believe “numbers need to be checked (as in active management by humans). I believe we just have to understand how grazers do it, then let them do it that way. I believe they increase vitality within the species with wars just as humans do it. Their wars are just on a smaller scale than wars of todays human artifical extended families. What do you think?

  38. Ryan Avatar


    Obiviously your theory has worked so well, look at all of the destroyed rapairian areas due in Yellowstone pre wolves, look at the destroyed rapairian areas in Hart, Sheldon, and other areas wild horses inhabit that are Sans livestock. Can you list one area where grazers have not overpopulated with no human intervention and predation? I honestly think you live in a “disney fairytale” sometimes. Do you have any biologist that would back up your feel good theories?

  39. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Elephants are the “largest” example. And the wild and functional wild horses, before and during the white buffalo hunter days, lived well it appears with large herds of bison roaming the same prairies together. Oh, throw in a bunch of antelope and elk for good measure. I suggest you read some of Catlins stuff.

    Also the South American pampas had a lot of grass, a lot of functional wild cattle herds and a lot of wild horse herds 100’s of years before N. America had their horses.

    Of course I added the word “functional” because evidently you can’t discern between the dysfunctional horse herds of today and those left alone (in the absence of humans).

    As for riparian damage and large mostly free of predator ungulates (bison included here, my boy) it won’t happen. Just like your family would never set up house keeping in the shopping centers of large cities families of animals feel the same as mommy and dadddy….its more important to have relative seclusion to raise the puppies. Too many distractions and training and discipline goes out the window or in the mud bath. Thus travel to and from the water holes but don’t linger.

    And your model of abuse in Northern Yellowstone is really an aberration of very bad G&F management. More but again it is back to work. Fixing the under carrige of a reefer. Going to be putting the meat from 120 bison on Thursday…all ages…all from one extended family.

    How many horses are you going to kill? i am tired of praying so much. maybe you will be too…oh, I’m sure you pray to all those ground squirrels you plink. How many are you eating of those choice morsels tonight? The hair gets caught in the throat I bet.

    You do eat those little guys, I should ask. Yes, of course you do…every fair chase sportsman eats what he kills, right?

  40. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    I am quite fond of horse meat, it is tasty, and quite lean, I have no problem with a nice horse steak..

  41. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Thanks for those sentences of confession, save bears. Now the healing commences.

    Actually most all animals out there are good eating. Why would they not be? As for my feelings towards horses I doubt there is anybody ever reading Ralph’s blog (save maybe Smoke Elser) who has ridden or depended so much on horses as me. Anybody out there do more than 60-70,000 miles on a horse, Let alone in the mt. and a lot off trail?

    That being said I have shot a number of horses both on the farm I grew up on and in Yellowstone. Shit happens and with Park outfitters it happens a lot. Thus I killed them for those guys.

    And to Ryan, I have to say there are very, very few biologists out there I know of who even acknowledge families and extended families in grazers. And I know none who extend this acknowledgement beyond the female matriarchal side of things (yes Ken, you are not alone).

    Throw in the ramifications for riparian areas, MIG without fences, line breeding without inbreeding, and the realization every grazer out there raised and managed for dysfunctionality (it is all who get touched by superior thinking ranchers and scientists) has stress inherent in them (there is no contented cow)and a host of other benefits I tout for extended families and I am all alone out there Ryan my boy.

    Yes all alone. But don’t feel sorry for me, buddy, oh pal (comes from the movie Dumb and Dumber) All is a changing. There is verbage coming on strong in the papers, in magazines…. you name it. The authors may not know what it really means but it is the first step.

    And the term and realization “Grassivore” as relating to untrained and dysfunctional Herbivores is mine also. At least I have never heard of it anywhere.

    So you see, Ryan, you finally got me. I thank you for acknowledging this originality.

  42. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Dumb and Dumber is actually one of my favorite movies of all time, I laugh at that movie…I love movies that mean absolutely nothing and that is one of the best…

    By the way, it was not a confession, it was an actuality, I have eaten dog, rat, horse and a few other animals that would curl the toes of most who read this blog, like you, I do actually have a little different understanding of how things work…

    That said, I look forward to the next time we get to meet again, and discuss things in person, of course you don’t remember it and because I use an alias, you would most likely not remember the last time..

  43. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Bob, elephants may not have predators but before Africa had a large human population, their numbers were limited by slow reproductive rates and the fact that elephants’ molars grind down at the end of their lives and the starve to death usually at about 60 to 70 years old, thus relieving some strain on the population. The buffalo, elk, and antelope in the Lewis and Clark days had predators like wolves and grizzlies to control the population. Every ungulate has some way of controlling its population.

  44. JB Avatar


    Not trying to shift focus,but rather point out that there are different ways of defining the “problem”. Wild horses are only a problem if someone defines them as a problem. Ecosystems don’t care, they simply change.

    – – – –


    How about honey bees?

  45. Ryan Avatar

    To be honest I’m not sure I will be a part of the Feral Horse removal, but we are backed into a corner as to how to get them off private land. Nobody wants them and they take valuable feed for the native ungulates and cattle. Never tried eating ground squirrels, maybe I should. I think if I brought home a horse steak my wife would kill me.

    If you know a cost effective way to get rid of 80 feral horses, I’m all ears.

  46. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    save bears,

    The confession thing was more to do with humor than any thought of actuality. And I still give presentations out West, am on a couple advisory boards…. so maybe some day.

    Pro wolf,

    Elephants, as I read of them, actually do have predators. Hyenas and lions trying to pick off little calves. But since elephants don’t calve till 4-6 and live to be 60-70 as you pointed out, then predation is minor in the whole schem of elephant infrastructure life.

    And molars grinding down at old age means there is a lot more ways needed to keep population in “control” and herds vital. So I say there are a lot more herd animals out there that have the same control features sans predators….and a lot of this has to do with social structure, extended families, clans, tribes and nations…methods used no different than humans have to control population and at the same time keep the environment healthy.

    Yes, all large animals have some form of predation but the overall numbers of a grazer population are not effected, I think. healthier, yes, but not total population. In your Lewis and Clark days there were accounts of up to ten thousand wolves following behind” huge herds of bison on the move (sort of like witnessed in present day caribou migrations).

    Following behind is the key phrase here. Yes, there are bison and caribou stragglers but why would these wolves follow behind instead of be on the sides etc.? Most attacks i know of is flanker attacks.

    The reason they (and all the rest of the predators, raptors, and scavengers) follow behind has to do more with the cyclone of living nutrients stirred up by these herds in mass
    movement. Lots and lots of mice and small rodents scurrying around and visible to wolves.

    I relate this because predators of big game are always there but maybe not specifically for a meal of a calf. The smaller the grazer the more the predation. Elk calves get had a lot but in the total time of things elk live to 12-15 and thus the main population is immune to predation. Thus populations grow. TR has a supposed over population of elk. They would have this no matter if wolves were introduced or not. So how do grazers do it?…maintain viable ecosystems and contol populations at the same time.

    Bison live to 25-40. Thus calves are even a smaller issue as far as predator impact. The old “buffalo wolves” could bring down adults but at a pack price.

    Yes, more disease is around to control numbers with high populations. That is another control. Less reproduction because cows are in worse reproductive shape but my bison herd can have all the food they need but when space runs out they drop from 90% calving to 20% (reproduction is not uniform across the herd however. The power groups still have high reprproduction and spin off groups have almost none).

    But in the end there is something more, something that adresses the “problems of Rocky Mountain Park and Tr…and the wild horses of BLM lands. That I say is social order infrastructure and the ways grazers do it is no different than humans control themselves.

    So the question again is “do herd animals have wars?” My buffalo families do. It is sort of a loaded question, of course, because by saying herd animals do means they have structure. By saying no, it means you think each individual is out there as just another multiple of population densities. Wars are different than fights, however. Can’t squirm out of it by says bulls fight during the rut.

    Which is it? If you acknowledge that herd animals have wars then your statements that wild horses and elk need to be managed or “have their numbers kept down” doesn’t have as much strength to it.

    To me the realization of wars has as much an impact to management as realizing storks don’t bring babies down the chimneys.

    Harden up here folks. For or against? Say no and management stays the same. You will be in lots of company by saying no. Say yes and you are either a quack or might be on to something with far reaching ramifications. A possible hint to saying yes. The naturalist Seton said when bison herds were killed out of one area (indians killed out entire herds in their surrounds, jumps and corrals. In fact they made it a point to kill every one so there were no survivors to tell others) it took many years for other herds to move into the area. Was this phenomenon caused out of fear or did other bison have their own homes to defend?

  47. spirithorsebr Avatar

    July 15th, 2009

    Victoria Barr, Field Manager
    Caliente Field Office, P.O. Box 237, Caliente, NV 89008-0237
    Re: 4720 (NVL03000) Attn: Ben Noyes, WH & B Spec. Schell F.O. T. (775) 289-1836
    & Re: DOI-BLM-NV-L030-2009-0037-EA

    Dear Ms. Barr:
    Thank you for sending your letter and E.A. on June 11 in which you inform of BLM’s plan to eliminate all of the so-called overpopulated 270 wild horses remaining in the 9 herd areas of the Caliente Complex. I have gone over this document and recognize that it is targeting wild horses for elimination in a very bias manner, all the while abrogating BLM’s duty to fend for the legal and natural rights of these returned North American native species in their 1971 legal herd areas. I had sent an earlier letter of protest on this and including the Seaman and White River HAs’ planned wild horse eliminations to Mr. Ruhs at the Ely BLM Office. Though your team concludes that there is an overpopu-lation of wild horses in these 9 herd areas, this is not at all objective due to the fact that the 270 remaining wild horses have a legal right to live here on 911,892 acres. This translates to 3,377 legal acres for every remaining wild horse! On the face of it, this claim clearly represents a bias view and reveals BLM’s negative predisposition toward these horses and their freedom. I implore you to reconsider this very unjust decision to eliminate these very under-populated herds of wild horses and to leave them alone and let them fill their niche as the Wild Horse Act requires you do, rather than continuing to be in cahoots with the wild horses’ worst enemies.

    The following are my specific comments to the Caliente Complex Gather Preliminary E.A., a very tendentious document that ignores so much that is positive about the wild horses (I give the section number to which each comment applies):
    1.0: Though you ignore this, eliminating the wild horse herds itself constitutes a significant negative action affecting both the wild horse containing ecosystem and the wild horse appreciate public – the majority of Americans!
    1.1: 1st Parag.: Arbitrary definition of “excess”; 2nd Par.: Extremely unfair and arbitrary! What about cattle present? Map 1: What good is this map going to be to me now that it appears there will be absolutely no wild horses left in it?! Table 1 listing AMLs of Zero (0) for all 9 herds. This zeroing out is brazenly contrary to several national laws.
    3rd Par.: How do you define “nuisance”? This seems discriminatory and reveals your inherently negative attitude. 4th Para.: Arbitrary statements designed to build a case against the wild horses. 5th Para.: Zeroing out reveals your extreme bias against the horses and their freedom. In other words, you already have your agenda, your target, and you ignore all that is positive about them.
    1.2: 1st Par.: Bias arbitrary statement. 2nd Par.: Fails to address domestic livestock and their effects upon the ecosystem. This is a coverup and a scapegoating of the wild horses!
    1.3: Ely ROD and RMP to remove all wild horses is extreme and must be cancelled. It is based on bias and totally unfair to the wild horses!
    1.4: Clearly there is a contradiction here as far as “Conformance with BLM Land Use Plan(s)”. Your decision to zero out a really under-populated wild horse population is entirely contrary to both the stated Goal and also Objective, i.e. “maintain wild horse herds …” It is clear you are totally abandoning your duty to provide for and defend these horses’ rights to live here as the “principal” presences as states the Wild Horse Act.
    Action WH-5: This reveals your extreme bias to totally do away with the free roaming horses!
    1.5: re: 43 CFR 4710.3-1; 43 CFR 4720.1; & 43 CFR 4710.4: This is a clear ploy of yours designed to eliminate the wild horses that abandons the true intent of the Wild Horse Act and several other acts, including the Multiple Use Act, the Heritage Act and NEPA. It represents a very twisted interpretation of these statutes.
    1.6: Environmental Justice is clearly an issue here, though you claim it is not, for you are being very unfair toward both the wild horses and their many public supporters. We, the latter, are being entirely ignored, our rights crumpled.
    Re: Grazing Uses/Forage: You say forage conditions will be improved for livestock. This clearly shows the main reason you are zeroing out the wild horses: you are caving in to the clamoring demands of the public lands livestock grazers, traditional enemies of the wild horses and their freedom and the main reason for the passage of the Wild Horse Act.
    Where is your integrity and your fair representation of all values, presences, uses?!
    Re: Wetlands/Riparian Zones: Look at livestock not wild horses, if you want to find the true reason for the decline of these zones; and be sure to look at the fences illegally impeding the free-roaming lifestyle of the wild horses within their original legal herd areas. Vegetative Resources: Your statement that removing wild horses would improve the vegetation is unfair. You obviously have your own idea of what vegetation should or should not be allowed to live. For a legal wild horse herd area this would be a different combination of species than for an area for livestock or one for big game animals. It is clear you are favoring the latter over the wild horses and — all this – contrary to the law and oblivious of the fact that livestock and/or big game already monopolize the public lands. It is clear you are shirking your duty as wild horse protectors and not being at all objective and fair minded. This is a disgrace to America! … You overlook how wild horses complement many native species and help build humus-rich soils, widely disperse the seeds of many native plants, aid other animals’ access to food and water both in winter & summer, and, in general, when not overly fenced (as the law requires) disperse their grazing pressure over vast areas so as not to overgraze any one area (part of horses’ natural herding instinct). … You overlook horses’ custom not to linger on riparian zones, unlike cattle, which make a holy mess of these areas. Very dishonorable and dishonest is your continuing to scapegoat the wild horses!
    2.3 Alternative B – No Action: This alternative should be adopted since there is a clear under-population of wild horses in these 9 herd areas. Your claims of 18-22% growth rate appear to be exaggeration. Are you accounting for all mortality factors? And to limit your analysis of the situation just to what you have presented ignores what you could and should be doing to allow the wild horse populations to self stabilize as through the conscientious employment of Reserve Design incorporating both natural and artificial barriers, restoration of natural horse predators, such as puma and wolf, and the allowance of natural band social structure by which elder horses inhibit reproduction in younger horses. This stabilizing tendency is entirely destroyed by your frequent draconian helicopter roundups. You are not letting the wild horses adapt and come to terms with their ecosystem, but rather you are victimizing them!
    2.0: It is very wrong that you are not considering any other alternatives, for there are many possible ways that do exist that would allow you to have fair viable numbers of wild horses, self stabilizing and in harmony with the wild-horse-containing ecosystem. But because of your negative predisposition, you are obstinately ignoring these! If persisting, this should be subject to legal denouncement and rectification. The Ely RMP (8/2008) takes a very non-objective, bias view of the wild horses. You terse comments concerning habitat requirements shows how you are going out of your way to eliminate the wild horses rather than doing your duty to see that they have adequate resources for long-term viability. … 270 is in reality a very low under-population of wild horses; and this number should be allowed to make a comeback within its vast and largely empty horse niche here. I see here your clever strategy to make it seem like the truly legal Wild Horse Herd Areas musts be empty of wild horses, places of cancelled-out status for these animals. This is all very perverse and contrary to the Wild Horse Act’s true intent! … Again your claim of “current overpopulation” is false! This is an arbitrary designation of yours. Objectively, the wild horses are very under-populated for the vast legal area here, where they have legal and natural right to live!
    Your discussion of Rangeland Health Standards and monitoring are all very convenient to your anti-wild horse agenda. I discern that you are setting up the wild horses. Throughout your entire assessment I detect a bias tone toward the wild horses and their legal and natural place on the public lands. You do not address the possibilities of exercising your right of Closure to Livestock in order to protect the wild horses in the wild. This is in CFR 4710.5 & .6. Also you fail to consider the need to deconstruct fences that are hampering the natural movement patterns of the wild horses and depriving them of access to water. Another major point is that you are not using your position as federal authorities to negotiate for fair provision of and access to water for viable populations of wild horses on the public lands. This you could do because livestock grazing is a cancelable privilege on the public lands whereas the wild horses have a legal right to occupy their 1971 Herd Areas (see CFR 4710.5 & .6 as above). If ranchers insist on denying the wild horses water where it is imperative for their survival, then you the federal authorities could cancel their grazing privileges. The key point here is the difference between privilege and right, and you are entirely failing to use this to the wild horses’ advantage and for the sake of fair proportions of resource usage among a greater variety of species, including this returned North American native: the horse!
    Impacts of Alternative B—No Action Alternative: I favor this alternative: No Action. 1st Para: You are now claiming 20-25% rates of increase for the wild horses whereas in section 2.3 you stated 18-22%. Your tendency to exaggerate and over-magnify all aspects of the wild horses’ impacts have become clear. Also, what do you expect when the population has been brought unnaturally low for its vacant niche by the wholesale helicopter roundups you authorize. These draconian roundups break up the family units thus destabilizing intrinsic population controls, of which the wild horses as an ecological climax species are entirely capable. 2nd Para: You fail to recognize how stable wild horse bands repress reproduction in young horses. Bottom page: You fail to recognize how the horse is a native to North America and persist in an antiquated view that ignores so many fossil and genetic findings and studies (see Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife by Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. & Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D. statement presented before Congress in 2009 in support of ROAM bill HR 1018). … The whole scenario you paint is all very tendentious and designed to skewer the wild horses, again revealing your negative predisposition toward them. Proposed Action: No, by removing the wild horses you will impede the naturally harmonizing process by which the wilderness life community here is realizing a balanced and thriving relationship between and among all the species, including the returned native wild horses. No Action Alternative: Again your very negative view discounts natural stabilization of wild horse numbers that could occur with proper Reserve Design, natural and artificial barriers, and a complete ecosystem, including reestablished predators. In your exaggerated claims about wild horse impacts you ignore how the wild horses enhance the ecosystem, contributing in many positive ways through soil building, seeding, and that they do not camp on riparian areas as do livestock. What a misleading and negatively tainted view of the wild horses you are presenting! (bottom): You fail to recognize how the horse seeks out very widespread water sources through olfaction and how they help develop these water sources through pawing and through their wallows especially in clay-containing areas. You ignore how they do not linger at water sources as do cattle. Again, you distort the true picture! Last paragraph is very tendentious and unfair! Environmental Effects, 1st para: This is a distortion of the true situation, clearly aimed at justifying wild horse elimination. This entirely fails to mention the effects of livestock, both past and present. And it is clear from the documents you have recently sent me that you are planning on handing over the resources of these legal wild horse herd areas to the livestock grazers. This is blatant defiance of the Wild Horse Act!
    No Action Alternative: This is an extremely lopsided and exaggerated projection that fails to recognize how with proper Reserve Design and adequate space, a self-stabilizing wild horse population could be achieved. The main problem is that you do not care to realize this because you fail to value the wild horses in the wild. …Last Para: This is totally wrong, since horses help enrich the soils by building their humus content through their droppings. What a blind and misleading statement of yours, negatively motivated! Proposed Action: Removal of wild horses will set back the benign natural process by which the entire ecosystem, including the returned native wild horses are achieving harmony in their interrelationships and stabilized populations. Obviously you are going out of your way to target the wild horses for discrediting and elimination. This is all contrary to your duty under the law. Last Para: All very rosy. Aren’t you just perfect?! No Action Alternative: Here you just view wild horses as negative – period! This reveals your extreme prejudice and blindness toward them, particularly when living as millions of years of evolution upon North America has prepared them, not as slaves! Here you mention that certain wild horse Herd Areas such as Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek are relatively weed free. This is contrary to your earlier statement that wild horses cause weeds! Again your prejudice and tendentiousness is proven! … No Action Alternative: A negative view, discounts wild horses’ positive contribution to the ecosystem.
    4.1: What are the cumulative impacts of total wild horse removal and the destruction of all the positive symbiotic relationships between the horses and all components of the ecosystem they occupy?! Clearly you ignore this!
    4.2.1, Past Actions: So after greatly reducing wild horse occupied areas, that is the original 1971 Herd Areas, to establish the Herd Management Areas, now you plan to proceed with the total elimination of the wild horses in these 9 legal wild horse HMAs! How grossly unfair and unjust, to the extreme! Clearly your abrogation is revealed!
    4.2.2, Present Actions: 1st Para: 270 wild horses is a tiny population for such a vast legal areas. This is no overpopulation, as you state, but an under-population. You are being entirely non-objective. 2nd Para: I see you first plan to eliminate the wild horses before you have even finished your “assessment for conformance with Rangeland Health Standards … for the Caliente Complex associated livestock grazing allotments”. This is proof you are accommodating livestock interests to an extreme degree even on the legal wild horse Herd Areas by this planned wild horses elimination. I suspect you are also doing the same in many areas for certain big game species. Again, you are abrogating your responsibility toward the wild horses!
    The Caliente Complex of wild horse Herd Area is very under-populated with wild horses, no matter how many times you mislead the public on this point. Don’t you realize that the 9 Herd Areas you propose to zero out contain 911,892 legal acres and that this translates into 3,377 legal acres for every presently remaining wild horse?! It is obvious you are negatively targeting the wild horses for elimination and ignoring all that is positive about them (see my letter to John F. Ruhs, BLM Ely District Manager, 6/27/09).
    4.3: 1st para: What an ignorant and bias statement that ignores wild horses as returned native wildlife along with their many positive contributions to the ecosystem. You do not give them a chance because you fail to value or appreciate them!
    2nd Para: All very rosy this appears for you and your plan. You ignore horses’ very positive contribution to the watershed by their building of soils that retain moisture.
    3rd para: Your claim that wild horses are overpopulated is entirely subjective. There is no current overpopulation. You are setting them up. You present a totally negative view of the wild horses and distort the true case with them. How dishonest!

    Closing Statement: Again, I appreciate this opportunity to express my views and to point out some of the major discrepancies in your document that purports to justify the entire elimination of wild horses from their vast and legal herd areas complex. I implore you to carefully consider the information and perspectives I have presented but even more to reflect, to look within and ask yourself: Is this the right plan for the horses and their freedom? Is this fair to horse kind, to an animal who has done so much for mankind but whose true place lies in freedom? And can we not learn to share some relatively minor portion of America’s least productive lands for wild horses, providing a place where they can live and continue to evolve naturally as they have over the vast majority of their time on Earth? And does this not in a higher sense preserve the true vigor of horse kind, of the life community, and even of we humans, and make life worth the living for with quality?

    Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist
    Author: Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom. Nominated to Wild H & B Advis. Bd.
    P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423. ccdowner@aol.com


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