Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires restoration

Fish Springs herd wild horse Copper in captivity in 2019 after being trapped in the East Valley.

Fish Springs herd wild horse Copper in captivity in 2019 after being trapped in the East Valley.

I am writing you today as a wild horse and burro advocate and wildlife ecologist who is familiar with many of the herds throughout the West and has striven since boyhood to have these wonderful animals protected as viable populations in viable habitats.

I knew and worked with the legendary Wild Horse Annie and have studied and written a number of articles and two books about them. This year, 2021, will be the 50th anniversary of the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but the current policies being enacted, hypocritically called “a path forward,” are hell-bent on practically eliminating the wild and naturally living herds and terribly altering the fitness and natural integrity of those non-viable vestiges that would remain.

The Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior together with the U.S. Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture are charged by the WFHBA to preserve, protect and defend, as well as manage, America’s wild equid herds wherever they were found in 1971, which means in their year-round habitats, on those lands under these agencies’ jurisdictions, yet the great majority of the legal BLM Herd Areas and USFS Territories have been “zeroed out,” i.e. officials have decided not to be managed for wild equids in these.

Then, very unfairly, these agencies have assigned outrageously low so-called appropriate management levels to those areas they claim will still have “healthy” herds, yet which are at genetically non-viable levels, and often administered fertility drugs that alter their fitness and ability to survive and suppress their individual well-being.

These agencies have even shamelessly approved of cruel ovariectomies in the field that would undoubtedly cause terrible suffering and death to the mares so mercilessly victimized. This is happening in the Confusion herd of western Utah today.

Section 2c of the WFHBA clearly states that the wild horses and burros will receive the “principal” resources in their legal areas, but all the opposite is happening as our public officials, in cahoots with the wild horses’ and burros’ chief enemies, persistently sabotage the true and noble spirit and intent of this wonderful law.

They are supposed to be protected and provided for as “integral” components of the public lands ecosystem and to be recognized as “contributing to the diversity” of species in our nation, which is abundantly proven and true.

As a native Nevadan who grew up riding a chestnut horse named Poco and searching out herds throughout the West, I possess a profound appreciation of naturally living horses and burros. I recognize that every horse or burro is “wild at heart,” i.e. much more natural than domesticated, or altered by us humans. As I progressed in my studies and observations, I realized that their ancestral roots trace back deeply – even millions of years – into North American history and that this continent is their evolutionary cradle.

Furthermore, as I acquired a deeper understanding of the unique biology and ecological niche of members of the horse family as well as other Perissodactyla (my specialty), I realized that horses and burros were very important in restoring balance in many North American ecosystems. One prime specific is that they provide a much-needed balance to all the many ruminant-digesting, cloven-hoofed herbivores, such as cattle, sheep and deer that are often foisted in excessive numbers onto public and private lands to be “harvested” – thus depriving the ecosystems that sustained them of what would naturally be recycled in the form of their mortal remains.

Furthermore, horses and burros restore soils by contributing less degraded organic matter in their feces, and also more intact seeds of a greater variety. This makes soils more nutrient-rich and water-retaining – which bolsters water tables and species diversity – and they do this to a superior degree when compared with the ruminants.

Also, of critical importance, is their role in reducing flammable vegetation and, thus, mitigating catastrophic wildfires, now alarmingly increasing due to global warming.

These equid species are natural healers and enhancers of ecosystems, and they must not continue to be cruelly eliminated from their legal areas, or nearly so, and imprisoned in spirit-killing corrals and holding pastures. These are real concentration camps of misery and death, as I have so often observed! My book The Wild Horse Conspiracy and my articles, including scientific and peer-reviewed, are available online or via my website, thewildhorseconspiracy.org, along with my extensive reports and reference sources.

As a professional, I have elaborated a plan for restoring these wonderful animals at genetically viable population levels. This strategy would allow each herd to naturally adapt to its unique ecosystem and to harmoniously self-stabilize its numbers as its ecological niche is filled. I explain in my Reserve Design proposal how this can be done and why it would be the most humane and honorable “path forward.”

Reserve Design would truly fulfill the noble and progressive Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, rather than make a mockery of it as is presently happening.

This Reserve Design proposal is a Go Fund me project that I have been working on for several years, but it needs to become the policy of those agencies charged with upholding the WFHBA. If these agencies continue their perverse policies toward America’s last wild horses and burros, then an amendment to the law should be passed to create a separate, autonomous agency that would restore these magnificent “national heritage species” throughout the West in and around their legal areas, including through the formation of benign Cooperative Agreements permitted by the Act’s Sections 4 and 6.

Wild horse and burro herd and habitat restoration through Reserve Design needs to happen in 2021. This would give us all something to genuinely celebrate at the 50th Anniversary of this noble and life-restoring act. I have a Move On petition (Stop the Excessive Roundups …) that has now reached 15,000 signers that I am planning on delivering to Congress, pertinent BLM and USFS officials as well as to the president in 2021. America needs to restore, not continue to torture and obliterate, its naturally living horses and burros and over-exploit its habitats. The intrinsic value and majesty of these naturally living horses and burros are one with the very soul of America. We must not break our treaty with them.

Craig C. Downer is a Minden resident and wild horse advocate.


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