Is the latest wild horse plan really “a path forward”?

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A wild horse in the Kiger Mustang HMA in Oregon. © Craig C. Downer

On September 26, the US Senate Appropriations Committee approved $35 million for the massive reduction of America’s last and relatively minor wild horse and burro herds scattered throughout the West.

Through an arrogant, misleading and hyped misinformation blitz, including the film Horse Rich and Dirt Poor, traditional wild horse and burro enemies are very near to getting 100% of their mean-spirited way, which includes massive sterilization programs that undo the very wildness of the horses and burros that the law was meant to preserve. All the while, the general public is being ignored and insulted.

And this includes millions of Americans who cherish these national heritage species. It seems that rank hypocrisy and a love of lies has taken over too many of those in positions of power and authority, as some sort of desperate spirit of perversity seeks to overwhelm all levels of society in order to continue parasitizing the Living Earth. We must not allow true honor to slip by the wayside. And so I ask just who’s kidding who when our Western public lands’ wild horses and burros only get two percent or less of allocated forage on public lands while the rest goes almost in its entirety to livestock and big game?

Nearly 48 years ago, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA) was unanimously passed and represented a “giant leap forward,” morally speaking, for humanity. At long last, humans had decided to do something truly good for two worthy species occupying Earth. These ancient presences have done so much for us humans, yet their truer roles are realized in the world of nature. Over the course of millions of years, these species arose primarily in North America, their cradle of evolution. In the process, they have established many positive relationships with other species. The WFHBA has an ecological mandate to let the horses and burros become integral components of many public lands’ ecosystems throughout the West. Here it gives them the principal resources within year-round habitats where they dwelled in 1971. Yet from the onset of the program, shameless interests have set out to thwart and to subvert this magnanimous law’s true purpose and goal. And these close-minded people are now very close to getting their corrupt way, unless people who still possess clear minds, pure hearts and intact wills stand up and do something to stop them.

A wild stallion from the Pine Nut Mountain area of Nevada. 
A wild stallion from the Pine Nut Mountain area of Nevada. © Craig C. Downer 2017

In this war of Truth versus Falsehood, some important, untwisted, unfiltered facts to bear in mind are as follows.

According to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) report published on March 1, 2019, the high end national Appropriate Management Level (AML) for wild horses and burros is 26,690 while the low end is 16,290.  But this is deceptive because it represents a lumping of two distinct equine species that occupy different ecological niches, in spite of their similarities. The burros are slighter and require fewer resources than horses and also have a different, more territorial social structure. To lump them with horses is much like lumping mandarins (the burros) with oranges (the horses). Consider, for example, how slight a thin, austere little 500-pound burro or a 900-pound wiry mustang is compared to a very hefty 1500-pound beef-producing cow or bull that has been genetically engineered today and set out upon the public lands to consume enormous amounts of forage, often during the peak seasons of late spring and early summer, only to be abruptly removed for human consumption, thus depriving the ecosystem that nurtured it to recycle its biological remains.

Let’s examine BLM’s report with a critical eye and a balanced view of what’s going on today on the public lands where the wild horses and burros possess legal rights. As concerns totals, in the 10 western states where these animals still have legal rights, in terms of “appropriate management level” (AML), wild horses have a low AML of 14,189, a high AML of 23,771 and a mean AML of 18,980 while wild burros have a low AML of 2101, a high AML of 2919 and a mean AML of 2510. These are extremely low numbers when it comes to assuring the long-term viability of the various populations spread throughout the West.

They are almost all genetically non-viable assignments, especially when we follow the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Committee’s Equid Specialist Group. This recommends a level of 2500 interbreeding individuals to maintain the viability of a wild equid population – and this makes the 150 individual standard often presented by BLM look very sham. We should ask: just who’s kidding who? Also, when it comes to the claims concerning wild horse and burro overpopulation, we need to carefully examine just what species are, in fact, overrunning and overpopulating the public lands. Again, BLM and US Forest Service annual reports show that many times the amount of forage that wild horses and burros consume goes to domestic cattle and sheep – even within the legal areas of the wild horses and burros. And the same applies to big game animals like deer and elk.

Rather than striving to fairly fulfill the WFHBA, our government officials are trained to repeat over and over these arbitrarily assigned levels – the AMLs – as if they were scientifically and objectively established – though nothing could be further from the truth. And they also deliberately ignore that many millions of legal wild horse and wild burro acres have been “zeroed out”, or cleared, of wild horses and burros. This has and continues to be done almost always for political reasons, especially to favor livestock or mining and energy development, subdivision development, game hunter interests, road, including off-highway, construction – and the list goes on.

A band of Kiger mustangs on the range. The Kiger mustang is a strain of mustang horse located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon.
A band of Kiger mustangs on the range. The Kiger mustang is a strain of mustang horse located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon. © Craig Downer

By BLM’s own admission, there were at least 53.8 million acres of legal BLM wild equid herd areas at the passage of the WFHBA in 1971, but now it only wants to manage for a little over 26 thousand equids on a little over 26 million acres. You do the math. Hint: BLM is planning to have only one individual equid per 1000 acres and is trying to fool the public that this is a fair and healthy situation. But just for whom? I ask.  And this is at the High AML.

More objective assessments put the 1971 figure of equid-inhabited areas at about 88 million acres (US Geological Survey [USGS]). And the number of herd areas in the Western states was about 350 as determined by where the wild horses and burros were found in 1971, but every year this number diminishes and is now only 177 Herd Management Areas. Ironically, what was originally the term for the land where the wild horses and burros had legal rights as the principal presences, i.e. the herd area, has now been twisted to mean an area where BLM has decided not to protect and manage for any wild horses or wild burros at all. Concerning “seeing the writing on the wall” emerging over the years, their “target mentality” is plain.

The mean Appropriate Management Level for wild horses and burros is 21,490 equids (again “mandarins and oranges” lumped together). And this mean is absolutely dwarfed by the several million cattle and sheep by which ranchers monopolize our cherished public lands and resources. To make the matter even worse, this lopsidedness is also present within the many BLM-US Department of the Interior Herd Areas/Herd Management Areas and US Forest Service-US Department of Agriculture Territories where, despite wild horses and wild burros possessing legal rights to receive the principal resources, the hog’s share is being given to public lands ranchers, most of whom are extremely wealthy. We must not allow selfish interests to subvert our laws and take over our public lands. This unacceptable situation can and must be changed.

Attention All: Wild horses on the Flowery Range in Nevada. The area is a mountain range associated with the Virginia Range in Storey County, and is named on account of wildflowers which bloom when watered by melting snow.
Wild horses on the Flowery Range in Nevada. The area is a mountain range associated with the Virginia Range in Storey County, and is named on account of wildflowers which bloom when watered by melting snow. © Craig Downer

The mere token wild equid population levels, or AMLs, ignore the valuable contributions that naturally living horses and burros make to ecosystems as returned natives in North America.  (And bear in mind that they also make these same positive contributions on several other continents.) Here’s a list of basic facts concerning their biology and ecology of which we should be aware:

  1. The post-gastric, caecal digestive systems of horses and burros contribute vital humus via their droppings, which build nutrient-rich and moisture-retaining soils that increase biodiversity, lend ecological balance and restore aquifers, or water tables;
  2. The round, blunt hooves of equids do not cut as deeply into moist soils as do the sharp, cloven hooves of cattle and sheep, and these hoof prints often plant seeds at perfect depths for germination;
  3. Their possession of upper and lower incisors permit them to carefully prune the plants they eat in contrast to cattle and sheep who lack upper incisors and often tear up roots with their tongues;
  4. Horses’ semi-nomadic lifestyle allows for natural rest-rotation within the ecosystem throughout the year; their “patchiness” of foraging distribution leaves areas where food plants can set seed and reproduce – reflecting an age-old wisdom and mutually beneficial symbiosis with the plants that sustain them;
  5. Horses and burros play extremely valuable roles in reducing dry, flammable vegetation that greatly reduces the probability of catastrophic wildfires; and they also reduce the ladder-like lower branches on their shelter trees – often the magnanimous old junipers and edible-nut-providing pinyon pines (thousands of which are being eliminated by BLM and US Forest Service to provide more grass for livestock at the great expense of the wildlife community, including the returned native wild equids);
  6. Horses and burros contribute a much-needed balance to ecosystems including those being overwhelmed by ruminant-digesting herbivores. The latter are overly promoted by people who blindly follow harmful traditions. Indeed, equids actually help these ruminant herbivores lead healthier lives by restoring soils and watersheds, dispersing more intact seeds of a greater variety, etc.; and
  7. Natural-living horses and burros input a higher vibration to the land and life communities where they dwell. They resuscitate an inherent harmony in their many relations to diverse plants, animals, micro-organisms, air, water, soil, bedrock, and even to us people. Some call this hard-to-pin-down quality beauty – and so I ask: what could be more important? For beauty concerns that precious quality of life we experience and is inextricably tied to life’s higher meaning. And this is what makes life worth living in the first place.

We humans must learn to share the land and freedom with such highly evolved fellow beings as the horses and the burros. They have performed immense services for humanity, yet their truer place is to be found in the world of Nature. And to grant them this sufficiently both as concerns room to roam and healthy, complete year-round habitats, as the WFHBA intends, would be to repay all of horse-kind and burro-kind an enormous debt of gratitude.

This would allow them to be themselves, to be free to realize their age-old trajectory … and in the process, we would be doing ourselves a very great favor. For we would be overcoming so much of our own imperfection and backwardness in so doing. … And this, my friends, would be the true path forward for us all. This would implement that ecologically attuned Reserve Design approach concerning horses, burros, plants, animals, humans, enhanced ecosystems, and verily all of life itself and its future here in our shared home: Earth … a plan that has been repeatedly presented to authorities – but whose time has certainly come today.

Craig C. Downer is a wildlife ecologist and an authority on wild horses. He is the author of The Wild Horse Conspiracy, and is the President of the Andean Tapir Fund/Wild Horse and Burro Fund. His website is https://thewildhorseconspiracy.org/.

By Craig C. Downer

Wildlife Ecologist, Wild Horse and Burro Fund / Andean Tapir Fund, P.O. Box 456, Minden, Nevada 89423-0456, USA. Tel. (775) 901-2094.

26 thoughts on “Is the latest wild horse plan really “a path forward”?

  • October 9, 2019 at 6:00 am
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    EXCELLENT article – well said and factual. The truth needs to be known and needs to be spread to the media and government officials and to the public.

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    • October 12, 2019 at 6:13 am
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      Excellent article! Thank you Craig for the facts and information! The Holocaust against our Mustangs and Burros must be stopped! People need to open their eyes and ears along with Congress!! They need this in front of them! With the high numbers of Mustangs in prison now this extermination plan will stockpile more Mustangs which in turn BLM will push for slaughter again! Thanks for fighting Craig and being there for these precious icons. They deserve what they were given in 1971 and the right to live free. This travesty must end!!

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    • October 12, 2019 at 8:21 am
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      Why can’t they be left alone??
      Wild and free!

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    • October 12, 2019 at 1:07 pm
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      It upsets me the government is doing this. Especially without listening to other sides. I pray something being done very soon before all the breed is extinct. I especially donot like how the government didnot stop the slaughtering. All they did was remove the slaughtering in this country and kept it going over the borders! ALL OF THIS IS DIRTY AND UNDER HANDED!!!!! EVERYONE IN OUR GOVERNMENT WHO IS DESTROYING OUR WILD HORSES AND COMPANION HORSES NEEDS TO FIX THIS! MAKING MONEY ON SLAUGHTERING OUR HORSES AND EXPORTING THEIR MEAT WHICH IS TAINTED IS SICK! I WORRY IT IS MIXED IN OUR MEAT HERE!

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      • October 21, 2019 at 7:00 am
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        The government DOES listen to other sides – it’s just that they IGNORE other sides of the issues. Please remember that you have an opportunity to vote for someone different next year — become ACTIVE in the campaign of a candidate that meets as many of your points of view or makes a valid point in trying a different way of addressing national and international issues. Or, you can sit back, wring your hands, and watch the current administration continue to conduct their one-sided approach to commercializing the public lands.

        Alan J. Kania, author
        Wild Horse Annie: Velma Johnston and her Fight to Save the Wild Horses
        University of Nevada Press

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  • October 9, 2019 at 6:03 am
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    Thank you, Craig , for telling the truth about our wild horses and burros. They belong to all American citizens and we must not be robbed of our heritage by the so called Plan Forward as it is actually a Plan for Extinction of these American treasures. Wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems and must be protected and preserved as the 1971 Wild Free horse and Burro Act mandated.

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  • October 9, 2019 at 8:27 am
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    The ‘Path Forward,’ signed by representatives of millions of Americans – from wild horse and range advocates, humane groups, and ranchers to states and local governments, recommend to Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the BLM to retain the protections afforded to wild horses and burros under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (P.L. 95-195), it also encourages public-private partnerships that guarantee these protections for the full life of these animals, it outlines strategies to end large scale mass helicopter roundups, and removes the threat of slaughter by ensuring non-lethal and humane population growth strategies are standard operating procedure range wide.

    The BLM manages wild horse and burro herds in 177 Herd Management Areas (HMAs) on approximately 27 million acres of public lands located in 10 western states. As of March 1, 2019, the BLM estimates there are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros living on BLM-managed public land. The BLM estimates on range population levels double every four years and that more than 80 percent of all HMAs are currently over congressionally mandated Appropriate Management Level.

    As of May 2019, about 12,100 animals are being cared for in corrals and over 36,000 animals are being cared for in pastures. The BLM uses 26 corrals to hold and prepare wild horses and burros for adoption and sales, and 38 contracts for pastures for long-term holding.

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  • October 9, 2019 at 9:17 am
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    I suggest ppl call and email dc instead of posting on FB. IT ISNT WORKING ALL THESE YRS.

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  • October 9, 2019 at 10:04 am
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    Thanks so much for your support of the naturally living horses and burros! They are everything that is right in the world today, yet how oblivious are the people in the so-called positions of power and authority today. We can surely change this dreadful situation. We must!

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  • October 10, 2019 at 1:56 am
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    We need to protect the wild horses and burros for future generations to see in the wild and not just on TV. We must keep spreading the word and call our Senators to ask them to vote to protect our iconic mustangs and burros.

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  • October 10, 2019 at 4:19 pm
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    The horses need to be free roaming. The Organizations involved are actually pro and anti slaughter which is a Direct conflict of interests. The intent is to save the horses. Removal is Not saving them. The Bureau has always inflated the numbers. It’s their song and tap dance. The truth is ranchers and other interests want the people protecting horses and the horses removed so they dont get caught in their illicit land grab schemes and they can run amok on Government land. It’s never been about the horses it’s about private and Corporate interests in the lands. The horses just drew unwanted attention from alert people noticing illegal activities on Public Lands. Look around they have been selling it off, ranchers are attempting to take it over and there’s alot of backdoor deals formed. So the Farm Bureau has Never been in support of horses except to Slaughter and their involvement brings questions. There’s alot of unanswered questions such as why is so much, 35 million being allocated, why is a Cattle Group known to be killer buyers and prodlaughter jumping on the bandwagon? They have Never been “welfare for horses, but bone pickers”. We have to ask they and the Farm Bureau remove themselves from this participation.

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    • October 13, 2019 at 8:54 am
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      Really like your spirit, M. Porter! This is what it takes to turn this abominable situation around and restore the naturally living horses and burros at long-term viable populations in their rightful, legal long-term viable habitats!

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  • October 11, 2019 at 5:01 am
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    Outstanding article it should change a few minds if they open them.

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  • October 11, 2019 at 9:30 am
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    Again greatly appreciate all your comments and positive statements for the free and naturally living horses and burros. As a professional wildlife ecologist, I have considerable reason to believe that these species are true Keystone species that would restore ecosystems to which they are suited, and these are found in a considerable number of places. There are many reasons why and how this works is marvellous, but it is we people who must learn to share and give it a chance. Indeed, these wonderful animals could prove our saviors as well as the rest of life’s, among others, of course, whom we should let be themselves and interrelate as they have learned to interrelate for many generations. Just one more think: to merely shove a lot of figures in the reader’s face without a just and comprehending higher perspective and interpretation of such is sorely lacking!

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  • October 12, 2019 at 6:16 am
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    I also want to add that the BLM and Congress need to listen you about your Reserve Design plan, Craig! It needs to be implemented now!!

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  • October 12, 2019 at 8:21 pm
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    Thank you Craig. As always you nail down the facts.
    The current BLM funding bill is based on falsified data because BLM states biologically and mathematically impossible annual wild horse population rates.
    One example of many, the BLM recently stated that the wild horses on the Black Rock Herd Management Area had a 418% increase in ONE year (this would require a herd of 88 horses to produce 368 successful foals in one year which would require every single horse – including the stallions! – to each produce more than four surviving foals in one year). This is biologically impossible and fraudulent.
    Click on to this link for a complete mathematical analysis of BLM’s fraudulent and deceptive population statistics
    (All population figures used in the chart(s) come directly from the BLM published annual herd statistics)
    https://app.box.com/s/4r67w0z43x567npablkxibbx06wd0s6q

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    • October 13, 2019 at 8:58 am
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      Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Louie! Throughout the West similar flagrant discrepancies in BLM’s figures can be identified when it comes to the wild horses and burros, because we have anti-wild-horse/burro people in positions of authority, not people of integrity and sensibility and understanding. We must stand up and fight for what is right!

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  • October 15, 2019 at 2:22 am
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    Good article, Craig. Unfortunately, with the current government in power, there is precious little chance of anyone listening. If there is a profit to be made by using the horses’ land for other purposes, the power structure will happily sell out our beautiful horses. We miss them hanging out at our ranch since we left the Comstock. We will contact the senators and hope we can made a difference.

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    • October 21, 2019 at 6:26 am
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      Thanks Karen for your encouragement. Fortunately there are still mustangs in the Comstock but they are being heavily darted and I fear this is having a deleterious effect on their general vitality. Miss seeing you at the Historical Lecture series

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  • October 16, 2019 at 12:07 pm
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    Thank you again, Craig, for always being our wild horses and burrows voice .as you know this had been such a battle just to work to save them. Sometimes I wonder if working towards having the individual states take control, but this to can be so dangerous for our wild friends. Now they are talking about getting rid of all the cows , I shutter to think where this would leave our wild ones . such a scary time , as always, keep safe and you are number 1 on my mind , keep up the news , its important we a get this out. Cold creek we have been reduced to almost nothing, so sad now, so rare to see any wild horses or burrows. Hope to see you soon. All my best , Rhea

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    • October 21, 2019 at 6:33 am
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      Thanks Rhea, yes it is alarming what’s happening. Government officials should be people of integrity who make the hard decisions for the Common Good, not mere puppets of the rich. And what is wealth anyway and who really possesses anything or anyone?! So sad to think about the missing horses and burros of Cold Creek and Wheeler Pass Joint Management Area. But got to believe they will come back. Otherwise hope you’re doing well and all my friends there. Will plan to come visit and let you know. Happy Autumn Craig

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      • November 6, 2019 at 4:45 pm
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        thank you Craig for hugely informative article!

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        • November 9, 2019 at 3:23 pm
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          You’re most welcome. Just wish there were some magic in words to make for enlightened changes in the world today. Of course words must be followed by actions in line, good words that is

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