The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act: No panacea for wild horses

Wild horses at the Sulphur Herd Management Area in Utah before last winter's Bureau of Land Management helicopter roundup there. © Steve Paige.
Wild horses at the Sulphur Herd Management Area in Utah before last winter’s Bureau of Land Management helicopter roundup there. © Steve Paige.

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act is proper for both the people and resources of America.

One aspect of this proposed Act should it pass would be to prohibit the slaughter of horses in America as well as prohibiting (to some extent) the transfer of American horses over the border to slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.

However, the proposed Act if passed will not relieve the Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke of his budget crises related to the BLM and the costs of housing wild horses in corrals at the rate of about $50 million a year, in conditions that are not humane by comparison to any zoo standards.

This bill is certainly no panacea for wild horse advocates since it may simply force a mass euthanizing of corralled American wild horses and burros. And such a course of action would surely be met with aggressive legal and political opposition from wild horse and burro advocates, which arguably number in the tens of millions, not to the mention all of the Hollywood celebrities who are aligned against any action that harms wild horses or burros.

The key to success seems to be obtained by providing Sec. Zinke with a logical alternative path to slaughter or euthanasia (that doesn’t create a conflict of interest with other stakeholders like the cattle industry) as the BLM’s solution to the fiscal crises related to maintaining the wild horses in the pens.

Wild horse activists who insist on just demanding ‘no slaughter’ fail to realize ‘that’ is no solution to the fiscal mess at the BLM. And the cattle industry would stand fast against releasing them back out onto public lands. In fact, the BLM is now planning one of the largest wild horse roundups in years.

Meanwhile, America (and other places in the world) are suffering from ‘Megafire‘ as it is termed by Dr. Paul Hessburg.

Firefighters at work.
Firefighters at work. © BLM

The rate of deforestation due to the extreme and unnatural heat of these fires, which kill all the trees (including heat-esistant conifers that need normal fire cycles to release seed), is alarming and unsustainable.

In 2015, the west coast of North America alone lost 10.1 million acres of forest, killing millions of animals – including rare and endangered species – and that means those related watersheds are now severely damaged, which affects fisheries and water availability. The catastrophic destruction from just that one year (and that trend is continuing as we are in a warming climate cycle) is incalculable.

Excess fuel is the issue; extra warm summers without fuel leads to nothing. However, a warming climate-cycle combined with the extra bit of heat makes the prodigious fuels in today’s forests (grasses and brush; aka ‘kindling’) more susceptible to ignition and flashing at unnaturally high temperatures.

There is no doubt that the excessive grasses and brush are the result of an acute depletion or absence of cervids (deer, elk, etc.) in and around forest ecosystems that would normally keep these fuels in check by grazing them down. This is very well documented phenomenon by numerous federal, state and private organizations, such as Deer Friendly CA.

Fighting fire from above.
Fighting fire from above. © Cal Fire

The fact that the climate is in a warming cycle requires that foresters adopt and employ every cost-effective fire prevention and pre-fire management strategy to minimize and reduce excess fuels in and around forests and allow for safely managed controlled burns using fire-breaks, anchors and containment areas in and around forests.

The ideal solution would be to re-introduce more cervids into areas that are depleted of these large native grazers, but they are in short supply. However, there are thousands of native wild horses sitting in BLM corrals, which could be deployed very cost-effectively.

These wild horses could be re-introduced and apportioned into carefully selected areas in and around forests that are not well suited to mechanized pre-fire strategies of creating and maintaining fire-breaks, anchors and containment areas, which are naturally created and maintained by wild horses as seen grazing in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Native Kiger horses grazing fire fuels in the national forest
Native Kiger horses grazing fire fuels in the national forest

Among scientists joining the growing support for the Wild Horse Fire Brigade concept, Dr. Paul Hessburg, who is a US Forest Service expert and researcher in the field of fire-attack and pre-fire management strategies sees a potential place for wild horses as a part of an integrated pre-fire management strategy; an important alternative and natural approach.

The bonus is that unlike cattle or cervids (deer, elk moose), horses are immune to the emerging prion-based Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which is thought to be transmitted into cervids via grasses and brush.

Dr Mark Zabel, the Assistant Director of the Prion Research Center, has stated that it is a “very bad idea” to graze cattle or sheep in areas where CWD may be endemic. This is because these infectious prions (misshapen proteins) could potentially manifest in cattle as Mad Cow disease or a disease called ‘scrapies’ in sheep.

By supporting the ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’ via social media and contacting legislators, Americans interested in helping our new Secretary of the Interior might provide Zinke with a path that allows him to meet his mission parameters for the BLM’s budget while also providing a solution that should meet with the approval of the majority of all stakeholders in this longstanding controversy.

William E. Simpson

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions - Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary. » Read Bill's profile

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