A Biologist’s View on Wild Horse and Burro Fake News

Commentary by Robert Bauer

“…any devastation of western rangelands, is due rather to an overpopulation of cattle, which have been found to outnumber the wild horses 100 to 1…”

photo by Carol Walker of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

As a biologist, I have been involved in documenting the issues concerning this nation’s wild horses for years, along with many others. While keeping in mind the emotional effect that the wild horses have on millions, both in a negative and positive way, I have also devoted myself to understanding and communicating, from an objective and scientific standpoint, the truth about wild equine. Nature has proven herself to be able to maintain a thriving natural ecological balance, untouched and unmanaged, if allowed, without artificial intervention by mankind. This, also incorporates this nation’s wild horses. Wild horses and burros are not overpopulated as many have attested, nor are they a detriment, but rather an overwhelming benefit. On our western rangelands, indeed, any devastation of western rangelands, is due rather to an overpopulation of cattle, which have been found to outnumber the wild horses 100 to 1.

Photographic evidence has shown that the grazing habits of cattle, coupled with their physiological makeup, has caused an uprooting of vegetation, as well as the destruction of riparian habitats and other water sites. This in turn has had a destructive effect on wildlife, including the wild horses who use these same natural resources. The positive effects of wild horses on our western rangelands can be understood by reflecting on these following truths.

1. It must be realized that nature through its own mechanisms is fully able to maintain natural ecological balance, without human intervention. It does this through physiological differences, found within each species inside any given ecosystem. Each of those differences, contribute as a vital factor in a broad ecological equation, allowing each species, including wild equine to fill a vital niche in the balance of nature. It also accomplishes this through the numbers or density of any given species of animal or plant within that system, in conjunction with competitive species, and the carrying capacity of the land. Sterilization and or contraceptives have been proposed to check wild equine population growth disregarding the presence of its predators, natural environmental factors, and competitive grazers. Natural predation and environmental impacts are vital in regulating the numbers of ungulates and ruminants alike in any given area. Density dependent inhibition, however, must not be ruled out and plays an important role as well. In this scenario, the numbers or density of wild equine, versus competing ruminants, as the pronghorn antelope, will each fluctuate in response to the other based upon the carrying capacity of the land, yet always in perfect balance. The Pronghorn and other ruminants, therefore, need the presence of wild horses and burros and vice versa. Each population will have the effect of keeping the numbers of another competing population at levels that are ideal for the carrying capacity of the land. As an added note, it is deep in my heart to convey the truth that nature through its own mechanisms is fully able to maintain natural ecological balance, without human intervention to adjust it, even though it is necessary to monitor nature, communicate those facts, for the purposes of adjusting mankind to accommodate nature so that it can be itself.

2. Within the physiological and behavioral makeup of the wild horses and burros, there also exist what could be called self-regulating mechanisms. These mechanisms serve to govern reproduction and subsequent population growth or the lack thereof. An increase in the gestation period of wild horses, (delayed implantation), and spontaneous abortion come into play during periods of environmental stress within a system, as well as selective breeding by a stallion within a band, if indeed the stallion breeds at all. In short, environmental stress has the overall effect of limiting reproduction. Added to this are annual mortality rates established in a NAS study which range between 14% to 50% in wild horses up to 1 year, and 5% to 25% for horses older than this. These above mechanisms do, indeed maintain the proper density of wild horses in any given area, perfectly, in balance with competitive grazers and predators. It does this without sterilization, without the PZP contraceptive, and without roundups. It therefore establishes at any given time, nature’s own appropriate management levels, levels which nature adjusts continually, based on the above biological factors.

3. Also, what must be understood is that nature is dynamic, and not static. This infers that it continuously fluctuates and adjusts itself, through its own feedback loops, from the molecular, all the way up the scale of organisms. Because it is dynamic and not static means that its functions cannot be confined to finite thinking, and fixed statistics but must be allowed, through its own mechanisms to maintain itself, hands off, so to speak. In other words, nature cannot be limited at any given time to a given number, or average of numbers, that mankind deems appropriate. An example of this is the Bureau of Land Management’s, “Appropriate Management Level”, of wild horses in their legally designated lands. Mankind’s sole responsibility must be focused on keeping the restrictions off nature, so that nature can be itself, and not an offspring of man’s seemingly brilliance. The moment mankind seeks to alter nature according to a fixed number, or an average of numbers, is the moment that nature and balance itself begins to break down. At first it occurs little by little, yet as artificial alteration persists, the breakdowns become greater and greater. This has occurred in every branch of nature, where mankind has endeavored to manage natural balance, assuming nature to be static and not dynamic.

4. Another issue that must be considered is that the numbers of the wild horses remaining in the wild are not even in the teens of thousands anymore, contrary to the assertions to the contrary. This statement may seem bold yet is based upon Bureau of Land Management statistics, factoring in reproduction, PZP, adjustment of sex ratios, and the thousands of wild horses and burros that have been continually removed. Factored in also, are mortality rates, already mentioned above, both first year and adult, that nature herself applies. These issues combined, have driven numbers in most areas out west down to levels where genetic viability has been compromised and far below total numbers that the BLM have stated as still existing in the wild. Also, with continued use of the PZP contraceptive, population growth will be driven down even further. Reproduction will continue to decrease dramatically because of PZP, but mortality percentages will remain the same. With the use of the contraceptives, or sterilization methods, therefore, mortality will completely overwhelm reproduction, accelerating population decline in our wild equine.

5. It is said by some that because of the vast removals, nature compensates with a population explosion of wild horses, serving to reinforce the elevated population claims. Incorporated into this thought, are low levels of predators, in many areas. It must be remembered, however, that the varied mechanisms of ecological balance do not work independently of each other, but always in concert. Where one mechanism may lack, as the predators, other facets of balance will engage more vigorously yet always governed by the carrying capacity of the land. Predator, Prey studies and statistics have consistently affirmed that predator numbers and prey numbers follow each other. Simply speaking, when prey numbers are high, nature compensated by increased numbers of predator species. The opposite is true also. When predator species decrease, density dependent inhibition engages more vigorously, causing the prey species, in this case wild horses, to reach a limit based upon the carrying capacity of the land, and then decrease in number. Equine mortality on the range, as mentioned above is shown to be very high in the first year of life, not to mention adult mortality, again not all by predators. This and common sense reproductive facts of wild horses, oppose every allegation of population explosions in wild horses.

6. The free roaming habits and social behavior of the wild horses and burros, allow them to harmoniously coexist with every competing ruminant. Their physiological makeup coupled with continual movements have a revitalizing effect on soil and vegetation. This in turn positively impacts other grazers, and subsequently predators as well, who prey upon them. The presence of wild equine in a multitude of ecosystems has proven to result in a beneficial cascade effect, rejuvenating entire areas where they have been reintroduced, both in terms of flora and fauna. This has been documented in many geographical locations throughout the world. Noting these indisputable facts, the wild horses and burros can without question be considered a keystone species. Removing our native equine from their legally designated areas and or tampering with their numbers has and will continue to have a reverse and detrimental effect on our western rangelands.

Conclusion. The answer to ecological balance, therefore, in our western ranges doesn’t lie in experimentation, sterilizations, contraceptives, adjustment of ratios, the institution of removals, or mass euthanasia. The answer lies in the termination of all roundups and a release of the wild horses and burros, in holding facilities, back into the areas from where they were taken. All that is necessary for a “Thriving Natural Ecological Balance”, is to keep the restrictions off nature, and allow her to regulate herself untouched.

The wild horses and burros will continue as the powerful symbol of this nation’s freedom, yet vital components of ecological balance if, and only if, we allow nature alone, through its own dynamic methods to dictate the numbers in the wild that are to exist, at any given time.

Robert C. Bauer
Biologist

28 comments on “A Biologist’s View on Wild Horse and Burro Fake News

  1. If only the “decision-makers” would read (and comprehend) what Mr. Bauer has written. But to expect a hands-off management style from any of the current various agencies of the government? Letting nature BE nature? We all know this will not be allowed to happen!

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  2. In a perfect world we could leave Nature alone, but with 7billion plus people consuming resources, this is an impossible dream. We cannot avoid impacting natural processes, most of which we scarcely understand or appreciate. I doubt there is a sqare foot of this continent that has not been trod upon at some time in history by human beings.

    Further, the stark truth is the BLM and USFS both have a mandate to deliver “multiple use” on our public lands, which by definition means alteration of natural process in varying degrees. Not managing wild horses and burros to some extent is therefore illegal.

    So the question really becomes what does ethical and viable management for the species look like? That is what we are all arguing about today. In my view, mass execution and slow extinction through contraception is neither ethical or viable.

    Accepting we must manage wild horses and burros on their ever-shrinking legal areas, we all have to dig deeper to find better approaches. We can all agree the current system is utterly dysfunctional, but what to do about it is a much more difficult matter.

    I challenge everyone to think about ways to move forward into a world that includes wild horses and burros living wild in North America as part of our public trust, not in sex segregated concentration camps as some sort of macabre zoo, there to await yet another call to massacre them.

    At a minimum I suggest a few first steps.

    One, impose a moratorium on any killing, roundups, or new holding contracts for at least one year (preferably 1-5) to allow time to sort things out without a massive bloodletting.

    Two, revoke any and all livestock grazing permits which are today allowed in the few remaining legal wild horse and burro areas. These are only about 3% of all the grazing permits in existence today and the BLM/USFS already has the authority to revoke, rescind, or modify grazing permits. Those holding the permits which overlap wild horse and burro areas should be fairly compensated but the government double-dipping gravy train has to end. IT is beyond unfair to expect taxpayers to pay for the grazing permit subsidies and losses, cost share for infrastructure, pay for wildlife killing services, then pay for the shell game the BLM’s wild horse and burro program has become, which includes some tidy profits for questionable contractors.

    During the moratorium, empower a citizen-based authority to develop and implement new management strategies that cost less and are more effective than what we have today. Many are now circulating but getting little press due to political pressures from all sides. Among these are incentivizing grazing permit holders to also manage wild horses/burros within their allowed AUMS, allow the public to adopt wild horses in situ, and develop a funding source earmarked for wild horses and burros and their habitat by selling habitat stamps to the public, these could be individualized for each HMA, and/or a single international stamp, or both.

    Funding saved and raised by some of these strategies should be used to research wild horse and burro ecological interactions in finer detail. For one example, we know domestic horses are notoriously difficult to get in foal and will abort at the drop of a hat. No studies I am aware of even consider an abortion rate in wild horses, though this surely occurs.

    Congress granted the BLM/USFS a conflicted mandate regarding management of America’s wild horses and burros; therefore Congress can also revoke this authority and reassign these responsibilities to others who have no such inherent conflicts but only the best and lasting benefit to those creatures unwillingly under our government.

    We all need to stand up and speak up for better strategies to free all of us and our wild horses and burros from this deadly, antagonistic gridlock. Let’s do this!

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    • Thank you, Icyspots. Food for thought. It is a old devil we are fighting. Love the Appy and Nez Pece. Chief Joseph is spinning in his grave.

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      • Yes, he is a cogent reminder these are persistent problems, and me should recall one definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”

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      • I am just a wild and domestic horse supporter who happens to have many years of legal skills in PI, Criminal, Workers’ Comp, Business, and Govt. I seek out arguments that can be made in a court of law as to why we should continue to protect wild and domestic equids. These are valid arguments that can be made in the court of law to show their value and to explain why we need to keep them in the environment using valid science as a way forward.

        Similiar to the arguments we made against sterilization of mares over the summer, finding any and all tools to argue sensibly against why government agencies should not be performing dangerous experiments on mares in the field or elsewhere.

        I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. I suspect there are many here who are and can speak to the scientific value that wild and domestic equines bring to the environment.

        A quick look on Google Scholar gave many expert opinions on Equines and PRions. If presented by an Expert Witness in a Court of Law, this would be evidence to persuade a judge or jury as to why equines should remain on their priority lands.

        I hope this helps in some small way again.

        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07391102.2011.10507391
        (Cited 34 times)

        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022283610004730 (cited 100 times)

        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022283699928310 (Cited 434 times)

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      • EponasTribe, thanks for those links. I cannot access the full articles but though they indicate stability in the prion loop structure within equines, the research is only in early stages, and none indicate horses remove prions from the environment, only that they seem to be less (or not) susceptible to their effects, for reasons just being examined. At a minimum this shows horses might offer us ways to find how to defeat prion diseases. The research I found earlier showed repeated exposures heightens susceptibility, again something needing further study, but by which horses may help us defeat them one day. Since wild horses are generally the most exposed, they may be extremely helpful in this regard.

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    • Forgot to include this: it is not possible to achieve a thriving NATURAL ecological balance that includes non-domestic livestock. Domestic cattle and sheep did not evolve in these ecosystems nor are they well adapted to them (hence the need for continual managment interventions). Those who argue wild horses are not native must disprove a lot of fossil evidence to the contrary, and the best argument they can bring is that horses were native, disappeared for some span of time (much debated) then returned to their native homelands. This cannot be credibly argued for domestic cattle or sheep, and historical evidence proves the harm the massive introduction of these species into our fragile western environs remains with us to this day. Folks in the 1800s either didn’t know better or didn’t care; we don’t have that excuse today.

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  3. Agreed, wild horse populations “are not in the tens of thousands anymore.” One has only to actually visit the range to witness the ratio of cattle to wild horses — cattle are visible everywhere, while one has to earnestly seek wild horses.

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    • My animal friends in UAE just sent me a petition to stop the killing of donkeys in Kenya. China is demanding donkey hides and meat. The donkey’s are skinned alive. Dear God!!! The working people are loosing their donkeys.. stolen. Poor donkeys…pictures are horrible…piles of donkey skeletons Terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Apparently, PRI is going to have Dave Phillips on @Scifri at NPR this week. It is imperative that comments are made on this story. Here is what I wrote and has not been approved. “The trouble with managing America’s wild horses | Public Radio International http://short.pri.org/STbzRJV

    Understand that Appropriations committee is on the verge of voting to destroy wild equines as we speak.

    90,000 are now facing either a bullet or slaughter.

    These animals have priority status on public lands yet have been virtually exterminated by very wealthy cattle ranchers who are main Bureau of Land Management employees!

    These equines have not only the ability to eat cheatgrass that will mitigate #wildfires, but also can remove all Prions within the environment in which CJW caused by Prions is linked to Alzheimer’s.

    Science is telling us that these animals are the verge of extinction as well.

    There are only 27,000 left on #publiclands and in order to prevent Genetic inbreeding, we need 35,000.

    https://rtfitchauthor.com/2017/10/25/a-biologists-view-on-wild-horse-and-burro-fake-news/

    http://www.cresa.cat/blogs/sociedad/en/cavalls-assenyats-i-prions-inadaptats/

    http://alzheimerdisease.tv/alzheimers-disease-research-targets-prions/

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2015/06/researchers-make-surprising-discovery-about-spread-of-chronic-wasting-disease/#.WexRLltSzIV

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    • Deb, I read through your links but they don’t support your assertion that horses “remove all prions” in an environment, which would be nearly impossible to verify by any research. Do you have other sources for this information? My references to date all indicate high probability horses (and other mammals) thought to be resistant become infected on repeated exposures. It’s not clear if any current research has been sufficient to encompass these variables of time, environment, and repetition. Something else very worth researching!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Has anyone else noticed that there seem to be fewer links to good information?
    This could be one possible reason….ALTERNET has published a number of good ACCURATE and TRUTHFUL articles about our Wild Horses & Burros.

    From THE ALTERNET

    Google Is Clamping Down on Progressive News-Fight Back
    By now you may have heard about how Google launched a new algorithm designed to combat fake news.
    Then came the shocker: Google targeted AlterNet as fake news, as well as dozens of other progressive news sites. Almost overnight, we lost roughly 1.2 million readers.
    https://www.alternet.org/animal-rights/americas-wild-horses-face-their-most-severe-political-threat-nearly-half-century-heres

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  6. Thank you, Robert Bauer. What you say is true, true, true.

    It is understandable that many see the corrupt and unjust treatment of our wild horses and burros but sometimes forget that it the entire ecosystem that is affected and must be healed and can be healed by mother nature … if allowed to do so. Nature is the proper and moral and rightful “manager” for our planet.

    Let’s face it … the only persons that have worked for 40 plus years for the extinction of wild horses and burros are those with a financial interest. This has been and continues to be unacceptable, illegal and the American citizens including me are disgusted at the “sell-out” of our American public lands and resources by the agencies that are responsible to PROTECT them.

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  7. APRIL 29, 2008
    The Devil’s In The Details
    Speaking to BLMs Kyle Hansen in the Ely Field Office, Mr. Hansen explained range conditions were so bad due to drought that it “looked like an atom bomb went off” and provided photos as evidence of the dust bowl conditions the wild horses would be forced to try and survive in over the winter in if they were not immediately removed.

    He also stated compounding the problem was a local rancher who had allowed wild horses to drink water from his property for years but finally “had enough”, fenced the area and now the horses that remained would probably die of thirst.

    It’s almost a noble story and one that is often repeated; saving wild horses from dying of starvation and dehydration, protecting the range, wildlife, and ranchers – so much of the situation being out of BLMs control and leaving them very little options to preserve wild herds except by removals.

    Yet when you look into the details, the story starts to fall apart.
    While NDOT ( may have strung up a new fence, Mr. Hansen stated they never consulted with BLM before beginning and frankly, that’s very hard to believe. There are right of way issues requiring consultation with federal agencies and NDOT not even notifying BLM of a major fencing project that would destroy the Antelope horses migration routes is highly suspicious. Can’t prove this though….

    Then there’s the rancher that allowed wild horses to drink his water for years yet now suddenly has a change of heart. Was he paid off to do that? Maybe hassled and intimidated by those who realized if they could get that water source shut down, the wild horses in the area would perish?

    Can’t prove this either but there’s a few other questions that have some very interesting answers.

    The photo below is one of sixty-four photos provided courtesy of Mr. Hansen to illustrate the devastation of the range. During our phone conversation, Mr. Hansen stated that a few of the photos still had cattle in them but those had all been taken off prior to the Antelope wild horse removals. Those are cattle in the background on the right.
    Here’s the first problem with this story. This photo and all the photos BLM sent came tagged with the date, time and model of the camera used, part of a standard format imprinted in photos taken from digital cameras. All sixty-four photos were taken on December 4th, 2006, with a Canon EOS 30D, a year before this potential “catastrophic loss of life” to wild horses.

    In other words, that screwed up range photo is “normal” for the area. Well, as normal as an area like this could be during drought conditions and heavily grazed by livestock. But it was NOT reflective of what range conditions actually were despite Mr. Hansen stating the photos were current. No wonder he could say in good conscience that the cattle in the photo had already been removed ~ it was a year old!

    Somehow the Antelope wild horses not only managed to live a year in this before BLM announced the need for emergency removals, they were thriving according to the amount of foals being born. Yet despite 1,200 wild horses being counted in the area, not one photo BLM provided showed a single wild horse anywhere

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    • geri, have seen this video before – why oh why, isn’t it given more publicity? This would seem to prove to anyone – with a brain – that what is being done to NATIVE animals is not just wrong but absolute stupidity! Do these naysayers actually want to destroy this planet? It seems they don’t care – possibly they all have future seat on the trip to Mars (or wherever the “future earth” is going to be). IDIOTS!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The arrogance of some humans is frightening. I don’t think Mother Nature needs any input from us since her track record is flawless. Be it a bunny or a burro… It’s their world too.

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  9. Horses and burros are not the only native or returned native species that are on the list of species that are. listed as invasive. As I find older articles that reflect the original work of someone like George Gaylord Simpson who wrote the definitive book on horse–The Horse in 1955, I read about other species that were also found in areas paleontologists were also looking for species that included horse. Coyotes, grey wolves, grizzly bears, camels, zebras, several extinct equids, pigs, sheep. Since sheep are commonly thought of as Scottish that makes sense since there is rock evidence of the slow separation of the continents in this area. Deer, moose, reindeer, and muskoxen are native as well. The invasive species concept has been called into question, particularly by molecular biologists. Another group of scientists of scientists called this concept invalid because it did not show complete evolution of species. Although these lists have been composed without sources, until now the argument for horses has been made primarily by evolutionary biologists or paleoanthropologist, geologists/biologists, and anatomists. Most of the so-called research without documentation has been removed from the Net.

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