Government needs to restore wild horses
December 2, 2008
While relieved that the lives of the 33,000 wild horses seem to have been spared though the generosity of Madeleine Pickens, I still hold our federal government responsible and call for the restoration of the now largely empty, but still legal herd areas. America should consider the relative proportions of wild horses/burros, livestock, and big game animals, both within the original 53,444,499 acres where the wild horses/burros have a legal right and upon the public lands as a whole. Doing so will reveal a terrible injustice that has been perpetrated contrary to the law and public will.
Over 95 percent of the original herd areas and over 98 percent of the reduced herd management areas are leased to livestock grazers and most of their remaining resources relegated to big game animals. This is in clear violation of the Wild Horse Act that states that wild horses/burros are to be treated as the “principal” presences in these areas. The unappreciative bullies who seem to call the shots on the public lands are not satisfied with already getting the hog’s share of public lands resources, but perversely insist on marginalizing the wild horses/burros even within those greatly reduced herd management areas that are still inhabited by their scant populations.
Over 19 million, or 36 percent, of the original legal herd areas on BLM/USFS lands have been zeroed out, including 7,658,302 BLM acres, or 18 percent of the original acreage, and 5,986,112 forest service acres for an outrageous 53 percent. There has been an effective displacement of the wild horses/burros from at least 3⁄4 of the public lands to which they are legally entitled. In other words, of the ca. 4,522 livestock permittees originally having to share, 1,612 no longer have to bother. Forage eaten yearly by livestock on BLM lands is about 7 million animal unit months. This contrasts with only 381,120 AUMs used by the tiny remnant of wild horses/burros.
The latter consume only 5.3 percent of the total used in combination with livestock. And when forage consumed by big game animals is taken into account, wild horses/burros are responsible for less than 2 percent. On Forest Service lands, livestock devour 6.6 million AUMs per year, yet wild horses and burros eat a mere 32,592 AUMs – than .005 percent of what livestock consumes. (Two percent is also the proportion of nation-wide livestock production represented by all the public lands.)
I call for major reform in our nation’s wild horse and burro program and a restoration of these National Heritage Species in all of their over 300 original 1971 herd areas.
This is where the 33,000 captured horses should be released but this time under the protection of public servants who really care for them and defend their rights to freedom, to fill their vacant ecological niche in the natural world.
These wide-ranging herbivores are perfect for reducing dry flammable vegetation, re-seeding native plants, and building soils. They are also a wonderful aesthetic resource. And North America is their evolutionary cradle and rightful home.
– Craig Downer is a wildlife ecologist and Minden resident.