Wild Horses In Oregon’s Ochoco Forest – Soon To Be Gone Forever?

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Oregon’s Big Summit Wild Horse Territory is located within the Lookout Mountain Ranger District. It is approximately 25 miles east of Prineville, Oregon, and totals about 25,434 acres entirely within the Ochoco National Forest. The Big Summit Wild Horse Territory is currently the home-range for about 130 native species wild horses; that’s about one horse for every 200-acres.

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Wild Horse Population Management

It is the only wild horse population in the Pacific Northwest that is managed entirely by the US Forest Service, hosting some of Oregon’s few wild horses.

The United States Forest Service ('USFS') (Mr. Shane Jefferies) claims that the 'appropriate management level' (‘AML’) for native-species American wild horses in the Big Summit Wild Horse Territory of the Ochoco National Forest is about “12 - 57 wild horses.

However, the best science informs that the minimum herd size (AML) required for native species wild horses to maintain genetic diversity and vigor is about 175 wild horses.

“The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommends that wild horse herds should contain a minimum of 150–200 animals.” (BLM Handbook at 22). 

The foregoing BLM herd management information was confirmed in a comprehensive report (page 28) presented to the National Academy of Sciences Committee to ‘Review the Management of Wild Horses and Burros’, by Animal Welfare Institute.

Nevertheless, the USFS (and BLM) establishes AMLs according to the total water and forage available for all of the wildlife (including wild horses), and on top of that, for livestock grazing permits. The problem arises from the disproportionately large share of forage and water allotted for livestock profiteers who buy grazing permits from the USFS (and BLM) at well-below market value.

“The Federal grazing fee for 2020 will be $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.35 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the USDA Forest Service.

Grazing Of Public Lands

An AUM or HM, is the use (grazing) of public lands by one cow and her calf, one domestic horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.  The fee will apply to nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM and nearly 6,250 permits administered by the Forest Service.” ~ U.S. Dept. of Interior

Taxpayers are subsidizing livestock profiteers’ pocketing huge profits courtesy of ridiculously cheap grazing on USFS and BLM lands. It has been said that $1.35/month couldn’t even feed a hamster, let alone a cow and calf.  And, it has been estimated that nearly 2-million cattle are grazing public lands.

Sadly, new estimates suggest there may now be less than 30,000 free-roaming wild horses left in America, and fewer than 500 wild horses left in Oregon.

American “wild horses are not getting a fair shake”; a statement made by 30-year BLM veteran wild horse manager, Mr. Bob Edwards in this NBC TV News interview (3-min, 20-sec. mark).

Horses In The Ochoco Big Summit Herd Territory

Fewer wild horses in the Ochoco Big Summit Herd Territory means more forage that can be sold via grazing permits to the livestock industry for invasive species cattle and sheep, which due to their complex stomachs, strip native species flora required by co-evolved fauna.

Both the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have stated that wild horses are “not a native species” in North American, and furthermore, that, “wild horses have no natural predators…”  Both of these statements are incorrect.

Dr. Ross MacPhee is the curator of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. He has scientifically studied horse evolution for many years.

Dr. MacPhee debunked the claim made by the USFS and BLM that wild horses are not native, saying; “The family Equidae evolved on this continent; it is as American as anything you could possibly imagine. That was 55 million years ago. Progressive evolution occurred thereafter, eventually culminating 1.8 million years ago when a horse very like modern horses evolved… Scientifically, the BLM’s comment that The Horse did not biologically evolve on the North American continent is wrong… most people regard bison as a native species even though it has only occupied North America for the past 125,000 years.”

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.”

"Wild horses have no natural predators..."  This false and misleading statement is promoted by the BLM and USFS, appears on Page 1, Executive Summary, paragraph 5 in the so-called management plan presented to Congress; 'Report To Congress - Management Options For A Sustainable Wild Horse And Burro Program'.

About the Author

William E. Simpson II is a naturalist/rancher living among and studying native species American wild horses. He is the author of two published books and more than 100 published articles on subjects related to wild horses, wildlife, wildfire, and public land (forest) management. He has appeared on NBC NEWS, ABC NEWS, theDoveTV and has been a guest on numerous talk radio shows including the Lars Larson Show, the Bill Meyer Show, and on NPR Jefferson Public Radio.

More about the author at: www.WHFB.us