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Know the West

The insanity of wild horse management


Blaming wild horses alone for overgrazing of public lands fails to comprehend they are victims of “management” as are taxpayers (“The Navajo Nation has a wild horse problem,” HCN, 10/6/17). It is also clear that in the remaining areas on public lands where wild horses and burros are allowed to exist at all, they share those lands with grazing livestock, making it next to impossible to establish a baseline of impact that separates these species in those ecosystems. Even removing livestock for a few years solves nothing, as state and transition models gaining favor today point to systemic shifts, which are still occurring as a result of the mass introduction of grazing livestock in the Free Range Era. We are in largely unknown territory, and accommodating the conflicting needs of public, private and natural systems stakeholders has few blueprints, especially in times of drought and larger climatic disruptions.

Any ungulates confined in a fixed space and kept there while their predators are killed off will — of course — overuse the resource base. How is this their problem, not ours? We are the supposedly sentient beings tasked with their ethical and intelligent management. Allowing populations to overshoot resources and then using that as justification for mass killing seems pretty primitive. Surely there are interim approaches (some already known but not being given a fair trial) that can and should be encouraged. Among these would be removing domestic livestock from the remaining horse areas, incentivizing grazing-permit holders to manage some number of wild horses within their permit areas, and perhaps providing the public with a way to vote with their pocketbooks to support keeping wild horses in the wild, by buying an annual habitat stamp — with those funds used for habitat improvements, careful genetic analysis, and selected contraceptive and limited adoption strategies.

I think we all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, expecting a different result. We can and must get off this path, together, and soon.

Nancie McCormish
Steamboat Springs, Colorado