Wild Horses In America: Hard Truths And Natural Solution

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Over the course of the past 50-years, since the passing of the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act (1971 Act), the management of wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) have undergone many changes resulting from both political and economic pressures, which stem from increased consumer/market demands for more (cheap) livestock products.

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Wild Horses America
Photo: William E. Simpson II: Wild horses evolved in North America about 55-million years ago. As such, their presence in North American wilderness ecosystems involves evolved mutualisms.

American Wild Horses: The Challenge

Consumerism is a significant factor influencing the use and management of our natural resources. It’s unreasonable and illogical to expect ranchers to reduce production of affordable livestock products when consumers are clamoring for more, not less.

So at least or until we see a huge spike in vegetarianism in America (and elsewhere), the demands for livestock will continue to rise as they have over the past many decades.

The Situation At Hand

The result is that today, 50-years since the passage of the 1971 Act, we find that wild horses have been limited-down to about 7% of the grazing on lands that the 1971 Act had set-aside for native species American wild horses. And over the same 50-year period, those same lands have been managed by the BLM, whether right or wrong, arguably to maximize livestock production. As such, management included a significant reduction of apex predators in order to help maximize production via lower livestock losses due to depredation.

The reduction of apex predators in HMAs where livestock and wild horses are comingled presents a serious ecological issue and evolutionary injustice for the wild horses being managed in those HMAs. A depleted (or missing) population of the evolved natural predators for wild horses prevents 'natural selection' and population control from occurring. The evolved predators of American wild horses include; bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes.

Inhibiting or eliminating the evolutionary process of 'natural selection’ for wild horses that over the past 55-million years in North Americana has evolved, creates two serious problems for America’s wild horses:

  1. Without their evolved predators living in proper population densities in ecosystems containing wild horses (including HMAs), wild horses will to some extent, depending on available water and forage resources, overpopulate; and,
  2. Without Natural Selection, the genetic vigor of wild horses suffers because weak, diseased and genetically defective horses are not culled from the herd by predators. And critically important is the fact that; man cannot duplicate this complex evolutionary process, which is unique between a predator and its prey, and has evolved over the millennia. All wild horses in world originally evolved about 55-million years ago in North America.

The removal/reduction of apex predators from many HMAs has occurred over the course of nearly a century.

The notion held by a few people of suddenly changing course and reintroducing apex predators back into herd areas, which due to powerful economic pressures have evolved into livestock production areas (again, whether right or wrong) is just not going to fly in the face of the market demands for livestock products by the vast majority of American consumers.

The Bottom Line:

Keeping American wild horses comingled with livestock in herd areas where apex predators have been depleted is perpetrating an ecologic injustice upon native species American wild horses. It’s simply obtuse management as are the many very costly work-arounds, such as the failed attempts to address the fallout (overpopulation) from a lack of natural wild horse predators, using expensive roundups and contraception.

Wild Horses America
Photo: Naturalist William E. Simpson II studies wild horses that symbiotically graze wilderness forest areas, reducing prodigious wildfire fuels to nominal levels.

A Modern Science-Based Final Solution:

Relocate and rewild native species American wild horses where they belong; into the remote wilderness; beyond conflict with livestock enterprises.

We have more than 10-million of acres of remote wilderness areas in the western states that are manifestly unfit for any livestock production due to difficult mountainous terrain, which adversely affects livestock management logistics, combined with the presence of robust populations of apex predators. Either one, or both of these challenges significantly increases costs of livestock production, thereby increasing the cost of goods sold (COGS) to a point where the end products are not competitively priced.

These same remote areas are nevertheless blessed with abundant water and forage, yet are suffering from almost annual catastrophic wildfire due to the depleted populations of large native herbivores (deer and elk) that had previously inhabited those landscapes. In the not-too-distant past, these same wilderness areas had proper population densities of deer and elk, which through their grazing, maintained ground fuels (grass and brush) to nominal levels year-round, keeping wildfires in the realm of normal wildfire (less fuel means less heat).

There have been serious declines in deer and elk populations in some western states (like, California, Oregon, Washington, etc.). And over the past decades, that has resulted in the increase of prodigious annually occurring ground fuels (grass and brush), which is now left un-grazed in these very remote wilderness areas. These ground fuels are then subjected to a warming climate, rendering these fuels viable for wildfire sooner in the season, and remaining as dry tinder longer.

Environmental Complications And Costs For Wildfire Fuels Reduction Eliminated Using Wild Horses

Wild Horses don’t have the complex stomachs of cattle and sheep, which virtually digest all the plant and grass seeds they consume, rending them unable to germinate.

On the other hand, wild horses virtually pass all the seeds they consume out onto the ground in their droppings, providing a critically important reseeding function for native plants. This evolved symbiosis between wild horses and the flora of the North American continent is especially beneficial for wilderness lands that have been devastated by catastrophically hot wildfire. The droppings of wild horses also contain microorganisms (aka: microbiome) that help fire-damaged soils to recover.

Each wild horse deployed into these selected wilderness areas will symbiotically consume about 5.5-tons of grass and brush annually as the concurrently reseed the landscape, keeping a delicate ecological balance in place.

The resulting wildfire fuels reduction via wild horses is virtually cost-free for taxpayers, and simultaneously solves the livestock-wild horse conflict on lands (HMAs) where livestock production is virtually a permanent enterprise.

An added benefit is taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for the $100-million+ in annual costs (BLM spends more than $100-M annually on rounding-up and warehousing wild horses off-range), nor the expensive taxpayer costs related to the draconian sterilization-contraception concepts that some people are motivated to support.

More Information and a draft outline for a legislative bill here: www.WHFB.us


[1] Cattle Grazing Effects on Macroinvertebrates in an Oregon Mountain Stream; Rangeland Ecology and Management 60(3), 293-303, (1 May 2007) James D. McIver and Michael L. McInnis; https://doi.org/ [2] Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California   https://wildcalifornia.org/ [3] Evolution of wild horses and cattle and the effect on range damage; https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/ [4] Land Held Hostage: A History of Livestock and Politics; Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D. https://www.academia.edu/11886843/ [5] Foods of wild horses, deer, and cattle in the Douglas Mountain area, Colorado. Hansen, R. M., Clark, R. C., & Lawhorn, W. (1977). Journal of Range Management, 30(2), 116-118. https://repository.arizona.edu/ [6] The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California recognized wild horses as native species, explaining that BLM “establishes Appropriate Management Levels (“AMLs”) for populations of native species - including wild horses, burros, and other wildlife - and introduced animals, such as livestock.” In Defense of Animals, et al. v. U.S. Dept. Interior, et al., No. 12-17804, *6 (9th Cir. May 12, 2014). On Sep 28, 2011 (See Craters AR at 16698. Memorandum Decision & Order) The court addresses “sensitive” species pursuant to BLM's 2001 Special Status Species Policy. This Policy requires that “sensitive” species be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA. It called on BLM managers to “obtain and use the best available information deemed necessary to evaluate the status of special status species in areas affected by land use plans . . . .” See Policy at § 6840.22A. Under the Policy, those land use plans “shall be sufficiently detailed to identify and resolve significant land use conflicts with special status species without deferring conflict resolution to implementation-level planning.” [7] Federal Forestlands In Oregon: https://oregonforests.org/ [8] Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores: "By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape”.  William J. Ripple1, Thomas M. Newsome1,2,Christopher Wolf1, Rodolfo Dirzo3, Kristoffer T. Everatt4, Mauro Galetti5, Matt W. Hayward4,6, Graham I. H. Kerley4, Taal Levi7, Peter A. Lindsey8,9, David W. Macdonald10, Yadvinder Malhi11, Luke E. Painter7, Christopher J. Sandom10, John Terborgh12 and Blaire Van Valkenburgh13  http://advances.sciencemag.org/ [9] Rewilding: Jozef Keulartz. "The removal of large herbivores has adverse effects on landscape structure and ecosystem functioning. In wetter ecosystems, the loss of large herbivores is associated with an increased abundance of woody plants and the development of a closed-canopy vegetation. In drier ecosystems, reductions of large grazers can lead to a high grass biomass, and thus, to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Together, with the loss of a prey base for large carnivores, these changes in vegetation structures and fire regimes may trigger cascades of extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Estes et al., 2011; Hopcraft, Olff, & Sinclair, 2009; Malhi et al., 2016)." http://oxfordre.com/ [10] Wild horses: Are they being managed to extinction? William E. Simpson II; https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/ [11] MANAGED TO EXTINCTION? A 40th Anniversary Legal Forum assessing the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act; TRANSCRIPT: ROSS MACPHEE, Curator, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH): https://docs.google.com/ [12] Dr. Cassandra Nunez – PhD:  Published research: https://www.nrem.iastate.edu/people/cassandra-m-nu%C3%B1ez [13] Influence of ruminant digestive processes on germination of ingested seeds; https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/ [14] Ruminant Digestion: https://www.mun.ca/ [15] Public lands bear the ecological brunt of livestock grazing: https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/ [16] Wild Horse Fire Brigade - Rebalancing North American Ecosystems:  https://grazelife.com/ [17] Yes world, there were horses in Native culture before the settlers came https://indiancountrytoday.com/ [18] Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife: https://awionline.org/ [19] Citation by: Professor Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D“The most severe vegetation changes of the last 5400 years occurred during the past 200 years. The nature and timing of these changes suggest that they were primarily caused by 19th-century open-land sheep and cattle ranching.” https://www.academia.edu/