A special feature article on Straight from the Horse’s Heart:
Beatys Butte is a Herd Management Area (HMA) of wild horses in SE Oregon. With 437,000 acres, the AML, the appropriate management level of allowed wild horses on that acreage, is set at 100-250. The program was designed as a closed loop system. Horses on the range were to be bait trapped yearly. Some would be given fertility inhibitors to manage population growth and some, 20 colts and fillies, would be brought in to resupply the training center in Adel, Oregon, for training and adoption. The program was designed by ranchers, elected officials, fish and wildlife agencies, the BLM, and “advocates.” The initial cost was $425,719 for the gather, training and adoption program over a 5 year period. It appears money also came from the sage grouse program. The concept of the program appears to be good, but is the execution acceptable?
This program is poised as a “MODEL” but is it a “MODEL?”
- In November, 2015, 1070 Beatys Butte wild horses, out of about 1400 or 1500 wild horses on this Herd Management Area, were gathered and removed from the range. Nobody talks about them today. Nobody talks about the fact that they were to be used to do different sterility experiments on the mares until the BLM was stopped. Nobody talks about the fact that some were sent to feedlots. Nobody talks about the fact that some were sold to Dave Duquette of the pro-horse slaughter group Protect the Harvest (and a couple of other people), only to be spayed (likely by Oregon veterinarian Leon Pilstick) and sent to Futurity Contests to be used for reigning, when their bones hadn’t yet fused. Nobody talks about the callous, abusive handling of these wild horses. After all, this is a “MODEL” program.
- The AML was set at 100-250 with the idea the BLM would put only 100, the lower AML, on the 437,000 acre range spouting “a thriving, natural ecological balance.” Dr. Gus Cothran, the equine geneticist hired by the BLM, laughingly says there should be a “minimum” of 150 to 200 in a herd with 150 effective breeding age animals to have a slow genetic decline. In other words, there should be many more wild horses if the herds are to be healthy. With only 100 wild horses, they are not thriving. With only 100 wild horses, they are far outnumbered by the 4000 plus livestock grazing on Beatys Butte. A “MODEL” program?
- The BLM wants to gather the remaining 200 wild horses on the range, even though they are not over AML. Is this even legal? A “MODEL” program?
- Then the BLM wants to select 60 stallions in the Burns Corrals to put back on the range and 40 mares. In other words, it wants to also skew the sex ratio, even though Paul Griffin, the lead researcher for the BLM, says sex ratio skewing is now believed to be detrimental to the herd’s social behavior and dynamics. The Oregon BLM maintains this 60-40 sex ratio does not affect the growth of the herd, as opposed to the 50-50 ratio, so even why do it? A “MODEL” program?
- In addition to the sex ratio skewing, the BLM wants to give fertility inhibitors and fertility boosters to the 40 mares now confined in Burns for two years before they are returned to the range. Then BLM figures it will bait trap 30% of the horses per year and dart them again. Dr. Kirkpatrick would likely roll over in his grave if he knew the PZP program he developed was being administered in this way. The BLM allowing only 100 wild horses not only compromises the continuance of the herd, but the sex ratio skewing and the application of the PZP further compromises the continuance of the herd. This is setting up the herd for collapse. The BLM isn’t worried. They say they will just bring in horses from other herds to bolster the genetics of the herd. So much for the closed loop idea of the Beatys Butte program. The 1971 Law said the horses were supposed to be “where found.” A “MODEL” program?
- At the first Beatys Butte Mustang Adoption Event, the message booming over the PA System to the audience was “This year we have 10 Beatys Butte horses for adoption. Next year we will have 20.” First of all, the 10 for this year were not from the Beatys Butte range. Eight 2 year olds were likely born in captivity at the Burn’s Corral. Then next year, it is unlikely that 20 will be from the Beatys Butte range, because of the 40 PZPed mares. You’ll be lucky if you have one. Not to worry, the BLM will bring in colts and fillies from other HMAs and call them Beatys Butte horses. Again, so much for the closed loop. A “MODEL” program?
- With 60 stallions and 40 mares (Beatys Butte horses) from the Burns Corrals and with infusing horses from other herds into this herd, it seems a selective human based breeding program is being promoted and developed. This is not a wild horse program. A “MODEL” program?
- The training and adoption event this past Saturday, April 14th, brought into question the practices of these aspects of the “MODEL” program. Two 4 and 5 year olds were featured and eight 2 year olds. The 2 year olds came to the facility last September at the age of 1. In the brochure given, the public was told all the horses have been ridden in the mountains in the snow, mud, trees and rocks. The public was also told these horses had been used in gathering, sorting and and trailing cattle in rough terrain. Bumpy, at about 1 or 2 years old, is seen pulling a cart with a 200 to 250 pound man behind him. Horse veterinarians will tell you that horses should not be ridden beyond a walk until they are 3 years old, and not ridden at a trot or gallop until they are 5 years old, because their bones are not fused. Riding too early can create lameness problems when they are older. A “MODEL” program?
- The public is told the program is supported by ranchers, advocates, and government officials. Yet no advocates are seen on the Board. What is the cost for such a facility just to train 10 or 20 horses a year? With only an adoption event one time a year, this does not seem cost effective. Should the other 162 HMAs across the West have this type of facility as well? Should more wild horses be removed from other HMAs yearly to train just 20 horses for this adoption event? A “MODEL” program? While the concept of a rangeland management, training, and adoption program might seem to be a good idea, this is not rangeland management and the details of this program are anything but ideal. In fact, the details are egregious and do not benefit America’s wild horses on or off the range. And, this “model” program does not benefit the American taxpayer.
Contact Rob Sharpe or James Price of the Oregon Wild Horse and Burro Program for more information or to address your grievances.
An interesting fact: In 2009, the BLM conducted a gather and removal of Beatys Butte wild horses, leaving a reported 102 wild horses on the HMA. With a 20% growth rate, 354 horses would have been on the HMA in 2015-2016. Yet the BLM reported 1400 wild horses were there.