Horse News

The Focus on Wild Horses Distracts From the Massive Damage Caused by the Livestock Industry

as published on CounterPunch

The Washington Post Magazine recently ran a misleading story on wild horses, focusing attention on anti-federalist ranchers in Nevada and the big money behind them. By failing to look beyond the superficial personality conflicts, and missing the real and important public lands issues, this article does its readers a disservice.

Last moments of freedom for members of the Red Desert herd in Wyoming ~ Photo by Carol Walker

In the article, the writer characterizes the wild horse issue as an “emotional battle,” and correctly observes, “Many ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes.”

However, the reality is that wild horses are only bit players in a very real, West-wide ecological battle in which the livestock industry is the principle antagonist. Domestic cattle and sheep (not horses) are the most significant overpopulated invasive species, competing for the public land that our wildlife – elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep – need to survive.

The scope of livestock destruction on western public land dwarfs the impact of wild horses. Wild horses are completely absent on almost 90% of western public lands, and on that small subset where they roam, free-ranging equids pose a measurable impact only in places where aggressive federal roundups aren’t already holding their populations at low levels. In the 1700s, there were an estimated two to seven million wild horses in North America, and native wildlife were abundant. Since the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971, many herds have been entirely eliminated. Meanwhile, domestic livestock are found almost everywhere on federal public lands and are authorized to graze at densities that create long-term ecological destruction, with minimal oversight and management.

In fact, the livestock industry in the West plays a pivotal role in the two great environmental issues of our time: climate change and the biodiversity crisis. With their wholesale destruction of native grasses, cattle and domestic sheep today are converting native ecosystems to cheatgrass wastelands at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the Dust Bowl. Cheatgrass burns with unnatural frequency, eliminating sagebrush and other deep-rooted plants. An annual weed, it dies each year, surrendering its carbon and bankrupting the soil of its carbon stores. If left undisturbed, high deserts provide carbon sequestration that scientific studies have found to immobilize more carbon even than forests. Thus, the cattle grazing on western public lands are exacerbating the climate crisis. Public lands ranching also decimates native wildlife, degrading wildlife habitats and targeting native species from wolves to prairie dogs to beavers for elimination. The role of wild horses in all this has never been found to be anything other than negligible on either of these fronts.

The article also neglects to mention that Kevin Borba – one of the two livestock industry spokespeople featured in its story – is damaging the public lands where he runs his livestock. His Fish Creek Ranch grazing allotment covers almost 300,000 acres of leased public lands, lands that are failing the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) basic rangeland health standards. According to the BLM, the cause of the land health problem is cattle, not horses. Borba has a history of involvement with anti-public-land insurrections, including the 2014 “Grass March,” where anti-government ranchers drove across the country with horse trailers, ceremonially riding their horses through the towns along the way to protest federal management of livestock grazing on public lands.

Similarly, the article fails to identify the other livestock industry spokesman, David Duquette, as a supporter of the Hammonds, notorious ranchers and convicted arsonists who had set fire to Oregon’s public lands in order to create more grass for their cows. It was the Hammonds’ imprisonment that touched off the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2015 by Cliven Bundy’s sons and their ragtag gang of domestic terrorists. These spokespeople aren’t outliers, they are just some of the more prominent voices in a movement that seeks to give control of public lands and resources to profit-driven interest groups.

Wild horses can absolutely damage the vegetation, as can any large herbivore, but this is rarely the case. In Wyoming, for example, the BLM is currently in a planning process to zero out three major wild horse Herd Management Areas in the fabled Red Desert, an area currently home to 2,065 wild horses, according to BLM estimates. The agency’s own analysis shows that all of these Herd Management Areas are able to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance” under current management, without the massive reductions or elimination of wild horses proposed in the proposed plan.

The Washington Post article glosses over a deep and complicated controversy over land management in northeastern Nevada, in which a Bureau of Land Management field manager was targeted for bullying, not just by the livestock industry but by his own State Director, for trying to address chronic violations of domestic livestock leases on federal lands. These types of violations have been repeated over and over again throughout the West, and are symptomatic of systematic (and too often officially authorized) overgrazing of public lands by cattle and sheep that are the real problem here. A more penetrating article on the subject – featuring the same cast of characters – was written several years ago by a more thorough and insightful journalist. It’s too bad that the Washington Post couldn’t offer its readers an article living up to this higher standard of journalism.

By parroting the fake-news hysteria of the livestock industry, the Washington Post has given a nationwide megaphone to half-baked myths about wild horses first voiced by William Perry Pendley, the illegitimate and now-discredited interim director of the Bureau. This narrative distracts public attention from the very real and major ecological problems posed by domestic livestock. In doing so, it helps the livestock industry escape accountability for business practices that have long been abusive and destructive to America’s public lands.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and is the Laramie, Wyoming-based Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife on western public lands.

The Focus on Wild Horses Distracts From the Massive Damage Caused by the Livestock Industry

 

11 replies »

  1. While the few thousand horses are not native, neither are the millions of livestock (nor all the corn & soybeans) Let the horses live, even if it would require elimination of a little grazing (with compensation) to keep the land healthy. Fun fact: when this country was founded, the west began in Ohio and was populated with horses, bison, elk, tall grass prairies etc and indigenous people. I btw am an old wore out cowboy and used to call wild horses maggots but now I see them in a different light

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  2. RT FITCH IS SO STUPID AS TO BE DANGEROUS. HIS STUPIDITY IS MASSIVE. HIS STUPIDITY OF HORSES IS MASSIVE. HIS STUPIDITY OF CATTLE IS BEYOND MASSIVE. THE STUPIDITY OF THIS LYING SACK IS IN NEED OF A RECKONING. HIS RAG IS MASSIVELY STUPID.
    MUSTANGS HAVE OVER POPULATED BY A FACTOR OF 5 TO 7. TO THE STUPID FITCH, THAT’S A BUNCH., HORES DESTROYHIGH DESERT ECOSYTEMS. WHEN FEEDING HORSES RIP GRASS, FORAGE OUT OF THE GROUND. HORSES COMPACT THE GROUND, SO MESQUITE, AND NOXIOUS PLANTS TAKE OVER. CATLE CHEW FORAGE OFF, THEY DON’T RIP PLANTS OUT. WHY, WELL STUPID, CATTLE HAVE 2 STOMACHS, THEY CANNOT DIGEST LARGE ROUGHFAGE.
    PLUS STUPID FITCH CATTLE DON’T OVER GRAZE, BSCAUSE STUPID FITCH EACH RANCHER CAN ONLY HAVE A CERTAIN NUMBER OF COW/CALF UNITS.
    IN SUMMARY, STUPID JOURNALISTS ARE A NICKLE PER THOUSAND.

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    • Hey Moose, you crack me up as you are the very embodiment (big word, huh?) of what you claim me to be…drum-roll, STUPID.

      1.) I am not the author of this article, Stupid, although I shared it because as a taxpayer, paying more than you, handouts to STUPID people like lazy ranchers who do not know how to type, spell or assemble a simple sentence just plain pisses me off. You see, here in Texas ranchers buy their land, pay taxes on it, maintain it and are vital members of our local rural community, not you parasites.

      2.) You appear to be STUPID about not only the feeding habits but also the anatomy and physiology (more big words) of Bovines and Equines (killing you isn’t it). You are wrong on every count, horses do not rip up grass, I am looking at my horses as I type and they are out clipping the grass unlike welfare cattle. I live with horses and they are not island grazers and if you want to ruin a waterhole, invite the handout cows to it. Cheeeezzzz, do you live in NYC or something? (that would be New York City)

      3.) Your handle is a disgrace and an embarrassment to my saddle horse’s name, Moose. Being a Belgian/TB mix he is named Moose because of his size. At 6’2″ I cannot see over his withers, hence the name Moose. In your case it must mean that you are just plain big and dumb as typing in all capitols is something that someone who does not know what shift lock is would do. Duhhh…

      Anyway, it has been fun. It’s been quite some time since an idiot of your degree has manifested (damn) enough stupidity to show their ugly face, here. It is so cool as you have proven, by just being you, what we are talking about and have reinforced our belief in doing what is right and just. It is our goal to remove STUPID from the management of our national treasures, wild horses and burrows. Your mission, to play with cow paddies…every village has to have one, STUPID.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks R.T Fitch most of the cattle and sheep are owned by big conglomerates in the east who hire herders in wagons to roam across the dry areas of Wyoming where I was living . The herds of horses I saw were maybe 7 or 8 in a herd and I would see dead horses shot, and hit everywhere I traveled. I hauled railroad guys all over out of Green River, Wyoming, to Utah, Idaho, Cheyenne. There were never over 8 in a herd. When you see them run together in their round-up those are a lot of small herds they’ve gathered and days of work it’s sad what they do. They’ll kill a lot of the Stallions so they can steal the herds, they’ll have young ones but very rarely older ones. The sheep are the worst in Wyoming because that’s mostly desert area around Green River, and Rock Springs and a radius of 100 miles around those cities.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent rebuttal except Erik fails to mention that our wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems so benefit them in many ways as we know. They do not over-graze since they roam and they don’t pollute the water with E.coli which cattle are guilty of on both counts. Now BLM is even cutting ( chaining ) down pinon and juniper trees to plant grass for cattle and destroying habitat for wildlife and causing erosion . BLM is completely corrupt and is destroying public lands and many species of wildlife. Will it ever be stopped ?!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This seems to be the common thread all Gov’s use to distract from what they really want to achieve without the general public from getting up in arms against them. Keep the public in the dark and feed them miss-truth, just as they do for Dingoes; Wolves; Brumbys and Mustangs.
    It is always and will always be about the mighty $ with the kick-backs they derive from these environmental devastating cover-ups.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good article! Yikes! Some people just lack the basic knowledge! The problem again is the lack of journalist truly researching both sides! It’s time that the sides are evened out! And yes in my state NO forest preserve areas or open lands are leased to private citizens to raise cattle or live stock! YOU purchase the land and PAY the real estate taxes! So it’s time to take back what rightly belongs to all of us and our Wild Horses and BURROS!

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  6. I’m convinced that the media just doesn’t get it and are ill-informed a lot of the time. It’s very disappointing in this case, the Washington Post. It makes me wonder if, just like with wolves, if animal welfare and wildlife have any friends in politics and the media (there are a few).

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  7. Sheesh!!! I’m only part way through the WP article and already smoke is coming out of my ears. Describing Duquette, my stomach turned. I’m reminded just what a rogues gallery animal welfare advocates have to deal with on a regular basis. Nothing but a bully.

    They are not saying anything that hasn’t already been said for years on end ‘oh we’re at a point we have never been before’, ad nauseam.

    I hate when the media is an unwitting accomplice in this continual deception, or maybe witting or dull-witting.

    Like

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