Wild horses to the slaughter?


On Monday, the Bureau of Land Management began its helicopter-assisted roundup of 3,500 wild horses and burros from public lands. Horses gathered from the range are corralled temporarily around the West and then shipped to pastures in the Midwest, where they’re either adopted or spend the rest of their lives chomping on grass at the taxpayer’s expense.

The costs of the BLM’s wild horse and burro program have ballooned to $75.8 million, up from around $16 million in 1989. In that same timeframe, the number of wild horses in long-term holding pastures has increased from just 1,600 to over 45,000 this summer, stretching the agency to near capacity. At the same time, adoption rates of wild horses have dropped sharply since the program started in 1995.

What that means is there are now more wild horses in captivity than on the open range, and the BLM is running out of places to put them.

The agency could, of course, kill the horses. As of 2004, when Congress passed the Burns amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the BLM is allowed to sell old or unadoptable horses for $10 a head to anyone—including to slaughterhouses or to kill buyers. But two years after that amendment, Congress withdrew funding for USDA inspections of horses destined for food, effectively ending domestic horse slaughtering. Funding was reinstated last November after a Government Accountability Office report found the domestic slaughter ban had unintentionally harmed horses. Horses were now traveling further to be slaughtered, to places like Canada and Mexico where they are not protected by the USDA’s humane slaughter rules.

But the BLM still won’t sell horses to slaughterhouses or kill buyers because of uncertainty about what Congress wants and the PR disaster it would create, according to BLM spokesman Tom Gorey (domestic horse slaughterhouses have also had a tough time getting USDA approval, despite being legal again). Instead, the agency requires all buyers to sign an agreement saying they will not knowingly sell a horse to someone who might have it slaughtered. Violating that agreement is a felony.

But a damning investigation published September 28 by journalist Dave Philipps (stay tuned for his upcoming HCN story on the BLM’s wild horse and burro program) and ProPublica suggests the agency has already been selling horses to a buyer who may be shipping them to slaughterhouses in Mexico.

According to the story, since 2009 the BLM has sold over 1,700 horses to Tom Davis, a known horse slaughter advocate who told Philipps that “some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt.”

Although Philipps didn’t have clear documentation proving Davis was funneling the horses into a slaughterhouse, the evidence he did amass certainly suggests as much. Davis didn’t care what types of horses he bought, as long as they were big. He buys an average of 35 horses at a time, while most buyers only purchase one or two, and claims to find them “good homes” in the Southeast. However, a wild horse rescuer in Georgia that Philipps spoke with expressed skepticism that Davis was able to find homes for so many wild horses, saying the market is “deader than dead.”

Davis also admitted to illegally shipping horses across state lines, including down to the Texas-Mexico border, where veterinarians say they sometimes see horses with BLM brands headed for slaughterhouses in Mexico. But Philipps’ paper trail ended when he asked to see documentation of BLM horses bound for slaughterhouses. The USDA stalled his Freedom of Information Act request for records of veterinarians conducting border inspections of the BLM horses, arguing it would cost tens of thousands of dollars and months to comply with, Phillips said. So he and ProPublica decided to publish the story anyway and let readers connect the dots.

Not surprisingly, the BLM maintains that none of its horses are ending up in slaughterhouses. “No evidence was provided by the article that horses sold to Tom Davis ended up in slaughterhouses,” Gorey said in an official statement. “We take allegations of this type seriously and will look into any allegations that have a degree of credibility.”

Since Philipps’ report came out last week, horse advocates have called for the BLM to halt all wild horse roundups. "The safest place for a wild horse is in the wild," said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation, a wild horse advocacy group, in response to the investigation. "The fate of horses, once they are captured, is murky based on some of the newest revelations of what's going on."

But the BLM can’t just stop rounding up wild horses without facing lawsuits from other users of public lands, who contend the horses erode soil, increase sedimentation in streams and generally destroy the range, according to Gorey.

So what should the agency do?

Some wild horse advocates say the BLM should give more wild horses birth control and release them, like they’re doing with 900 of the 3,500 horses to be rounded up this fall. But the agency says that’s difficult to do with large herds, and mares need to be re-vaccinated every year. “We only gather the herds every four years, so that’s a problem,” Gorey told The New York Times in 2009.

Killing old and unadoptable horses could be a viable, and legal, solution to the problem, but it seems unlikely the BLM will ever do it. “It’s off the table as far as an option,” Gorey said, “this administration has made it clear…it was not going to be considered.”

That leaves the BLM stuck with more horses than it can handle, fewer places to put them and an increasing population on the range.

“The BLM is in an impossible situation,” Philipps said in an interview, “I don’t know if they’re going to find a way out of it.”

Emily Guerin is an intern at High Country News.

Photos courtesy BLM Idaho and BLM Nevada. Chart data courtesy BLM Spokesman Tom Gorey.

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Oct 04, 2012 10:15 AM
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 04, 2012 12:59 PM
The federal government has brought this upon themselves. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro act of 1971 stated the animals were to be protected where they were...their home range. Over the pasts 40 years the BLM has continually kowtowed to cattlemen, oil and gas men, mining operations etc because lobbyist have the dough to work with (wink wink nod nod). They zeroed out herds in many areas for special projects i.e. the Ruby Pipeline and are doing the same for the Keystone. To hell with the horses, the cattlemen an exorbitant fee to graze their cows on our public lands. After all who can afford $1.35 to feed their cow for a season? That's right $1.35. Most of them don't pay this fee anyway because it is not administered. All in all over half the original land designated by The Act has been pilfered off by our government employees. Less land, lower AML's (appropriate management levels) fewer horses more room for cows. Any one who has or has had horses know full well that the number of acres required for a horse is slightly more than that of a cow. But when you replace 100 horses with 5,000 cows it becomes apparent you're trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes. We have one agency that is going to remove, zero out, around 1,000 horses because the land can't support them. The land is 575,000 acres in northern Nevada. The horses have lived there for well over a hundred years and look to be in exceptional condition but they gotta go!

All this rambling is pointing at one thing. Our government officials are accepting money for services to enhance friends and family members business. This Tom Davis that's buying all the horses is a neighbor of Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior that oversees the BLM. They are everyone guilty of racketeering. Selling We the People's property without our knowledge or consent to people who would reap rewards for sending our wild horses to the most heinous of deaths. Imagine bleeding to death while you are being butchered alive.

Washington needs to get it's act together and get out of the wild horse business and get the welfare ranchers off the Herd Management Areas.

Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 04, 2012 01:04 PM
As to Mr. Caldwells link...the source is obviously promoting their own views and not those of the scientific community that in fact has confirmed horses are native to North America. They evolved and developed here therefor they are native.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Oct 04, 2012 06:32 PM
There is no consensus in the scientific literature that says the current horses roaming the American west are native. There are a couple of wild horse advocates who are also scientists who have pushed very limited genetic analysis to link European-derived domesticated horses (ancestors to the current horses) to their extinct ancestors that roamed the U.S. prior to 10,000 years ago. There are many more scientists who think the evidence is to the contrary and that these are indeed feral animals. To call these horses 'native' is as appropriate as calling golden retrievers wild because they share most of their genes with wolves. It's even more ridiculous to call burros wild because they don't even have any close ancestors that are from here.

But then Steve is obviously a believer and no amount of actual science will ever convert a believer. Passion is great but it doesn't make you right.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 04, 2012 09:03 PM
DNA test they say do not lie...The Yukon Horse along with many other samples that have been discovered prove the point. The scientific definition of Native is if the species evolved there and further developed there then it is Native. Your broad statements of 'many more scientist' are wasted as the argument was settled some time ago. It's only people that have an agenda i.e. cattle ranchers, oil and gas folks, and mining operations along with the BLM in their pocket who are trying push the 'non-native invasive species' idea. Like Romney said of his boys they think if they tell the lie over and over eventually someone will think it's true. I challenge you ladies and gents to google the yukon horse and find out the real facts about the wild horse's existence here on the North American Continent.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 04, 2012 09:06 PM
History: The evolutionary development of burros, like other equines (such as horses and zebras), took place in North America. Like their cousins, the American wild horse, burros are a native North American wildlife species that was re-introduced to the continent in the 1500's by Spanish explorers.

Range: Wild burros live throughout all of North American deserts. The majority of wild burros live in the arid deserts of the Southwest.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 04, 2012 09:53 PM
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Oct 04, 2012 10:25 PM
"In biogeography, a species is defined as native to a given region or ecosystem if its presence in that region is the result of only natural processes, with no human intervention."

I read that definition to mean domesticated horses brought to N.A. by the Spanish explorers can not be considered native (i.e. no domestication and no translocation). I always am fascinated that horse devotees seem to willingly overlook the selective breeding that occurred in both horses and burros under domestication while they'd never think to do so for dogs, for example.

And I'm guessing your didn't even notice the irony that your reference to the Yukon horse page supports the point that horses today are considered a different species by scientists than the ancestral ones. Just because an ancestral form was native doesn't automatically make any descendant forms so.

I believe if you read further into the literature you'll find that burros evolved into their current form, not even counting domestication, in Asia and Africa, not North America.

But enough from me, if I see enough widely accepted peer-reviewed articles in the wildlife journals from a variety of scientists who aren't avowed horse devotees, I'll buy into the argument. I haven't seen it thus far, nor do I think that is likely to occur but I'll try to keep an open mind.

In the meantime, a large herbivore with no viable predation limits on their population are expanding at about 20% per year. You just have to look at white-tailed deer impacts on forest ecosystems in the eastern U.S. to understand that isn't a good thing.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 04, 2012 10:40 PM
Burros (donkeys in English) are native to North Africa. They are an introduced species of livestock in North America, just as the modern horse (or mustang if you prefer) is an introduced non-native species. There were no native equines in North America when Columbus first arrived. That's why Native Americans weren't riding them. All this would be academic if feral horses and burros weren't incompatible with the native plants and wildlife that evolved here without them. As it is, feral horses and burros are extremely destructive to native flora and fauna and should be restricted to limited "sacrifice" areas to be enjoyed by the people who enjoy them. They should never be allowed full access to all public lands.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 05, 2012 06:31 AM
Here again Tim you've taken the words of the BLM, who dismiss science. In fact a Federal Judge earlier this year accused them of being 'Studiously Ignorant' to the science at hand. The 20% number you refer to has all sorts of issues that you may or may not be aware of. It includes all births whether the foal ever got off the ground or not. It also does not include deaths due to natural causes. When the actual math is done the rate is more like 7% on average. But this behind the scenes look at just how the BLM has been tilting the numbers of the years only came to light within the past year so you may not have known.

Now let's just simplify this whole situation. This article is not based on biology nor is this a place to rehash what was already decided on by greater minds some years ago.

This article refers to America's Wild Horses and Burros and their supposed protection by law. I will not quote from the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 which offer these definitions...

Sec. 2. As used in this Act-

"Secretary" means the Secretary of the Interior when used in connection with public lands administered by him through the Bureau of Land Management and the Secretary of Agriculture in connection with public lands administered by him through the Forest Service;

"wild free-roaming horses and burros" means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States;

"range" means the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept for the public lands;

"herd" means one or more stallions and his mares;

So for this discussion about the BLM selling off wild horses and burros these are the animals being referred to.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 05, 2012 06:37 AM
Sorry about the spelling...to early in the am for my fingers obviously ;-)
Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 02:02 AM
There is scientific consensus: the horse originated in North America. It is a native species that was reintroduced in its ancestral homeland, the American West, about five hundred years ago. The horse was re-wilded. Below is the link to an academic discussion on the origin of the horse.


When species go extinct in a particular habitat, efforts are often made to reestablish them. For instance, elk were once the most widely distributed deer in North America. By the end of the 19th century, however, they were extinct throughout most of their range. In Nevada, elk were reintroduced in the early 1930s. With protection, the elk rebounded and currently number over 15,000.

On public lands, non-native commercial livestock outnumber native wild horses by nearly 30 to 1. BLM allots approximately 8,600,000 monthly grazing units to livestock in the western states that have wild horse herds. Even in herd management areas, which are supposed to be dedicated primarily (though not exclusively) to wild horses, cattle typically get apportioned 90 percent of the grazing slots.

Wild horses are not a problem or the problem. They restore the range by their foraging habits. Cattle grazed alongside equids actually gain more weight. Horses and cattle are commensals, not competitors.


There is no competition among horses, deer, elk, or bighorn either. In fact, where the horse herds have increased, so have the other resident species. According to Holistic Management, to restore the rangeland, higher numbers of grazing animals are needed. A video presentation on Holistic Management is found at the link below.


Multi-year studies on three different wild-horse herds disclosed that mountain-lion predation alone can keep an equine population in check. Although preaching the goal of a "thriving natural ecological balance," BLM exterminates native predators for the benefit of livestock operators and sport-hunters. The stealth beneficiary is BLM. By eliminating the predators, BLM positions itself as the sole population-control agent of wild horses and burros. BLM creates the problem, then requests a budget to solve it at taxpayer expense.

Independent fact-checking points to fewer than 13,000 wild horses and burros left on the range — about one-third the "38,000" figure that BLM continues to cite, year after year, no matter how many thousands it rounds up and removes. BLM's data is bogus, ginned up to show a wild horse "excess" that does not exist. But Congress, the public, and the media innocently assume BLM's information is valid. So they rely on it, quote it, and draw what must seem like logical conclusions based on it. Faux figures have been an issue at BLM for a long time. The Kearns & West report — a review that BLM commissioned in 2010 — noted that as far back as 1982 there was internal resistance to the way BLM was determining wild horse populations. The report cited a National Research Council Committee finding of "the pressures which many district and area personnel feel to depict range, population, and other conditions in an antihorse and antiburro context." (Pdf-page10 at link below.)


BLM officially pledges to protect the wild horses from slaughter, but has been busy creating the very conditions that put the mustangs at risk — accumulating an excess of them in captivity, while keeping the herds below minimum viable population on the range. ProPublica's investigative report evidences that, in secret, BLM has been selling Federally-protected wild horses to a kill-buyer with long-time business connections to the Secretary of the Interior.

It is time to divest BLM and defund the roundups. Return captive horses to freedom and revive the natural ecological balance on the People's lands.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 06, 2012 06:02 AM
Well done Marybeth
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 07:10 AM
Two scientists who are horse advocates hardly makes it a consensus, Mayrbeth, no matter how much you wish it to be true. The society of professional wildlife biologists, a large group of scientists and wildlife professionals, has clearly stated the position that horses are feral. You convince them and I'll give your statement more credibility.

As to your point about re-introduction of elk, well, in some cases you have a point. None of the elk herds east of the Mississippi can be considered native because the eastern sub-species of elk is extinct. And that's despite the idea that the elk that were re-introduced had never been domesticated. Horses had been.

There is a study which 'suggests' mountain lions might predate enough on horses to affect population but that has hardly been proven. The last I checked that study had yet to be completed. What is known is that when the ancestral relatives of the domestic horse was on the continent, so were some very large predators that could've been efficient limits (saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, American lion, short-faced bears), none of which have extant descendants.

Finally, show me some evidence that horse advocates understand the logistic equation as it applies to population dynamics and explain how a horse population becomes limited within an area that lacks predation or hunting without devastating the range and driving it and other truly native species to starvation. Horse advocates seem to think that horses are magical creatures that somehow self-regulate if only we'll leave them alone. If so, they truly aren't native to this planet because no other herbivore has shown that capacity that I'm aware of. Heck, humans haven't even shown that capacity of understanding on a broad scale.

There are negative consequences of burros and bighorn sheep sharing habitat and that's been well documented.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 06, 2012 08:34 AM
Gee Tim one can only presume you're referring to the Wildlife Society as google can't find the society of professional wildlife biologists. The wildlife society does a lot of work for the fed. and they do not consider the horse native to the North American continent. If they didn't come from here where did they come from? All the evidence says the genus evolved here.

I'm unclear as to your motive here. Marybeth and I are fighting for animals lives and freedom, no matter what biological drawer you wish to put them in. Whether they be wild or feral, or native or non-native do any of those factors give man the right to override the cycle of life mother nature / God put in place? Do you Tim think you know better than nature as to just how to save the animal kingdom? What is your motive...extinction? It would appear to be the motive of the BLM.


Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Oct 06, 2012 08:51 AM
Just to be sure I asked my six year old daughter if unicorns are real. Her answer was an immediate and emphatic "No". Now how is it that a six year old can separate reality from fantasy so easily yet adults struggle?

Science and general knowledge are just as unambiguous with horses. There were none here pre Columbus.

Feral horses unlike many other invasive species will be easy enough to control once we as a society make up our minds to do so. Unlike the Burmese Python or nutria they are easy to see.

What is more difficult than the eventual round up of the horses is the emotion based science denialism that gives rise to the entire issue in the first place.

America is going to have to make some hard choices about species in the near future. On his blog recently Director of US Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe said that we are going to have to do triage regarding saving species because of the limited funds we have to save them. Many species will become extinct. http://www.fws.gov/[…]/Wildlife-in-the-Modern-American-Landscape How many species would $75 million save?

Feral horses are beautiful, many people like looking at them and thinking of them running across the countryside. I get it. Feral horse advocates also need to come to the realization that unicorns are for little girls younger than six.

Journalists can help. Begin by writing scientifically fact based articles, not that this one isn't, but it certainly misses giving the back ground of the issue. A start might be by calling feral animals feral once in a while, maybe even a phone call to someone at BLM or USFWS for background.

If the HCN article by Phillips is anything like his newspaper story it will get a big shrug of the shoulders from me. Someone is slipping around crazy rules regarding wild horses in the US, so what. We slaughter millions of cows, chickens, pigs, etc in the US every day.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 08:57 AM
I was referring to the Wildlife Society, I apologize for not being clear -- I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that everyone was aware that they are the professional society for wildlife biologists. Robb's link above in the first comment is to their policy statement. The overwhelming majority of wildlife work in the U.S. can be linked to the federal or state governments so I'm not sure why that would condemn their viewpoint.

My motive is to try and get horse advocates to move away from magical thinking about free-roaming horses and recognize that there are serious negative ecological consequences to abandoning all management of herd populations, which is what they are advocating (see MaryBeth's last statement above). I agree that having the BLM maintain large holding pens of captured mustangs is not a good thing. However, I don't believe that horses should be protected to a larger degree than any truly native wildlife species, which by law they currently are. Give me a good example of any other non-endangered species that is protected from lethal control measures when ecological conditions indicate they are necessary?

If horse advocates really, truly, believe that horses are a native wildlife species then where is the push to have them managed as a game or non-game species by state wildlife departments like we do with every other native species? They certainly don't fall under the endangered species concept, so where is the hunting season like those on the elk that MaryBeth mentioned? And if the horses aren't a domesticated animal, why then have horse advocates insisted they be put up for adoption? I can't think of any native wildlife species that is, in fact most laws are written to expressly prohibit such activity.

So I'm looking for a little consistency from the horse advocates in a wildlife context, which I haven't seen thus far.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 06, 2012 10:32 AM
Gee Robb maybe you should ask her if she thinks you are sane or not. There is more then enough evidence to prove the horse evolved here.



There is no evidence to prove there were no horses here when Columbus arrived. Just because he didn't write about them or witness having seen them doesn't mean there weren't any. After all I don't think Columbus ever got to the Rockies. Who knows? There is no historic record to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt either theory. The complete and total disappearance of the horse on the North American Continent is only considered to be the most logical because of environmental developments. There is no proof that bands of horses didn't exist in protected valleys in various areas of the Pacific Northwest or the Central Rockies or even the southwest. No one knows for certain.
Wild: living in a state of nature and not ordinarily tame or domesticated
Feral: having escaped from domestication and become wild
I pulled these from http://webster.com/dictionary/feral

This suggests the feral animal to be the one that escaped...does that mean it's offspring would be feral as well? Animals can and do become wild again i.e. Australia's Dingos. They are descendants of domesticated dogs but no one on record has ever been able to domesticate them again.

If you wish to investigate the science here don't rely on the BLM or the USFWS but especially the BLM as they ignore the science of their own scientist. If the results don't fit their agenda they throw it out. A Federal Judge mentioned just that. She said they were "Studiously Ignorant".

Now I submit it your six year old daughter doesn't believe in Unicorns because she's never seen one. And neither have you so that is what you've taught her. But just because we haven't seen them does that mean they do not exist? Hundreds of previously unknown species are found each year.

I suggest you allow your mind to think of how wonderful this world could be rather than just accept the nether world it has become.
Monica Gokey
Monica Gokey
Oct 06, 2012 02:19 PM
The scientific evidence for horses being extinct on North America is a lack of fossil evidence for the past 10,000 years. There is the Hagerman Horse cache, another in the Yukon, plus a couple more -- but after that there are mysteriously no equine fossils since the last Ice Age -- and none that fit the mold of today's equines. There is some debate in the anthropology community over how Native Americans had horses in their folk lore before the Spaniards brought any over - I believe this is where the argument stems from for those who think horses have been here all along.

From an evolutionary biology perspective, it's not accurate to call horses a native North American species because they underwent so much anthropogenic change (selective breeding) before returning to the land where they evolved from.

But I understand both sides, on a geologic timescale, 10,000 years of absence is small change compared to millions of years of horse evolution on North America.

What I find most interesting about this debate is how the BLM has labeled horses as a "National Heritage Species" -- as far as I know it's the only species in this category... sort of a bizarre middle-ground for native vs. invasive.

Monica Gokey
Monica Gokey
Oct 06, 2012 02:20 PM
Whoops, sorry I just re-read that and it's not clear. There are no equine fossils on N. America from the past 10,000 years. The Hagerman, Yukon and other depots are from long, long ago.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 06, 2012 02:39 PM
Monica, just because we haven't found them does not prove they do not exist. The Yukon Horse carcass wasn't discovered until 1993. Other fossils were found in the 50's and 60's but until every piece of ground us overturned would we ever be able to completely put the subject to rest.

 Tim you said "recognize that there are serious negative ecological consequences to abandoning all management of herd populations," I'd like to know more...please elaborate.
Monica Gokey
Monica Gokey
Oct 06, 2012 02:46 PM
Well, we know that the mustangs we see on federal range land are descended from the horses Spanish conquistadors brought over. There is no genetic evidence that feral mustangs hybridized with a native North American population when they arrived here.

But there is most certainly the possibility that there has been a domestic batch hanging around all along, but at this point I think it's unlikely.

Any thoughts on the BLM's management of mustangs as a National Heritage Species?
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 06, 2012 03:01 PM
It is my opinion, along with many others, the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program is guilty of racketeering. Over the years the numbers captured is no where near the total of those adopted out plus those that remain in captivity minus those that have passed on due natural causes. Where are all the missing horses.

The BLM can bloody well keep their hands off our horses. A new independent group needs to be formed. The BLM time and time again have proven they have no business handling horses...i.e.
  http://youtu.be/ne3ppBnbr7g note the date of October 2nd 2012

Would you let them handle your horse?
Adam Neff
Adam Neff
Oct 07, 2012 06:42 PM
I have no problem considering them wild. I (personally) would have no problem calling them native either (though the majority of what I've read has been on the contrary). As such, they should be managed like every other large wild/native critter that exists in sustainable numbers. Set a season for them and allow hunters to feed there families with horse meat. I drive through the Yakama Indian reservation quite frequently and have seen what their recent population explosion there has done to both the vegetation and subjectively to the deer population (sort of a good thing as I haven't seen a deer in the headlights in years). I'm not saying kill them all, I enjoy seeing "wild" horses running across the sage ahead of a summer thunderstorm with the sun setting in the distance as much as the next yahoo but we should be managing they're numbers for the benefit of the rest of the wildlife.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Oct 07, 2012 07:26 PM
Adam that's a sensible way of looking at things that I'd never considered before. I'd no idea if they were hunted but had never considered hunting as a conservation tool for feral (sorry) horses.

I asked that guy Jackson Landers at Lacavore Hunter a couple months ago about horses as I knew he was finishing a book on hunting and eating invasives and he replied that horses have too much of a relationship with people for him to hunt and eat them. Myself I'd give it a try, I like grazers not browsers. Wonder what they weigh?
Adam Neff
Adam Neff
Oct 08, 2012 09:14 PM
I'm a big fan of Mr. Landers myself, in fact I've got his book on eating invasive species on my Amazon wish list. FYI I believe horses run 1200-1600 lbs on the hoof.
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden Subscriber
Oct 09, 2012 08:54 PM
I have the solution. Let's get rid of automobiles which are really, really, really, problematic and bring horses back for transportation.
Lyn McCormick
Lyn McCormick
Oct 09, 2012 11:29 PM
The problem is NOT wild/feral horses or whatever you want to call them - at this point in the game that is a moot point. The problem is overstocking and mis-management of the non- native livestock that has caused so much degradation of the Public Ranges. We live on a 500 acre ranch in NW Colorado. The southern border of the ranch is 2 1/2 miles of the Yampa river and the rest of the perimeter is bordered by a million acres of Public Land (BLM)
We are surrounded on all sides by several wild horse HMA's. There is also a significant level of O&G production in these areas. My husband is native Coloradan who's family homesteaded and ranched in the Williams Creek drainage and in the Animas Valley for 5 generations. We have been managing livestock for almost 30 years, and in recent years raised buffalo, on private land only. We still use horses to move livestock and check fence. My best working ranch horse is a Nevada mustang. With all due respect to my neighbors and ranching friends who depend on their grazing allotments and given the fact that it has been the worst drought season in recent history, and having ridden the range all summer trying to keep range cows off my native grass pasture along the river, I have to say that the damage to the range and riverbanks by non-native livestock is by far the greatest threat to the Public Land ecosystems. The water allocated for raising hay depletes the Little Snake and Yampa Rivers to almost a trickle. This cannot be a cost effective method of food production for human consumption. The cost of the degradation to the range and the diminishing wildlife populations CANNOT be blamed on the few remaining herds of horses on Public Lands. The census counts that are being done now by the boots-on-the-ground folks; photographers, wildlife and wild horse watchers, sheepherders, local ranchers like me, ATV users, bikers and hikers more accurately reflect the true numbers of horses on the HMA's. Also, FYI - horses DO NOT lounge along the rivers and riparian areas because they have a real fear of being ambushed by predators, but at the man-made wells and watering holes that have been de-nuded by livestock and where there is no natural cover they WILL linger during the heat of the day and mud-up to repel insects. Finally, the commercialization of the free range wild horse herds will forever and permanently skew the purpose of keeping horses on the open range because the criteria for selection will be geared toward meat production and not survivability in the wild. Originally, the homesteaders and ranchers managed the herds for the purpose of acquiring and marketing good working saddle horses, but today the breed industry groups have flooded the market with "sport specific" breeds. They then blame the saturated horse market on the wild horse populations that are being removed from the ranges and warehoused by the BLM. Those who can recognize and appreciate true horse nature are not influenced by the breed industry propaganda. My father-in-law, a cattle buyer and lifetime rancher (who bought horses off the Navaho Indian reservation and broke them in the sand arroyos of NM) gave me a piece of advice and that is "a good horse is where you find it.".
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Oct 10, 2012 06:47 AM
Actually this isn’t even a story about wild or feral horses, it’s a story about a guy who is writing a story about wild/feral horses. That’s what science writers do, is write about each other, it’s taught in that Boulder school they all go to.

The name of the writer is Phillips, he’s the source of most of the information in this article, and he is the source of the money quotes. I was amused when I ran across an interview of him on an animal rights web site, the interview is by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and the subject is this horse story. http://www.democracynow.org/[…]/all_the_missing_horses_federal_govt
The title is kind of a play on words from that Cormic McCarthy book, by far the best part of the interview.

Looking like you stuck your finger in a light socket never does much for your credibility, but Phillips won’t leave it at that, he goes on immediately to shred any sort of suggestion that he is a journalist, within the first thirty seconds. He can’t just answer a question from Amy without an emotional advocacy plug. He follows up with pointed fingers at the Salazar brothers (Sec. of Int. etc), but no direct connection. Probably not a real nice or smart thing to do without something more definitive than geographic proximity. Amy helps by using open ended questions to make statements she can’t back up, doing her best Bill O'Reilly impersonation.
Lyn McCormick
Lyn McCormick
Oct 10, 2012 10:02 AM
Why get so side-tracked by issues such as "are they truly native or just feral" and whether to manage them as "wildlife" or "livestock" which really boils down to what agency is going to manage them and with what funds.  They should just be managed for what they are "free ranging horses" and for the purpose of filling a market niche that exists in the horse industry.  The fact is, yes, they were re-introduced but they've been here much longer than the cattle and sheep and had significant impacts on Native American Plains culture as well as the pioneering and settlement of the west by European immigrants.  The problem is that our government, culture, and society only recognize things that are concerned with the production and consumption of goods.  I forgot to say further that the O&G industry gets blamed for wanting them off the range, but the reality is alot of the private landowners are corporate interests and they have large grazing allotment holdings as well as O&G royalties and it's easier to blame everything on the O&G industry.  The O&G developers could give a hoot about wild horses being on the range.  The other BS argument that gets put out there is that they have to be removed because they might starve to death and die of natural causes which is cruel and would upset the public, but then they turn around and ship them off to slaughter ?
Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin Subscriber
Oct 13, 2012 01:23 PM
BOGUS BLM DATA: I have reviewed dozens of environmental assessments issued by BLM concerning impending roundups. Their data typically consists of ... estimates based on ... extrapolations employing ... assumptions according to ... projections derived from ... Monte Carlo simulations. Current population estimates even include unborn foals. Huge computational errors, when called to their attention, are not corrected. Preposterous, biologically-impossible birth rates are treated as fact.

WILDLIFE SOCIETY: After our dialogue on wild horses last year, Tim, I followed through on your recommendation and became a member of the Wildlife Society. The WS does good work. In fact, I recently (on August 31) donated to one of their environmental-action appeals. WS promotes stewardship of wildlife in large part for the benefit of sport-hunting interests. Thus, its scientists might have a bias in that respect. Shortly after joining, I learned that WS had just issued its final position paper on wild horses. Regrettably, WS' stance was based on BLM's propaganda. Consequently, WS' position is misinformed and incorrect.

MAGICAL DATE: What's so special about 1492? Horses were here before Columbus and were reintroduced after Columbus. We think. The oral tradition of a number of American Indian nations maintains that horses never left.

SNAKES: I'm glad someone mentioned feral Burmese Pythons. These huge snakes — former pets released into the Everglades — have a lifespan of 25 years. Each season, a female python can lay as many as 100 eggs, which hatch in three months.


Here in South Florida, we were awaiting Secretary Salazar's plan to deal with this non-native and invasive species. Did he and Director Ashe announce a python roundup? No. Merely banned the further importation of some species while allowing continued commerce in others.

Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 13, 2012 02:43 PM
Maybe there's a newer one, but here's the latest Wildlife Society position I've seen on feral horses and donkeys. http://joomla.wildlife.org/[…]/horse_comments_082010.pdf

This issue has been covered in HCN in the past in an excellent piece entitled "They Should Shoot Horses, Shouldn't They?" Here's a longer and more detailed article by the same writer that ran in Audubon magazine: http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/incite/incite0609.html

I offer these articles for anyone who would like some factual background on the issue. Of course, articles like these will no have effect on the feral-horse loving crowd. Their position is reflected in the old 70s torch song: If lovin' 'em is wrong, they don't want to be right. And heaven help anyone who disagrees with them.

The environmental community knows the truth - I've spoken with several - but has stayed quiet on this issue. I blame the hybridization of animal rights and environmental activist in America. Animal protection activists and environmental groups tend to have common financial donors and get support from the same politicians, and they aren't about to alienate either of those forces. This is different from Australia, where environmentalists support aerial gunning of the feral camels that are wreaking havoc on the land, and Australia's environmentalists face opposition from maudlin animal protectionists and a mainstream press that sympathizes with them.
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden Subscriber
Oct 13, 2012 03:23 PM
I read some of long article and the final paragraph or so of this article in Audubon magazine that Larry just mentioned. I thought the author was making a bunch of assumptions, just like everybody else, but I did like his final conclusion, because it contained no violence towards wild horses. Round most of them up and care for them. I like that. It sounds as good as any idea I have heard so far. Or else we can leave the horses where they are as long as we have no use for the land ourselves, yet. Who cares, as long as there is no unnecessary violence to the horses themselves. If somebody is taking public horses to slaughter, then you know what we used to do to horse thieves in the past?
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 13, 2012 04:30 PM
Unfortunately, they can't be left where they because they keep reproducing and going out side their designation herd management areas. If they didn't double their populations every 4 or 5 years, it wouldn't be such a problem. Right now the federal government is keeping tens of thousands of them on private lands and paying for their feed and veterinary care. This defeats the idea of free-ranging wild horses and eats up the budget BLM hsa for managing the herds. I don't believe there is any viable alternative to killing surplus horses. Demand for private adoptions is insufficient to keep up with population growth. Birth control is expensive, impractical and dangerous to the humans trying to administer it unless the horses are first rounded up and corraled. Efforts by horse lovers, including some very wealthy ones such as T. Boone Picket's wife Madeleine, have failed to produce enough private land to absorb the surplus. Unless there's a major breakthrough, the arithmetic dictates a lethal solution to the surplus.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 13, 2012 05:18 PM
Larry again you've failed at doing your homework and are spouting out the propaganda lines of the BLM who would love it if you believed the wild horses double in number ever 4 to 5 years. You need to be researching legitimate wildlife ecologists who will tell you the BLM counts every birth whether the foal ever gets up off the ground or not. And they do not deduct the natural attrition i.e. death due to predation or old age or a broken leg...things that happen naturally in nature.

I leave you to your calculator to do some math. When the horses first became protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 the animals were allotted the land they inhabited at that time. It was about 50,000,000 acres. That's 50 million acres. Now some would have you believe at that time the horses were on a real downswing in numbers (as all equids do cyclically) and there were only about 17,000 total. The number was probably closer to 40 or 50,000 but no thorough aerial census had been done. Over time Congress has taken a bit of land here and a bit of land there...they zeroed out several wild horse management areas so they could get the EPA's blessing to build the Ruby Pipeline etc. That 50 million acres has dwindled to about 22 million acres. The law was ignored for greed of man.

Now here's the math part. We already have the majority of wild horses being fed and cared for on ranches in OK, and KS. Right about 50,000 animals. The BLM has even begun with in the past few weeks to re-tweak it's estimates of 38,000 remaining in the wild. The real number is probably closer to 15,000. Even if you take the biggest falsified number of the 50,000 in holding and the possible 38,000 in the wild you have 88,000 animals. Now divide 22 million acres by 88,000 horses. That's 250 acres per horse. Now if the government gave them back their original 50 million acres the number more than doubles. So now explain to me again how we have a 'surplus' of horses. I graze 3 on 15 acres. These numbers are more than enough evidence that the 50,000 in holding costing the American Taxpayer near $100,000,000.00 a year to care for could in fact be returned to the wild. The horse is the most successful prey animal on the face of the earth. They were fully capable of fending for themselves before we got here and they will be after we leave them alone.

Now as for this idiot Ted Williams...I'd like to find his credentials somewhere but google can't find them. I do know a wild life ecologist who yes is a wildlife advocate. But ask yourself why are so many highly educated people advocates for wildlife?

Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 13, 2012 06:08 PM
Steve and others, you keep relying on the premise that BLM's numbers are always wrong amd have been from the get-go. If there were far more - perhaps 3 times by your estimates - than 17,000 animals left in the wild in 1971, why were Wild Horse Annie and others so desperate to save them from "extinction"?

Now let's do some arithmetic. If an HMA has a herd of 50 horses - 25 of each gender - and half the mares produce surviving colts in the spring, you're at a growth rate of 25% for that year before deducting any losses for natural mortality. How long does a feral horse live in the wild without veterinary care? Let's say 25 years. That means you'd lose an average of 2 horses per year from a herd of 50, so now we're pretty close to 20% herd growth per year.

You said it yourself - the horse is the most successful prey animal on Earth and fully capable of defending themselves. There is no natural means for keeping their numbers in check. Speaking of the law, the 1971 Act requires BLM to keep their numbers "in ecological balance" with their habitat, and it specifically authorizes euthansia as a tool, but horse lovers have pressured Congress to ignore this law. Since the early 1980s, in every year except one Congess has attached a "no-kill" provision to BLM's annual funding appropriation. Now THAT is ignoring the law.

Finally, a word about "wildlife ecologists." Every branch of science has its Have Opinion, Will Travel practitioners. If you've got the money, they've got the opinion you're looking for. I'll go with the Wildlife Society, which is comprised of professional biologists and academics. If your hired guns have a beef with the weight of opinion in their profession, they should take it up with them.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 13, 2012 07:15 PM
The estimated number at the turn of the century was close to 2 million so any number below 100,000 was alarming. That's what Velma was trying to stop...

Secondly horses in the wild will live to be only between 15 and 19 years old. Besides you equation does not include other causes of death.

Keeping them in check in their habitat is the big problem. You see they are in balance with their natural surroundings...the odd balls are the invasive cattle. The BLM willingly tells you they manage the range at an 85% cow and 15% wildlife (horses, elk, pronghorn etc). Is that equitable? The cow is the invasive non native species not the horse or other wildlife.

As to the no kill, the BLM know's it would never pass inspection of it's own records or numbers before such a mass murder could occur. They don't dare open that Pandora's Box.

As to your final thought...let's see who I'm going to believe? An ecologist with a degree or a 'blogger' who like Rush Limbaugh is trying to build his self worth by regurgitating the misnomers and falsehoods of the BLM. As to their worthiness, I suggest you read an EA with an open mind and not accepting Ken Salazar's word. His record is dismal at best but that's for a different discussion.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 13, 2012 07:42 PM
I don't believe anyone here has cited Rush Limbaugh. Are the Wildlife Society journal authors "bloggers?"

A life span of 15 to 19 years is not very long for a horse. Are you saying horses don't fare well in the wild, especially on arid Western lands? If so, you're in agreement with those who believe they really don't belong out there.

The reason BLM doesn't euthanize excess animals is because Congress doesn't allow them to after being swamped with with letters and phone calls from the horse lobby. Policy is being dictated by emotion, not science, and BLM would love to change that.

How was it determined that there were 2 million feral horses running loose at the turn of the century? An aerial survey by the Wright brothers? Why would you give credence to an estimate like that but reject out of hand every number our modern BLM produces?

If we're going to allow the range to be overrun with ungulates, let it be the American buffalo. At least they're natives.

Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin Subscriber
Oct 13, 2012 10:14 PM
WILDLIFE SOCIETY: The link provided by Larry was to WS' response to the Secretary's Initiative in 2010. The position paper I referenced was issued last year.


Both documents were predicated on BLM's statistics. Because BLM's data and assumptions were, and are invalid, the conclusions WS drew from them were misinformed. I say that as a member and supporter of WS.

LIFESPAN IN THE WILD: According to BLM, wild horses on the range rarely live beyond 20 years. That is a normal lifespan for the species in the wild. In captivity, 25 years is achievable under optimal conditions. Wild mares that have been contracepted sometimes live longer than average but, by age 20, those mares are usually sterile -- with or without birth control. Please see pdf-page 12 at link below.


SURVIVAL IN THE WILD: On pdf-page 12 at the different link below, BLM reports: "In 2011 the population was at 156 wild horses following a hard winter. Of these 156 wild horses 24 were recruited into the population. 17 wild horses either died or are suspected of dying."


SQUARE MILES PER WILD HORSE: The herd management areas cover approximately 49,375 square miles. They are scattered across ten western states. Independent tracking points to a current wild-horse-and-burro population of about 13,000 on the range. That equates to about 3.8 square miles per horse or burro. In contrast, for example, the 2012 population of mule deer in Nevada is around 112,000 according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.


TWO MILLION HORSES: Don't know how they determined that figure. However, National Geographic's website says 50 million buffalo were slaughtered during the 19th century. Don't know how that number was verified either. NATGEO says buffalo live 12 to 20 years in the wild; Wikipedia says 25 years in captivity.

RUSH: Mr. Williams could be called the Rush Limbaugh of the Audubon Society. He likes to stir up controversy by being provocative. A shock-jock.

BUFFALO: Yes, bring back the buffalo. And the mountain lions, wolves, grizzlies, and jaguars.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 14, 2012 12:06 AM
Man in his infinite wisdom has brought the buffalo (Yellowstone Bison) back to the brink of extinction for the second time. The states of Montana and Idaho have terrorized them for some unknown reason. Actually Idaho officials shot the last one in their state just a couple of months ago. There are now approximately 4300 remaining none of which live on their native range making them ecologically extinct.

Man has mucked everything up by inflicting his will over nature rather than working within it. Mountain Lions, wolves, grizzlies and yes the jaguars all had bounty's put out on them when in fact their predation accounted for a minuscule percentage of the cattle losses. But panic sets in and we have to blame someone or something and we only feel better if we kill something or someone. America's handling of wildlife is pathetic to say the least. How do you justify killing an entire wolf pack by a welfare rancher being paid subsidies and given grazing rights for $1.35 per cow w/calf per annum?

Get off the horses backs and get on the ranchers who abuse the system. They run more cattle than they have permits for...permits that seldom get paid for. In turn they send lobbyist to Washington to get the Dept of the Interior to tell the BLM that more horses have to go and now you, me, all of us are footing the bill to care for the horses as written in the original law.

The original Act did not authorize euthanasia except on old, sick or cripple animals. It wasn't until much later the amendment was added that allowed for more drastic measures should the numbers get too high. As to your theory about Congress not allowing due to emotions part of that is true. But the truth is they do not want to test that amendment because no one believes it would hold up in court as it directly contradicts the original Act. And the final shot about the bison at least being native shows you are the one acting out of emotion. The horse evolved and developed on the North American Continent. No one opposes that position as the facts have been presented that prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. That is the definition of native. If every horse disappeared from this continent for a period of time and was re-introduced makes them no less native. As Marybeth mentioned in an earlier post the Natives oral history always included horses well before Columbus.

One last point...comments about the numbers produced by the BLM. I speak with someone with the BLM on a daily basis. I have friends that work there. I know how they rig the rules to make their numbers and protect their jobs. You see if we had our way the Wild Horse and Burro program of the BLM would be out of business tomorrow and 50,000 wild horses and burros would be being loaded on trucks to be returned to the homes. Obviously some have been incarcerated too long and are old and we would want them to stay to end their days in peace. Geldings are another story altogether. Once a stallion is gelded it no longer has a place in the herd. Bachelor groups (outcasts) are formed. They are no longer a viable part of the herd structure. Another gift to the wild horses from man.

What will it take for the two legged beast to relearn compassion and respect for all animals that live in the wild. A lot are mistreated and neglected that are domestic and live in homes. Human's have it in their heads "It's all about ME" to hell with everybody and everything else. The natives tried to teach us we don't own this world we only borrow it from our grandchildren. At this rate your grandchildren will only see wild horses in a zoo.
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden Subscriber
Oct 14, 2012 12:58 AM
There is never any reason to kill anything unless it attacks you. Otherwise, where do we derive our authority to kill. Oh, I am hungry. Well there are plenty of grains, fruits, vegetables and milk to use for food. Oh, I just want to practice. Ok, you can be a soldier now that you have practiced and you can put your life on the line for the rest of us. Oh, I just like to kill for the sport of it. That's not sport. That's sloth. As we sow, so shall we reap.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 14, 2012 06:38 AM
Well said Richard.
Adam Neff
Adam Neff
Oct 14, 2012 10:36 AM
Richard my counter is that I'm an omnivore, I do kill animals to eat them. I believed I evolved to eat them. If these horses are displacing animals (and in a lot of areas they are) I used to be able to hunt and feed my family with then something needs to be done to either reduce there numbers so there are more animals that I am allowed to hunt or they need to allow me to hunt the horses. That something needs to include all options including lethal options. Have you seen what horses can do to the range when left unmanaged? I have, it looks very much like over grazed degraded cattle pastures, it quite disturbing to be we're not doing more to manage there numbers.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Oct 14, 2012 10:48 AM
Marybeth, you did not address The Wildlife Society's scientific observations regarding destructive ecological impacts that are somewhat unique to equine species. This surprises me given that I understand you to be a wildlife biologist (hence your eligibility to join TWS.)

You cited anecdotal data for one especially hard winter in 2011. Wouldn't a long term average be more pertinent?

In my math model I assumed - with no basis whatsoever - that HALF the mares would successfully raise colts to young adulthood. I suspect that's on the low side as a long term average. Should that number be tweaked as well? And when you've adjusted for life span, natural mortality and reproduction to get what you feel are the best estimates, what average annual population increase would you get? Even a 15% annual increase would double the population in five years. Would we then not have a problem?
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Oct 14, 2012 01:59 PM
A review of BLM practices is being done right now but the results won't be known until the middle of 2013 as it is a 2 year study.


Until then this conversation is now mute at the EU has told both Canada and Mexico they will no longer take US horse meat because of the toxins of pharmaceuticals given the. How does this affect wild horses? They have to be de-wormed when they leave the range and being kept in close quarters. The de-wormer is carcinogenic to humans.

The announcement came within the last 48 hours and the feedlots have put shipping of all horses on hold.
Greg Cleveland
Greg Cleveland
Oct 15, 2012 10:27 AM
Just to add an historical note, the early fur trade in the northwest was comprised of many of French Canadien descent, often lumped as "Metis". As traders they often slaughtered horses for consumption, perhaps in large numbers as Elizabeth Vibert's research attests. The archaeological record supports this contention, at least at Ft Okanogan, just as the written record corroborates it for Ft Nes Perces. Just sayin'....
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Oct 17, 2012 05:54 PM
I didn't see the actual law included anyplace here, so am posting the introductory portion here.

This law didn't parse the native/nonnative argument but was put in place to protect what was here in 1971. Notice especially these points:

- they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation
- these horses and burros are fast disappearing
- shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death
- to be considered in the area they are presently found
- integral part of the natural system of public lands.

I submit the BLM has been and remains consistently in violation of Federal law. It's more than clear the lands set aside for Mustangs has been reduced by at least 50% and the herds by around 66% (though hard data is difficult to find) in favor of supporting private interests at public cost.

Further, the genetic libraries in Mustangs constitute a national treasure and a public property which by law is supposed to be protected by our government from precisely what is occurring.

Worse, taxpayers are paying an exorbitant cost to remove and warehouse horses unsustainably in favor of private profits.

Professional management of our herds to genetic extinction is not in the public interest. I suggest it's time the BLM be removed from their duties. Any citizen "managing" horses by their model would be fined and/or imprisoned.

We need better models for our people, our horses, and our country.

From the BLM site:

(PUBLIC LAW 92-195)

To require the protection, management, and control of wild free- roaming horses and burros on public lands. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Oct 20, 2012 10:36 AM
Kirkpatrick and Fazio quote:

"The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co‐evolved with its habitat. Clearly, E.caballus did both, here in North American. There might be arguments about “breeds,” but there are no scientific grounds for arguments about “species.

The non‐native, feral, and exotic designations given by agencies are not merely reflections of their failure to understand modern science but also a reflection of their desire to preserve old ways of thinking to keep alive the conflict between a species (wild horses), with no economic value anymore (by law), and the economic value of commercial livestock."

Please cite as: Kirkpatrick, J.F., and P.M. Fazio. Revised January 2010. Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. The Science and Conservation Center, ZooMontana, Billings. 8 pages.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Oct 20, 2012 12:45 PM
I'll make one last comment on this thread in reply to comment from Ms. McCormish with the quote from Kirkpatrick and Fazio -- they have chosen to ignore the human-induced changes in the species that occurred through the domestication of horses from Europe and Asia and that resulted in something different than the ancestral horses that once roamed the U.S. They also ignore the fact that the habitat that the ancestral horses roamed is not the same as the one modern feral horses occupy because the large predators that existed as a part of the prehistoric habitat are also extinct.

The view that is still widely held by the scientific community (e.g. The Wildlife Society position) is that a native population cannot be solely derived from domesticated ancestors, which the horses in the U.S. clearly are.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Oct 20, 2012 05:01 PM
Tim, my understanding is the human-induced changes you suggest are not globally proven through biology or genetics. In some individual breeds, yes, but not those not managed to suit human fashion. Can you provide verifiable examples of the human-induced changes you suggest?

Your comment about ice-age predators is puzzling, in that you could extend that argument to any species which has survived but whose predators and environs have been altered. Horses have historically (and continue) to have a variety of predators, many of whom are still roaming North America but are managed for human hunting.
Ruth Potter
Ruth Potter
Nov 11, 2012 05:57 PM

I am a student at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, CO. I am writing a paper on the management of wild horses and burros and was wondering if anyone could give input as to what they see as the biggest problem surrounding wild horse and burro management. Thanks!
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Nov 11, 2012 06:06 PM
I'd say the biggest problem is that horses push emotional buttons in some people in ways other species don't.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 11, 2012 06:17 PM
Ruth, I am researching this as well and see two key problems.

First, people divide immediately and passionately over definitions of native versus feral and their acceptable management decisions follow suit.

The second is that the BLM is managing public herds into extinction against federal law. The reasons behind this situation are many but the result is the same: horses are in disfavor and mineral and livestock vested interests are in favor. Public resources are being bartered for private profits. Worse, the current situation is unsustainable for the horses or the taxpayers pocketbooks.

Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 11, 2012 06:42 PM
Hi Ruth, I recommend you find a copy of a movie called "The Misfits" starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe about the 'mustangers' and the horrible way they captured horses to sell to slaughter for dog food.

People couldn't stand watching the abuse after having grown up watching Roy Rogers and Trigger, Hopalong Cassidy and Topper, Gene Autry and Champion. The horse was to be revered not slaughtered for dog food.

As to the problem today, the government won't let them be. Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) dreamed of the horses running wild forever on the open range and to be protected from man's murderous ways. But like so many other things Washington took it too far. The original document is called the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed unanimously in 1971 in both houses of Congress and signed by President Nixon. Since that time 'pirates' have begun a tactical strategy to rob the animals of their land for other uses i.e. welfare livestock grazing, mining, oil and gas drilling. The original lands deemed to the horses and burros has been diminished by 1/3 and the number of cattle and sheep have increased dramatically.

There are approximately 50 cows for every wild horse on most Herd Management Areas. Yet when the range gets depleted they want to remove horses not cows.

We pay the ranchers subsidies and sell them grazing permits that allow 1 cow and her calf to graze for a full season for $1.35. Now we pay near $70,000,000.00 a year to maintain and feed wild horses and burros in holding facilities because the BLM is supposed to protect them. It's illegal for them to sell them to slaughterhouses, not to mention the public uprising would be more than they could stand. The only answer when they pull them off the range is to warehouse them in pastures in OK and KS and feed lots across the west.

I guess the short answer (too late...lol) to your question is the BLM has no good sound management plan when in fact mother nature does.

Equids will regulate their population according to their surroundings i.e. forage and water. The Zebras of Africa are a classic example. They go through population spurts then drop their numbers to near extinction levels before they begin to reproduce again. It's about a 7 year cycle as I recall.

The BLM says there is no proof of this with the wild horses but the fact is we've never given them a chance. At the beginning of the 1900's it is estimated that the population of wild horses was at or near 2,000,000. Now there are less than 70,000... 50,000 of which are in captivity. If they were just left alone they would be fine and the taxpayers would not be paying for them. Yes they will go through cycles of life and death but I think that's kind of how mother nature planned it.

The fact remains that we started the century with a huge number and now with man's intervention we're down to the final few remaining on the open range.

The biggest problem with managing the wild horses and burros...MAN
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 11, 2012 06:54 PM
Native vs Feral really doesn't play into this discussion as the Act clearly defines what is being considered a wild horse or burro under the law...

Section 2

b. "wild free-roaming horses and burros" means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States;

Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 11, 2012 07:05 PM
Steve, with all due respect I believe the distinction IS important since it determines how people perceive wild horses and burros. If they were considered an endangered or threatened form of native wildlife, for example, perceptions would be different than they effectively are today.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Nov 11, 2012 07:39 PM
Ms. McCormish, you're absolutely right about that. If acadeemics and professional wildlife biologists (whose opinions might be worth considering) agreed that horses and donkeys were native species and thus compatible with native plants and soils and other native wildlife, there'd be no problem. But the prevailing expert opinion is that they are not, and that they are doing ecological damage in ways native species don't.

Ruth, be sure to click on the 2 links I provided in my Oct. 13 post above - one for The Wildlife Society and one for the article in Audubon magazine. And realize that climate change isn't the only natural resource issue that is being denied by a vocal segment despite a body of scientific opinion that is nearly unanimous.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Nov 11, 2012 07:47 PM
Well you all can re argue this whole thing again shortly as there's a 9 page guest editorial by the former journalist Dave Philipps in the copy of HCN that came in the mail Friday. Full of gorgeous photos of galloping mustangs and low flying helicopters. With some very funny parts. The writer jumps through hoops trying to link to N Americas now extinct species, and claims most of the horses natural predators are gone. What is the natural predator of an animal that doesn't exist except through domestication? What is the natural niche of the house cat? So many dead trees.
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Nov 11, 2012 07:57 PM
Hi Ruth,

You may want to check out the feature story by Dave Phillips in the latest issue of High Country News. It will be live on our website Monday, Nov. 12.

Robb, I disagree with your reading of Philipps' article. He does not call horses native, but rather recognizes that though they went extinct in North America long ago, many people connect with them as representative of the open range and the West in a way that makes them unique among nonnative species, and that this attachment has led to a lot of unique problems for managers, but also that horses symbolize something that many people deem important -- and in a natural world as modified as this one, perhaps that attachment or connection is not something to so easily dismiss. In the story, Philipps main character also points out that those who claim to love the horses the most often, in their protests and actions, have sometimes hurt efforts to manage them well. It seems to me that the solution most advocated for through the article is that of birth control for feral horses, which seems like some sort of middle ground that both horse lovers and those who see them as denuding the range can possibly agree on.

Ruth, I would also suggest you contact Dave Philipps, who is writing a book on the topic.


Stephanie Paige Ogburn, online editor
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 11, 2012 08:10 PM
Larry, what management differences would you see happening if horses were proved native (and never extinct) in North America? My investigations have led to some interesting DNA research which indicates Equids (not from Spain) existed into far more recent times than was once believed, possibly as recent as the 1800s.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Nov 11, 2012 08:51 PM
Nancie, do not waste this valuable discovery on me. Instead please rush it immediately to the nation's universities so the biology, anthropology and history professors can begin re-writing their textbooks. Maybe the Spanish explorers actually got their horses from Comanches?

Ms. Ogburn, I do understand what you're saying about the connections people make. But consider that some people make that same kind of connection with cattle. Should we allow feral cattle to run loose on public lands and never them round up for slaughter just because "many people connect with them as representative of the open range and the West in a way that makes them unique among nonnative species?"

I can accept allocation of a small portion of our public lands for feral horses to run free for the benefit of those who appreciate them, but even that requires measures to keep them in their areas most of the time and their numbers in check. The horse lovers haven't been willing to accept either of these conditions.

As for birth control, it's expensive and impractical and can be dangerous for those trying to do it. Unless the horse lovers are willing to accept neutering of colts - and I doubt many would - you're looking at capturing each of the mares every year throughout most of their lives because birth control drugs only last a year or two. Would the horse lovers consent to herding the animals into corrals to administer the drugs, or would they insist that some poor mother's son gallop on horseback alongside each feral mare, or hang from a helicopter, so as to administer the drug with a jab stick? And if some horse lovers are able to accept compromises, would they be willing to tell the hardliners on their side to please shut up because controlled populations living within herd management areas where there are annual roundups and captures for birth control purposes is the best they should expect to get?
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 11, 2012 09:45 PM
Larry, it's hard to give your ideas credence when your tone is so dismissive, unfortunately. Nor did you answer the question I posed.

Wild horse management is what biologists and ecologists term a "wicked problem," one which is many faceted and which won't be resolved to anyone's satisfaction without better human relations. For my part, I won't take your bait and will aim for a higher level of discourse in future.
Larry Audsley
Larry Audsley
Nov 11, 2012 10:18 PM
OK, I'll answer your question. If horses were proved to be native, I'd view their presence on the arid lands of the West differently. But I'll need to hear it directly from the biologists, so that's who you should be informing about your discoveries - not me.

And I'll plead guilty to having been dismissive. I just don't know how else to respond to the idea that a species of Native North American horses was present possibly as late as the 1800s yet somehow escaped the notice of early explorers and pioneers who do not mention such animals in the contemporary accounts they left behind to be studied to death by generations of historians and biologists. Sorry, but oblique dismissiveness is the best I can muster. I'll concede that you've tried harder to be nice than I have.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 07:33 AM
This article deals with what the BLM calls 'wild horses and burros' going to slaughter. Nothing more...BUT I think it is important to consider science as well...

"The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co‐evolved with its habitat. Clearly, E. 6 caballus did both, here in North American. There might be arguments about "breeds," but there are no scientific grounds for arguments about "species.""

This is a very long and detailed read but it should answer the myths especially those put forth by the Wildlife Society...the Government's Mouthpiece.

Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 11:31 AM
Larry, thank you for your civility, and Steve, for your thoughtful posts.
Larry, have you read any of the journals from French explorers in North America? Early pioneers and explorers came from the north as well as the south; some recount fully formed horse cultures in Canada within 60-100 years of Spanish contact thousands of miles to the south. They also (among others) reported a different phenotype, similar to the horses of the Steppe and consistent with known migratory correlations.

I am unconvinced it is biologically believable to accept Spanish introduction as the only source of Equids in N. America.

Also, why do you dismiss Jay Kirkpatrick out of hand? Does his PhD in reproductive physiology somehow disqualify his work and words?

I will keep investigating. My concerns are many and the stakes are high for the horses. If we get it wrong they (and thousands of years of naturally selected genes) will be lost forever. We owe history and the horses a concerted effort to determine the truth. We expend million$ to perpetuate unnatural conditions in our Elk herds, for one example, and revere the Bison, which though they've been here a while are not native to North America. Our laws were intended to offer similar status and protection to wild horses, but I think we can all agree forty-odd years on, they are in trouble.

These arguments may be unresolvable; we may all choose different periods of time to determine nativity but can surely agree with genetic data indicating horses are native to this place, reintroduced or not, and therefore deserve more measured consideration than non-native, invasive species (like cattle, for instance).

Many sources have declared Bison are not Native to N. America, but arrived around 10,000 years BP over the Bering Strait. Here's one source:

"One kind of buffalo is native to Asia and another is native to Africa; none is native to North America."
(From American Bison: A Natural History by Dale F. Lott)
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 11:50 AM
Nancie...you're right about multiple sources. We know the Spaniards deplored multi-colored horses and their mustangs were all pretty much dull brown. Yet up north you find the ancestor's of the appaloosa or spotted horses and paints. The physical attributes of the appaloosa as a 'mountain' horse didn't happen over night. It was bred over a long period of time to produce the speed and strength admired by the Nez Perce.

I learned while living in Alaska never to discount oral history's of our native brethren. They are typically spot on and they tell us they were riding horses long before the Spaniards arrived.
Emily Guerin
Emily Guerin Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 12:07 PM
UPDATE: Tom Davis, the suspected kill-buyer of the BLM's wild horses, is now under investigation by state and federal officials for shipping horses out of state in violation of Colorado brand laws. http://www.propublica.org/a[…]investigation-by-state-feds
Janet  Schultz
Janet Schultz Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 12:11 PM
If you google Adobe Town in WY, you will find reference to archeological digs unearthing equid fossils. This is a quote from one such reference: "Hidden in the eroded stone are the fossils of ancient mammals, such as woolly rhinoceroses and giant ground sloths that stood eight feet tall at the shoulder. Thousands of years ago, grassy savannas covered these lands during a period of more moderate climate, and a rich fauna that included primitive horses, camels, and antelopes roamed this land. Adobe Town has become one of the nation's most important dig sites for paleontologists studying these long-extinct animals. Much later, the lakeshore environments found here were frequented by bands of early prehistoric peoples, who left a rich records of their passing in the form of campsites and tool-making stations are only beginning to be studied by archaeologists." this is the link: http://www.voiceforthewild.org/[…]/adobetown_op.html

There is also a recent article of fossilized equid bones being found near Los Angeles. I have to laugh at the arrogance of man. http://articles.latimes.com/[…]/la-sci-fossils-20100921
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 12:16 PM
Nancie, I believe you're misreading the work by Dale Lott and perhaps conflating the names buffalo and bison. If you research a bit more I believe you'll find that the North American bison did evolve in North America.

One important distinction about native vs. non-native is whether humans were a direct causative agent in dispersal. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests humans were directly responsible for the horses currently found roaming wild in North America, hence do not fit the definition of native.

Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 12:24 PM
Tim there is nothing in the scientific argument about human intervention. In fact the article posted above clearly states that domestication had little to do with the true genetics.

This is the science..."The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co‐evolved with its habitat. Clearly, E. 6 caballus did both, here in North American. There might be arguments about "breeds," but there are no scientific grounds for arguments about "species.""

Humans are not an issue.
Janet  Schultz
Janet Schultz Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 12:31 PM
hmm, sitting here wondering what the conversation would be if the continents had never broken and floated away from each other. Can we get some prospective? Or is this why we developed a brain? so we could argue
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 12:38 PM
That's because those particular authors have chosen to ignore the issue. That doesn't mean it isn't relevant to the discussion. The majority of definitions about what constitutes a native vs. non-native species directly discuss human intervention because we are the motive force behind the introductions. Ignoring that doesn't make it go away.

I should mention that taxonomy is often one of the most argumentative of scientific disciplines because it all depends on where you draw the lines. Currently I believe the domestic horse is viewed as Equus ferus caballus which occurs because some group of taxonomists agreed that the domestic horse makes a clade distinct from the wild horse (Equus ferus ferus) which is extinct and Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) which has a very small remnant population (mostly in zoos).

The process of domestication results in animals with smaller brains (about 14% in horses), and in horses, more slender builds and longer-limbs. Recent research on the Y chromosome in horses also shows a remarkable lack of diversity compared to wild ancestors. Mitochondrial genetics (which the research you cite uses) traces the matrilineal lines and is more diverse because of suspected repeated introductions of mares of wild Eurasian stock during the domestication process. All of these suggest that the horses roaming free in the U.S. are most appropriately considered as historic legacies and not as native wildlife. The same argument applies to the burro although more so since their phylogenetic links are even more remote.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 12:38 PM
LOL Janet. Good thought! Makes you think more on a global level. We are all, animal, vegetable, and mineral native to the earth.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 01:01 PM
Tim...I posted a link to the research I quoted. I would appreciate your doing the same. So far it's just a lot of "I believe" and "Recent research says" or the best..."The majority of definitions about what constitutes native vs non-native species"...hell most are spouted out by people, i.e. the BLM, with an agenda. If ruled 'native wildlife' then their heinous abuses would be deemed criminal and the Wild Horse and Burro Program employees would all be out of a job.

Your bio says you're a professor...I expect you have access to your sources?
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 01:42 PM
I'm not at my office so I don't have access to most of my sources, but for a legal definition :


Or look at wikipedia's entry on the subject:


Here's one on the Y-chromosome research


As for the language I use, I think you'll find most scientists will use similar phrasing because of the very nature of the scientific method. We can only draw inferences from evidence because we still lack perfect information and we (mostly) admit it. That doesn't keep us from talking about the consensus view of the science or our own interpretations of the research, based on individual backgrounds and experience, and at the moment, the evidence and definitions we use indicate that the horse in North America should not be considered a native species.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 12, 2012 02:21 PM
Oh gosh, please don't quote wikipedia. I can go in to any article in wikipedia and change it to say what I want it to say until someone else changes it to their way of thinking...or did you not know that?

By definition:

na·tive (ntv)
1. Existing in or belonging to one by nature; innate: native ability.
2. Being such by birth or origin: a native Scot.
3. Being one's own because of the place or circumstances of one's birth: our native land.
4. Originating, growing, or produced in a certain place or region; indigenous: a plant native to Asia.
a. Being a member of the original inhabitants of a particular place.
b. Of, belonging to, or characteristic of such inhabitants: native dress; the native diet of Polynesia.
6. Occurring in nature pure or uncombined with other substances: native copper.
7. Natural; unaffected: native beauty.
8. Archaic Closely related, as by birth or race.

I was born in Texas therefore I am a native Texan. But I haven't lived there for a very long time...am I still a native of Texas?

'Consensus', 'experience', 'evidence' and 'definitions we use'...sounds like 'spin' to me.

I'm turning off this thread...this article is about the horses and burros defined in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and that is what I will deal with from this moment forward.
Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 04:26 PM
It has been reported that Secretary Salazar threatened to "punch out" Dave Philipps following an interview last week. The Secretary then refused to shake hands with Ginger Kathrens, Volunteer Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation, a leading wild-horse advocacy organization, advising her that she "should never do that." What "that" was, was not clear. Here is the link:

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Nov 12, 2012 05:18 PM
Well sometimes those little lessons in cultural etiquette are learned via the point of the chin.

Kudos Stephanie for not using the word "wild" once. I'd of felt better about Philipps article if he'd skipped it too. The bill is wild, the horse isn't.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 05:27 PM
Tim, I have to disagree about Mr. Lott. If you read the intro to the book I posted he declares his own confusion about using the terms buffalo or bison, deciding bison sounds more scientific but that he prefers the term buffalo because he grew up with it. In any event he is referring to the same species.

I've also got to question your supposition about human dispersal negating nativity... if horses were all originally from North America (which is scientifically accepted) then people moved them around it changes nothing. It's like saying if I bought a Ford pickup, then drove it to Mexico, and came back I am somehow driving an imported car.

I haven't time to read all the posted links but intend to soon.

Have to agree with Steve, too. Wikipedia is useless to cite as a credible source.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 06:44 PM
Nancie, I haven't read the book, I was assuming you had misread him because the ancestral bison have been in the New World for about 2 million years and show clear evidence of having evolved here from much larger-bodied ancestors. It was a common argument in the past that there were no 'buffalo' in North America because the bison weren't considered 'buffalo'. But if he used the names synonymously then he appears to have been mistaken about the evolutionary history.

When it comes to what's considered native species, humans moving things around matters a lot. Your Ford is unlikely to start breeding and outcompeting Chevy for gas. This is a widely held definition of native whether we're talking about animals or plants or any other living organism (aside from humans). I honestly don't know how to make it any clearer than that.

I didn't intend for the wiki definition to be used as a scientific source rather that it indicates a common understanding of how we define indigenous species.

But I've taken up enough comment space over this issue. Thanks for all the civility in the discussion.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 07:38 PM
Tim, point taken. It would be frightening if my truck could reproduce itself...but would make me wealthy if it could!

Tonight I found journal evidence from Northern Alberta in 1754 indicating well-skilled horse cultures hunting buffalo/bison there in Northern Canada. I need to dig deeper but two sources claim one village had 2-300 lodges and they did not know how to use canoes. There are references to two kinds of saddles as well, one which sounds like those Mongolians use.

I have some friends working on population scenarios to figure what a population starting with two horses could multiply to in 100-150 years. Allowing for some mortality, one foal per year per mare (best case), 50% of the foals born being female, the allee affect on ousted young stallions, and the BLMs's own estimate of an overall population increase of 20% per year, what could an unconstrained population be? Under what conditions could it be possible that tribes north of Calgary could have acquired skills and "vast" herds in such a short time, from such a small initial population so far away?

Janet  Schultz
Janet Schultz Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 09:18 PM
I just read an article on the Mongolian horses making a comeback. started with 5 individuals.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 09:22 PM
Nancie, starting with 2 horses, a 100 year time span, and a 20% annual rate of increase, you could expect approximately 165 million horses. That's assuming no upper limits (carrying capacity) on the population, which isn't a reasonable assumption, but the numbers show the potential is there.
Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin Subscriber
Nov 12, 2012 09:37 PM
These projected numbers appear off. Would you please show us your worksheets, your computations, your assumptions.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 13, 2012 07:55 AM
Marybeth - this is a very simplified explanation, hope it helps.

The logistic equation is a commonly used tool to model wildlife populations and is usually given as dN/dt = rNt-1((K-N)/K) for any single time period. However since I assumed that K (carrying capacity) was infinite for this example, I simplified the equation to N = N0*(1+r)^t where N0 = 2 (the starting population) and N equals the population in t years, r = the reproductive rate (20% or .20) and t equals the time in years (100 in our example). This comes out to N = 2* (1 + 0.20)^100 which equals 165,635,949. (The ^ indicates an exponent)

Many wildlife populations, including horses, exhibit what we call exponential growth rates which can result in very high populations relatively quickly. In the real world, the rate of increase decreases over time because the population uses up resources and approaches carrying capacity where it stabilizes. Large herbivores often overshoot carrying capacity and the population then plummets (e.g. mule deer on Kaibab plateau in the early 1900's) as they modify the environment in a negative way that reduces future carrying capacity (i.e. over-grazing which removes some species of forage). The presence of predators, hunting, disease, or other factors can function as caps on populations which keep primary consumers below the theoretical maximum.

The number I generated is just a primitive estimate of a theoretical population with no limits that increases at a rate of 20% per year. It's highly unlikely that horses in North America could ever sustain that rate even before Europeans settled the area but it does demonstrate that over a relatively short time period, they can show dramatic population increases.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 13, 2012 07:58 AM
Whoops, I should've said that it was a very brief explanation, not a simplified one (I left out an explanation of the calculus of the logistic equation). I didn't mean for it to sound condescending, just that I couldn't be complete in a comment box.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 13, 2012 11:18 AM
Thanks, Tim. I will have to review with more time. The formula you used is a tool I have but lately learned about. Those numbers seem extraordinarily high to me, even given exponential growth. Horses do not breed like rabbits, one foal per year best case, and half of those would not be female and would be driven off by the dominant stallion to find... no mates unless there was another population already extant.

At core I can't help but consider that if only two (one male, one female) originally escaped somewhere in Mexico, the odds they would have even survived seem slim. Even with the best care possible in today's world, conception, delivery and survival rates in domestic horses are in the range of 50-75%.

Thanks for your work, but I agree with Marybeth it bears some clarification.
Lisa LeBlanc
Lisa LeBlanc
Nov 13, 2012 12:07 PM
Absent in Mr. Baker's calculations - and much of the data presented by the BLM - is mortality. Surprisingly enough, wild horses and burros DO die, both on the range and in captivity. And Mr. Baker's calculations also assume a 20% increase per annum based on the herd's entirety rather than the percentage of animals capable of bring a live foal to bear - mares and jennies.
Not every pregnancy comes to term. Not every foal born lives. Many do not live past their first birthday. While the two separate species - horses and burros - can live long lives, 'gather' reports that differentiate ages of animals removed illustrate less than 2% are in their teens. And those reports that differentiate 'foals' from mares/jennies from stallions/jacks rarely hit the 20% mark - it's more likely between 12% and 18%, further demonstrating that only a small percentage of mares/jennies participate in breeding in a given year.
There are myriad reasons for these animals to perish on the range - as with any wild species. Mr. Baker's calculations indicate not only longevity, but perpetuity - as do BLM estimates and predictions.
There are herd management areas within the system that have experienced an absence of human interference for more than a decade, yet these populations remain small and stable, operating within the constraints of their environments. Few wildlife species breed simply for the sake of breeding without an outside stressor - and wild equines are no exception.
Every iteration of equus on the planet now owes it's existence to a progenitor that evolved in North America. But whether the belief in them is as either invader or a returned native is irrelevant. The BLM is charged with administration of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, which is certainly NOT a list of suggestions but has been amended, ratified and 'interpreted' since it's inception soley for the purpose of ensuring the continued removal of these animals by any means necessary.
It's the position of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program that a wild equine requires 1,253 acres - foals included - to survive, but bases these requirements on viewing the ranges as a static environment that will adhere to a set formula for a set period. Or that the animals themselves are somehow static, that their behaviors change not at all.
These animals are constrained to live in artificially-drawn ranges they must share with livestock. Public lands livestock and most wildlife, however, are under no such constraints.
IF a crisis exists, it is a carefully orchestrated one. Wild equine populations and herd dynamics are rarely based on either field study or observation, but on theory, projections and estimates. How can any living species be managed properly if the managing body bases it's strategy on paperwork and mathematics alone?
Lisa LeBlanc
Lisa LeBlanc
Nov 13, 2012 12:25 PM
My apologies: Less than 2% are in their 20's...
Louie  Cocroft
Louie Cocroft
Nov 14, 2012 12:58 PM
America’s Wild Horses and Burros are anything BUT overpopulated. At best, there are barely 21,000 left and they are disappearing fast. If the roundups and removals are allowed to continue there will be NO Wild Horses OR Burros left in the United States. It is their Legally designated land that has disappeared. More than 22 Million acres have been taken from them and that is a conservative estimate. WHERE has that land gone and to WHO?

Compiled by Carla Bowers 10/26/11 Revised 11/6/11
For NAS/NRC Study Panel of BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program
All numbers above are verifiable
22.2 million: Number of acres WH&B have lost since 1971
21,354: WH&B population as of 2/28/11 using BLM’s own data & 20% growth model (independent analysis)
America’s “legally protected” WH&B are not getting a fair share of land, forage & water.
The AML range of 16,000-26,600 for WH&B is too low & threatens the genetic viability & survival of healthy, self-sustaining herds over the long-term.
An independent, state-of-the-art census is required
Louie  Cocroft
Louie Cocroft
Nov 14, 2012 01:01 PM
 Underpopulated not overpopulated
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 14, 2012 06:17 PM
"Few wildlife species breed simply for the sake of breeding without an outside stressor - and wild equines are no exception."

I keep thinking to myself that I'm going to stop replying to this thread but this particular statement by Ms. LeBlanc has me flummoxed since it seems to go against basic biology.

And just to clarify, the 20% rate I used is net recruitment based on empirical observation from a number of different studies here in the U.S. and abroad (e.g. New Zealand), which does take into account mortality and proportion of successful matings but were probably observed under ideal conditions for survival (most reported 95-98% adult survival year-to-year). It might well be too high to use as a long term rate -- I've read one review of the literature on feral horse reproduction which suggests 15% new recruitment rate is probably more reasonable as an overall estimate. I just used the 20% value to demonstrate that high numbers are possible in the course of 100 years if not environmentally constrained.

And finally (I promise), we should probably keep in mind that there are an estimated 58,000,000 horses scattered across the planet (domestic and feral) so this isn't exactly an endangered species we're talking about.
Louie  Cocroft
Louie Cocroft
Nov 14, 2012 06:42 PM
By: E. Gus Cothran, PhD., Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky

One of the major focuses of conservation biology and genetic management of small populations is the preservation of genetic variability. This topic is of particular relevance to the Wild Horse and Burro Program because the majority of wild equid populations managed by the BLM are kept at population sizes that are small enough for the loss of genetic variation to be a real concern. Because a loss of genetic variability can lead to a reduction in fertility or viability of individuals in a population, it is critical that genetic considerations be included in management plans for wild equid populations. An important aspect of utilizing genetic information in management planning is an understanding of what is meant by the term genetic variation and how genetic variability can be measured in horse and burro populations.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 14, 2012 06:43 PM
I got curious to see how far this conversation has come and was puzzled that, as best I can see, Mr. Baker has yet to quote a source other than hear say. The definition (I know it's not yours because you have a special dictionary for really smart people) of feral is an animal that escapes captivity and returns to a state of being wild. Should that animal reproduce with another feral animal and the resulting birth is an animal that has never been domesticated then that animal is wild...NOT feral. Feral refers to the state of the one animal...fe·ral (fîrl, fr-)
a. Existing in a wild or untamed state.
b. Having returned to an untamed state from domestication.

Ms LeBlanc is correct and had you had any direct dealings with employees of the BLM you'd know they count births even still borns as a birth, if the foal breaks a leg and cannot nurse and starves to death they still count but they do not deduct for the deaths of horses. Even the ones who's bodies are found much less those that just don't come around anymore.

Get involved with the people who do the actual work and you'll find out the truth. I can also tell you there have been several high ranking field personnel who have decided they will no longer be involved with the lying and deceit of the agency and have quit because of it. Others will soon follow because they have dug a hole too deep and they literally have no options they are willing to accept. They've sent up a test balloon with the Tom Davis news story and the possibility that 1700 horses were sent directly to slaughter and as feared the public outcry was horrific. They will not be doing that again for sometime. So now what do they do?

Sorry, I was flummoxed
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 14, 2012 07:17 PM
So Steve (et al) is there any possibility of getting wild horse and burro management out of BLM purview, like into a separate agency, or private hands, or? It's clear there's a big problem, a lot of passion all around, not a lot of hard science and an unsustainable situation. Getting BLM out of the picture might at least make a fresh start.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 14, 2012 07:38 PM
I would require the repeal of the 40 year old Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act that Congress passed unanimously (try doing that today). The Act dictates the BLM takes charge therefore it is the law. We have to first get Congress' attention then figure out how to fix the problem.

My suggestion is to stop gathering horses and let mother nature take over. Equids will regulate to the range capacity eventually. We have to give them time to adjust after all the human intervention so it may take many years. The horses currently in captivity especially geldings would probably need to be held, maybe some more recent captures could be returned home, simply because of age or newly learned behaviors dealing with incarceration.

I'm not sure. The BLM says they are the experts but yet the problem they've created for themselves may just be the turning point for the advocates of the wild horses and their continued freedom. As I mentioned in an earlier post there are less than 100k wild horses and we keep rounding them up but there are over 1,000,000 elk and they aren't being rounded up. Both are 4 legged ungulates so why one and not the other?

It's a good question Nancie. I'm still looking forward to reading the information you sent...possibly this weekend. Today we started a drive to draft Raul Grijalva to succeed Ken Salazar as his departure appears eminent.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 15, 2012 09:56 AM
Steve, I can answer part of your question. Elk have a most-favored-nation sort of status, though horses do not. I've eaten my share of elk so don't get me wrong, but I suggest everyone read Bruce Smith's book, "Where Elk Roam" to get an idea of how intertwined politics, public opinion, and taxpayer dollars and wildlife can become, especially in light of public perception.

Steve, two questions. One, call me ignorant, but why not release geldings? Social disruption? Seems to me the BLM proposes gelding studs anyway so I don't catch your reasoning here. Second, if the Act were repealed, wouldn't horses be more vulnerable in the interim?

I'm especially interested in not losing the genetics in our horses, so would propose some method of gathering/storing DNA from captured horses, no matter what their eventual home is.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 15, 2012 10:25 AM
Geldings often seem to end up as social outcasts. To hear some from the BLM tell it they are a viable member of society and will fight for mares and hold them like stallions, but expert equine observers tell a much different story. They say they won't fight for mares like a stallion but gather together in bachelor type groups. In my opinion they become what we call a 'pasture' horse if you know what I mean. This is one of the flaws with the plan agreed to by Madeline Pickens. She wanted a place for folks to come see wild horses in their natural state and the BLM is offering 900 geldings. Being castrated is not a natural state and who would want to come watch horses graze? Most would want to observe the 'mating rituals', the altercations to gain mares etc.

As to your second question a repeal would have to wait for it's replacement to be drafted, debated and decided on. I may have mentioned it before but as I battle members of Congress I get all kinds of thoughts as to what they think the Act is about. One of the most prominent up and coming Republican Senators Marco Rubio told me the Act was put in place so we could gather over-populations of wild horses. We all know that is the farthest thing from the truth. Few if any members of Congress comprehend the Spirit of the Act and it's intentions. Velma Johnston a.k.a. Wild Horse Annie's dream was the herds to be managed but not to be managed in a large zoo. They were to be managed on the open range, still free to run, to have their families and enjoy the life God gave them.

I agree that as things progress with the current mindset of Washington that gathering and storing DNA is an excellent idea. Although asking our government to do this would not be a good idea. Possibly colleges and universities across the country could conduct the program. I'm sure with Dr. Gus Cothran being the world's leading equine geneticist could get his school, Texas A&M, to participate and of course if A&M does anything the University of Texas has to do the same then Texas Tech then OU then Kansas State...many many schools could participate.

Great idea!
Robert Laybourn
Robert Laybourn Subscriber
Nov 15, 2012 12:29 PM
What a lot of misinformation and hot air, it makes me tired and is a measure of just how misguided so many people are.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 15, 2012 04:30 PM
Mr. Laybourn, yourself excepted I presume?

Some of us are honestly interested in this issue and trying to sort out its complexities, starting with the law and its intention in 1971. These animals are a public resource, on public lands, so it seems to me the public (whatever their opinions) have a rightful place in these discussions.

If you are too tired and judgemental to add anything to the conversation, I respect that but ask you to please abstain from blanket denigration of others' opinions and concerns. Thanks in advance.
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden Subscriber
Nov 15, 2012 05:00 PM
Nancie's great comment is the 100th comment here and marks a real milestone. How? A great man (Mahama Gandhi) once said that how we treat our animals is how we will treat each other. If this is even close to being true, then we need to leave no stone unturned in search of the proper way for handling not only the question of American mustangs, but every topic to which we apply our brawn and intellect. Why? Because as the saying goes, as we sow, so shall we reap.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 15, 2012 05:07 PM
I note by Mr. Laybourn's photo he's a great white hunter. I guess they don't have grocery stores near him...OR...he's just blood thirsty and prefers killing to preservation.
Penelope Blair
Penelope Blair Subscriber
Nov 15, 2012 09:23 PM
It is a very sad day when "scientist" consider "data" and "findings" more important than the wild, sentient beings we call animals! They handle our wildlife way too much and for all of the wrong reasons. My wildest dream is to have all cattle and sheep removed from public lands in the next two or three years, and to return the land back to the animal populations. That would be beautiful! Mother Nature working as God intended, but it is way too late for such dreams. Man just has to meddle in all things.
Lisa LeBlanc
Lisa LeBlanc
Nov 15, 2012 10:55 PM
Sorry, Mr. Baker; the statement made more sense in my head than it does in the comment stream.
And I don't know if I can clarify it to your liking (because we seem to have diametrically opposing opinions)but I'd like to try:
IF wild equines breed 'indiscriminately', it's perhaps in response to having 25% of the entire population, (or 80% of an individual herd management area) - which exceeds recruitment rates, removed every year. Left relatively undisturbed, there is restraint. Gestation takes nearly a year and raising a foal to self-sufficiency takes another year. Published studies of wild populations usually focus on a single herd or herd area environment, even though these environments vary widely from state to state.
The standard-usage population modeling for most Western states is as the result of a single study in one area in Nevada; the study was conducted more than a decade ago, and the environment is not representative of every herd area environment. So the assumption is made that every herd behaves and reproduces identically, lives identical lifetimes, dies at the same rate. Most of these areas don't even have the same weather conditions, vegetation or predators.
But every species that is 'hunted' reacts to those losses in the same fashion - by trying to recreate what was lost. Left to their own devices, wild equines don't breed indiscriminately.
It's unfortunate that they are so reviled; they are an elegant and efficient species, more complex in social behaviors than most are willing to give them credit for. And they harm no one - not even the wildlife they share their ranges with. They have carved out a biological niche in conjunction with wildlife that is centuries old and pre-dates many of the reintroduced ungulate species that were hunted out of existence before the advent of livestock.
It's a pity that the disdain for wild equines isn't laid out in equal measure for livestock - the single largest threat to rangeland health.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Nov 16, 2012 10:53 AM
Reintroduce wolves to the intermountain West .... that'll take care of wild horses! (And make that beef leaner, too.) Tell ranchers they can keep wolves out of BLM land if they'll pay fair market rents.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 16, 2012 11:27 AM
So true Steve...the biggest complaint is the herds grow so fast because of so few predators...yet it was the ranchers who killed all the predators.
Nancie McCormish
Nancie McCormish Subscriber
Nov 16, 2012 12:25 PM
Hey all, hunting has its place in this discussion, too.

All these problems have balance at root, including how we come to understand each other as we seek better solutions to what we all agree is a difficult situation.

Reintroducing wolves would affect my life a lot, but I see logic in Mr. Snyder's approach since it would attempt to rebalance an order that was once sustainable. Humans have historically been keen to remove top predators, which we now understand equates to greater prey populations, either livestock or wild.

Maybe the right question is how to balance our human overpopulation in ways which don't overgraze our world and everything else inhabiting it.
Steve Stapp
Steve Stapp
Nov 16, 2012 01:15 PM
This is where human's being the top predator has created so many problems for our fellow creatures. It's our own comfort we wish for, not being afraid to walk out our door for fear of attack by a wolf, lion, or bear. In the parts of the country where those threats do exist we would rather kill first and ask questions later.

{ I saw a wolf and shot it...Had it harmed you?...Had it killed your cow?...Well no I just saw it was a wolf and shot it }

We have in our mind certain beliefs because it's what we've been taught. Human's are not on the food chain for grizzlies but don't get between a mom and her cub. Most often a grizzly will make a false charge and you'll never see it again. You'll probably have to change your britches but the bear most often times leaves.

In the writings of Lewis & Clark bear attacks occurred quite often and were mostly lethal. But not for food but out of fear of an unknown adversary. But bears also have some sense. They learned eventually that these 2 legged creatures carried these sticks that spewed fire and left their kin dead. So they learned a new behavior...HIDE. In Alaska they will tell you you could be standing within 10 feet of a brown bear in the brush and never know they were there.

It's a mindset. Even though we are the top predator we still fear the animals that can do us severe harm or even death. That's good. Leave them alone. You don't hurt them they won't hurt you.

Now wild horses are on the food chain and a young foal or an old mare is a much easier target for a mountain lion or a pack of wolves than even a cow. Cow's are really big and hard to take down. Too much energy expelled vs the replenishment gained.

The circle of life or the cycle is the perfect way to maintain balance on earth but man's greed of money, power, and yes even creature comforts has thrown it out of kilter and we may never get it back.

The other mindset we suffer is what a horse is supposed to look like. We grew up watching Trigger, Silver, Topper, Champion, Mr. Ed and many others in the movies and on TV. They were all beautiful, fat and well groomed. Now we see wild horses living in arid desert like surroundings looking thinner and not so well groomed and the American Public freaks. "We have to help them and feed them and make them pretty like they are supposed to be".

In my opinion too many of our federal law makers drive past large pastures of thoroughbreds and other magnificent horses that live in and around the D.C., Maryland, Virginia areas. Beautiful rolling hills with grand beast grazing on the lush green fields. When we as advocates try to explain that we have horses that will soon be extinct they do not understand. How could they become extinct when I drive past hundreds of them everyday? They have no concept of the differences between wild and domestic.

So when they hear debates on the floors of Congress to protect our wild horses they just can't fathom the need. Horses aren't becoming extinct...NO they are not. The horse as a species is not going away. They exist in nearly every country in the world. But the lineage of our wild horses, the sub-species if you will is going away if we do not stop the BLM, FWS, USFS, and the NPS. All these agencies have dominion over some of our wild horses somewhere.

A big problem is the BLM is the only one that has rules to play by...the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro act does not apply to the other agencies only the BLM.

Over the next 5 years the Sheldon-Hart Mtn Wildlife refuge complex in northern Nevada will zero out about 800 wild horses and 100 burros because they refuse to admit they are native or indigenous actually calling them an invasive alien animal....IN NEVADA? Wild horses ALIEN? The wildlife refuge is under the domain of the Fish and Wildlife Service so they can do whatever they want with the horses. That herd of horse pre-dates the existence of the refuge by many many years but they have decided and will not change their minds.

It's become evident that if you're going to be born on the North American Continent...don't be born a wild horse or burro. You'll be mistreated or even killed.
Louie  Cocroft
Louie Cocroft
Nov 16, 2012 01:51 PM
This article is too lengthy to post here, but it is any eye-opener and well worth reading.
These are a few excerpts:

killing agency: Wildlife Services' brutal methods leave a trail of animal death
By Tom Knudson
Published: Saturday, Apr. 28, 2012 - 9:00 pm | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 30, 2012 - 1:39 pm
First of three parts
The day began with a drive across the desert, checking the snares he had placed in the sagebrush to catch coyotes.
Gary Strader, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stepped out of his truck near a ravine in Nevada and found something he hadn't intended to kill.
There, strangled in a neck snare, was one of the most majestic birds in America, a federally protected golden eagle.
"I called my supervisor and said, 'I just caught a golden eagle and it's dead,' " said Strader. "He said, 'Did anybody see it?' I said, 'Geez, I don't think so.'
"He said, 'If you think nobody saw it, go get a shovel and bury it and don't say nothing to anybody.' "
"That bothered me," said Strader, whose job was terminated in 2009. "It wasn't right."
Strader's employer, a branch of the federal Department of Agriculture called Wildlife Services, has long specialized in killing animals that are deemed a threat to agriculture, the public and – more recently – the environment.
Since 2000, its employees have killed nearly a million coyotes, mostly in the West. They have destroyed millions of birds, from nonnative starlings to migratory shorebirds, along with a colorful menagerie of more than 300 other species, including black bears, beavers, porcupines, river otters, mountain lions and wolves.
And in most cases, they have officially revealed little or no detail about where the creatures were killed, or why. But a Bee investigation has found the agency's practices to be indiscriminate, at odds with science, inhumane and sometimes illegal.
The Bee's findings include:
• With steel traps, wire snares and poison, agency employees have accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000 that were not problems, including federally protected golden and bald eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets; and several species considered rare or imperiled by wildlife biologists.
• Since 1987, at least 18 employees and several members of the public have been exposed to cyanide when they triggered spring-loaded cartridges laced with poison meant to kill coyotes. They survived – but 10 people have died and many others have been injured in crashes during agency aerial gunning operations over the same time period.
• A growing body of science has found the agency's war against predators, waged to protect livestock and big game, is altering ecosystems in ways that diminish fbiodiversity, degrade habitat and invite disease.
Wild Horses
Wild Horses
Mar 19, 2013 05:38 PM
I am writing today because of our shared passion for the preservation and protection of America’s wild horses. In 2012 we made a movie titled, Wild Horses, which is directed by Stephanie Martin and shot by three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer, Robert Richardson.
Our ambition is to use the power of narrative film to raise awareness and inspire audiences to advocate for the freedom of American’s wild horses. With the production of this film completed, we need your help to complete the post production process of this project and get the film out there for the public to see. If you are able to help donate to our story, please visit our Indie Go Go campaign, http://www.indiegogo.com/[…]/2483161?c=home.

You can learn more about Wild Horses and the talented team working with us at www.wildhorsesthefilm.com and www.facebook.com/wildhorsesfilm

Thank you for your time and consideration of our project. Most of all, thank for your important work on behalf of the horses.

We are so grateful for your support,

Stephanie Martin, Jessica Walsh, Tara Tucker and Justin Dalzell

Director and Producers of Wild Horses
Email: wildhorsescontact@gmail.com
Web: www.wildhorsesthefilm.com