This year marks the 50th anniversary of the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA). Wildlife ecologist and wild horse and burro advocate Craig C. Downer says what is happening on the rangelands, where wild horse numbers have been driven down and in many cases eliminated entirely from legally recognised herd areas, is the opposite of what the Act intends.
I was out in the northern Pine Nut Mountain wild horse Herd Management Area (HMA) on Christmas Day and took a long hike. I was hoping to see at least a few healthy bands of wild horses, but this, their legal habitat, was largely empty of wild horses. Finally, I was able to see a couple of dark horses near some groves of trees at the base of the steeper incline. I saw another group of three also very close to the edge of the incline.
My point is that the vast majority of the wild horses I am accustomed to seeing here for years are gone, having been removed by BLM and its contractors. Now, other interests will have even more forage for their livestock, animals who are not allowed to adapt naturally, but are put on to eat all the grass and other forage and then taken off to be fattened and slaughtered, thus robbing the natural ecosystem.
What is happening is all the opposite of what the WFHBA intends. We must restore the wild horses to the Pine Nut Mountain HMA and not reduce them to tiny remnants then PZP or GonaCon the hell out of the few mares that are left — which is what is happening in the once healthy and thriving Pine Nut Mountain HMA that is governed by Carson City BLM District and Nevada BLM.
There is also terrible vehicle damage to this ecosystem, which the BLM is doing nothing about. Sometimes the ORVers actually chase the wild horses. I saw one such very probably dismal result in a dead young stallion whose leg and hip had been broken and who was nosed up into a Pinyon tree to die back when I did my comprehensive ecological and herd investigation of the Pine Nut Mountain HA/HMA herd and habitat in 2015.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the WFHBA and the wild horses and burros must be restored to truly viable population levels as must their legal habitats, but the current policies being enacted, hypocritically called “a path forward” appear hell-bent on practically eliminating the wild and naturally living herds and terribly altering the fitness and natural integrity of those non-viable vestiges that would remain.
I am familiar with many of the herds throughout the West and have striven since boyhood to have these wonderful animals protected as viable populations in viable habitats.
I knew and worked with the legendary Wild Horse Annie and have studied and written several articles and two books about them.
The Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior, together with the US Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture, is charged by the WFHBA to preserve, protect and defend, as well as manage, America’s wild equid herds wherever they were found in 1971, which means in their year-round habitats, on those lands under these agencies’ jurisdictions, yet the great majority of the legal BLM Herd Areas and USFS Territories have been “zeroed out,” ie, officials have decided not to manage wild equids there.
Then, very unfairly, these agencies have assigned outrageously low so-called Appropriate Management Levels (on average amounting to one individual horse per 1000-plus acres) to those areas they claim will still have “healthy” herds, yet which are at genetically non-viable levels, and often administered fertility drugs that alter their fitness and ability to survive and suppress their individual well-being. These agencies have even approved cruel ovariectomies in the field that would undoubtedly cause terrible suffering and death to the mares so mercilessly victimized. This is happening in the Confusion herd of western Utah today.
Section 2c of the WFHBA clearly states that the wild horses and burros will receive the “principal” resources in their legal areas, but the opposite is happening as our public officials, along with the wild horses’ and burros’ chief enemies, appear to persistently sabotage the true and noble spirit and intent of this wonderful law. They are supposed to be protected and provided for as “integral” components of the public lands ecosystem and to be recognized as “contributing to the diversity” of species in our nation – which is abundantly proven and true.
As a native Nevadan who grew up riding a chestnut horse named Poco and searching out herds throughout the West, I possess a profound appreciation of naturally living horses and burros. I recognize that every horse or burro is “wild at heart,” ie, much more natural than domesticated, or altered by us humans. As I progressed in my studies and observations, I realized that their ancestral roots trace back deeply – even millions of years – into North American history and that this continent is their evolutionary cradle.
Furthermore, as I acquired a deeper understanding of the unique biology and ecological niche of members of the Horse Family as well as other Perissodactyla (my specialty), I realized that horses and burros were very important in restoring balance in many North American ecosystems. One prime specific is that they provide a much-needed balance to all the many ruminant-digesting, cloven-hoofed herbivores, such as cattle, sheep and deer that are often foisted in excessive numbers onto public and private lands to be “harvested” – thus depriving the ecosystems that sustained them of what would naturally be recycled in the form of their mortal remains.
Furthermore, horses and burros restore soils by contributing less degraded organic matter in their feces, and also more intact seeds of a greater variety. This makes soils more nutrient-rich and water-retaining – which bolsters water tables and species diversity – and they do this to a superior degree when compared with the ruminants. Also, of critical importance, is their role in reducing flammable vegetation and, thus, mitigating catastrophic wildfires, now alarmingly increasing through Global Warming.
These equid species are natural healers and enhancers of ecosystems, and they must not continue to be cruelly eliminated from their legal areas, or nearly so, and imprisoned in spirit-killing corrals and holding pastures. These are real concentration camps of misery and death, as I have so often observed. My book The Wild Horse Conspiracy and my articles, including scientific and peer-reviewed, are available online or via my website, thewildhorseconspiracy.org, along with extensive reports and reference sources.
As a professional, I have elaborated a plan for restoring these wonderful animals at genetically viable population levels. This strategy would allow each herd to naturally adapt to its unique ecosystem and to harmoniously self-stabilize its numbers as its ecological niche is filled. I explain in my Reserve Design proposal how this can be done and why it would be the most humane and honorable “path forward”. Reserve Design would truly fulfill the noble and progressive Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, rather than make a mockery of it – as is presently happening!
This Reserve Design proposal is a Go Fund me project that I have been working on for several years, but it needs to become the policy of those agencies charged with upholding the WFHBA. If these agencies continue their policies toward America’s last wild horses and burros, then an amendment to the law should be passed to create a separate, autonomous agency that would restore these magnificent “national heritage species” throughout the West in and around their legal areas, including through the formation of benign Cooperative Agreements permitted by the Act’s Sections 4 and 6.
Wild horse and burro herd and habitat restoration through Reserve Design needs to happen in 2021. This would give us all something to genuinely celebrate at the 50th Anniversary of this noble and life-restoring Act. I have a Move On petition (Stop the Excessive Roundups) that I am planning on delivering to Congress, pertinent BLM and USFS officials as well as to the President in 2021. America needs to restore – not continue to torture and obliterate their naturally living horses and burros and over-exploit its habitats.
The intrinsic value and majesty of these naturally living horses and burros are one with the very soul of America. We must not break our treaty with them.