Nowhere to run: the wild horses of the USA

Wild horse numbers are expected to reach over 100,000 in the next four years across the western states of America Wild horse numbers are expected to reach over 100,000 in the next four years across the western states of America jlundyphotos
28 Feb
2017
Latest figures suggest that there are more than twice as many feral horses roaming across the plains of the American West than the land is capable of sustaining

An estimated 67,000 wild horses and feral donkeys are roaming the ranges of ten western US states, far above the sustainable target of 26,000 as designated by the country’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). ‘Without active controls, horse populations can become a stress for grazing land,’ says Dr Robert Fonner, an environmental economist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not only is the overpopulation difficult for cattle ranchers, who argue that they ruin rangelands, it is also a fraught issue for animal welfare groups. With few natural predators, the horses are predicted to exceed 100,000 in the next four years, starving each other of water and food. They can be rounded up using helicopters, though this has become a somewhat controversial practice as it can cause stress and injury to foals and older animals. There is also the problem of what to do with the horses once they are contained. Already there are around 46,000 horses penned into temporary pastures, of which only 2,500 to 3,000 are moved on for adoption every year.

Free roaming horses are an enduring icon, but an effective and sustainable population management plan has eluded land managers for decades

The BLM is faced with the difficult decision of how best to manage the overpopulation, a problem complicated by the disputed ‘wildness’ of the horses. While archeological evidence shows that native horses lived on the continent 12,500 years ago, the mustangs that roam the West today are descended from domestic breeds brought from Spain during the settlement of North America. In 1971, their protection was enshrined with the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which stated that the animals are ‘living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.’

‘Free roaming horses are an enduring icon,’ says Fonner, ‘but an effective and sustainable population management plan has eluded land managers for decades.’ Indeed, a citizens panel’s advice to slaughter a large number of horses last September was met with national condemnation.

A more popular option than slaughtering is to try and sterilise the animals, however the current drug must be administered annually, which costs resources and time. With present population trends unsustainable, it is likely the BLM will use a hybrid plan of fertility control and gathering to manage wild horses in the coming years.

This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

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2 comments

  • Louie C Reader comment posted on The Economist/August 2016
    The Big Lie of "overpopulation" is the pretext for BLM's war against the wild horses. It's BLM's version of the "Shock Doctrine," wherein BLM concocted a phony crisis to push through policies antithetical to the Wild Horse Act against the will of The People.
    In fact, horses are a slow-growth species when it comes to reproduction. The gestation-period lasts over 11 months, and a mare produces just 1 foal. While an independent study of BLM's records did confirm a nearly 20% birth rate, that study also found that 50% of foals perish before their first birthday. Thus, the effective increase in population from new foals is just 10%. However, adult mortality must also be taken into consideration. Adult mustangs succumb at a rate of at least 5% a year. So, what is a normal herd-growth rate? Around 5%, probably less. Thus, a herd could not double in 4 or 5 years, debunking another BLM falsehood. But BLM stealthily inserts herd-growth rates far higher than 20% in its reports -- biologically-impossible herd-growth rates. For instance, in Wyoming, BLM declared that the Salt Wells Creek herd grew from 29 horses to 616 horses in 6 months (yes, months), a 2,024% increase. BLM's "data" is chock-full of preposterous growth-estimates. So, when you hear talk of how the wild horses are reproducing "exponentially," that's a sure sign that BLM has falsified the data. You should also know that the National Academy of Sciences was required by the terms of its grant to draw conclusions per BLM's figures -- the falsified figures. The NAS was not allowed to collect data independently. Thus, BLM wired the results to confirm its lies.
    Wild horses are underpopulated. Per the guidelines of BLM's own geneticist, more than 80% of the herds suffer from arbitrary management levels (AMLs) set below minimum-viable population (MVP). Low AMLs enable BLM to claim an "excess" in herds whose numbers, even if they were over AML, would still not reach MVP. So being "over AML" is meaningless as well as misleading. But those low AMLs, combined with fraudulent, biologically-impossible herd-growth estimates, give BLM an excuse to scapegoat those few wild horses for the range-damage done by the millions of livestock that overgraze the public lands.
    PZP is a potent weapon in BLM's arsenal -- for its biological warfare against the wild horses. PZP is a registered pesticide. Its mechanism-of-action is to cause auto-immune disease -- tricking the immune system into producing antibodies that target and attack the ovaries. The antibodies cause ovarian dystrophy, oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), ovarian cysts, destruction of oocytes in growing follicles, and depletion of resting follicles. The mare's estrogen-levels drop markedly as PZP destroys her ovaries. Ultimately, PZP sterilizes her. A recent study -- which included the McCullough Peaks herd -- found that PZP extends the birthing season to nearly year-round. Out-of-season births put the life of the foals and the mares at risk. Worse yet, radioimmunoassay tests indicated that PZP antibodies are transferred from mother to female offspring via the placenta and milk.
    As for the wild horses held in captivity, they are the "legacy" of former Secretary Salazar's equid cleansing era, during which he had tens of thousands of wild horses removed from the range. However, the mortality rate of captive wild horses is about 8% a year. So, obviously, since they are not reproducing, their numbers will steadily drop, showing that BLM's billion-dollar figure for their care was bogus -- it was just another Lie. But that Lie has ballooned. BLM has taken the $1 billion figure that it originally announced, multiplied it by 230%, and then multiplied that number by another 200%, amplifying the fraud. When BLM lies, it lies Big.
    The Wild Horse and Burro program, if administered per the minimum-feasible management-model specified by Law, would not cost much at all. BLM does not lack for resources. There are 22 million acres of legally-designated wild-horse herd areas -- which BLM previously took away for political expediency -- that can be reopened as habitat. The horses now held captive can be released to those areas, where the cost of their upkeep will be $0.
    Contrary to BLM's disinformation campaign, wild horses do have natural predators -- mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes. But those predators are persecuted mercilessly. The government exterminates what the hunters don't shoot. However, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros -- Wild Horse Annie's foundation -- notes that even without predators, their wild-horse herds self-regulate their numbers, with population-growth in the single digits.
    Finally, adoptions have not declined. It's just that BLM used to count sales-for-slaughter as "adoptions." Now, only "forever-family" placements qualify. However, mustangs are not homeless horses. They are wild horses whose home is on the range.
    Wednesday, 01 March 2017 08:46 posted by Louie C
  • Marybeth Devlin 1. Horse = Native: It is a fact that the horse originated and evolved in North America. Thus, it qualifies as a native species.

    2. Extinction Myth: The tale that horses died out in North America during the Ice Age, and that the Conquistadors reintroduced them, reflects the racism of the Eurocentric narrative. The Conquistadors could not reintroduce what was already here. Native American / First Nation oral history informs us that horses were present, alive and well, at the time of the European invasion. However, most of those horses, along with the bison, were exterminated by our government. Why? To keep the Authentic Americans restricted to reservations in order to steal their land and stock it with non-native, invasive livestock, which today number in the millions.

    3. Overpopulation: Is the Big Lie, the pretext for BLM's war against the wild horses. According to the guidelines of BLM's own geneticist, the arbitrary management levels (AMLs) of 83% of wild-horse herds — and 90% of wild-burro herds — are set below minimum-viable population (MVP).

    4. Normal Rates: Horses are slow to multiply. Gestation lasts 11 months, and a mare produces 1 foal. Independent research (Gregg et al. 2014) found the average birth rate in wild-horse herds to be slightly less than 20%, but that 50% of foals perish. At least 5% of wild horses other-than-foals also die every year. The adult death-rate (5%) further reduces the surviving-foal rate (10%), resulting in an average herd-growth rate of 5%. The average annual growth rate for burro herds is even lower at 2%.

    5. California -- Bogus Rates: BLM reports that, in just 1 year, the Buckhorn herd grew 237% -- 47 times the norm -- while the Carter herd increased by 1,257% -- 251 times the norm.

    6. Nevada -- Bogus Rates: BLM claims that, in 1 year, the Eagle herd grew 52% — 10 times the norm — and that the Silver King herd grew 109% — 22 times the norm. As for burros, BLM reports that, again in 1 year, the Lava Beds herd grew 775% -- 388 times the norm.

    7. Wyoming -- Bogus Rates: BLM alleges that, in less than 1 year, the North Lander herd grew 53% -- 10 times the norm.

    8. Fake Figures: BLM is bound by law — the Information Quality Act — and by policy — the Department of the Interior's Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct — to disseminate information obtained through "as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved." But BLM's figures are fake. By publishing false information, BLM appears to be violating Section 1001 of Title 18, United States Code, which prohibits making false or fraudulent statements knowingly and willfully.

    9. Resource v. Use: Wild horses and burros are a resource of the public lands — just like other wildlife-species. Commercial livestock-grazing, in contrast, is a use of the public lands for private profit. As Clarke and Leigh pointed out, the distinction between a resource and a use is important. Livestock-grazing (a use) adversely impacts wild horses and burros (a resource).

    10. PEER Reveal: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports that BLM's method of assessing range-conditions is skewed to minimize impacts from commercial livestock and to magnify those from wild horses and burros. BLM thus favors "use" and blames "resource."

    11. Predators: The right way to right-size the wild-horse population and to achieve a "thriving natural ecological balance" is Nature's way — predators. Mustangs do have predators — mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes — but they are persecuted mercilessly. Wildlife Services exterminates what trophy-hunters don't shoot. Herd-areas should be safe-havens for predators. Cost: $0.

    12. Restore Habitat: For political expediency, BLM has closed 22,229,731 acres of the wild horses' original habitat. That land can -- and must -- be reopened. Cost: $0.
    Tuesday, 28 February 2017 20:54 posted by Marybeth Devlin

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