Horse News

Wild horses in America: Hard truths and final solution

By Bill Simpson as published on the Mail Tribune

Over the course of the past 50-years, since the passing of the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act (1971), the management of wild horse herd management areas have undergone many changes resulting from political and economic pressures, which stem from increased consumer/market demands for more (cheap) livestock products.

The challenge

Consumerism is a significant factor influencing the use and management of our natural resources. It’s unreasonable and illogical to expect ranchers to reduce production of affordable livestock products when consumers are clamoring for more.

So at least or until we see a huge spike in vegetarianism in America (and elsewhere), the demands for livestock will continue to rise as they have over the past many decades.

The situation at hand

The result is that today, 50 years since the passage of the 1971 Act, we find that wild horses have been limited — down to about 7% of the grazing on lands that the 1971 Act had set aside for native species American wild horses. And over the same 50-year period, those same lands have been managed by the Bureau of Land Management, arguably to maximize livestock production. As such, management included a significant reduction of apex predators in order to help maximize production via lower livestock losses due to depredation.

The reduction of apex predators in wild horse herd management areas where livestock and wild horses are commingled presents a serious ecological issue and evolutionary injustice for the wild horses being managed in those HMAs. A depleted (or missing) population of the evolved natural predators for wild horses prevents natural selection and population control from occurring. The evolved predators of American wild horses include bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes.

Inhibiting or eliminating the evolutionary process of natural selection creates two serious problems for America’s wild horses:

Without their evolved predators living in proper population densities in ecosystems containing wild horses (including HMAs), wild horses will to some extent, depending on available water and forage resources, overpopulate.

Without natural selection, the genetic vigor of wild horses suffers because weak, diseased and genetically defective horses are not culled from the herd by predators. And critically important is the fact that people cannot duplicate this complex evolutionary process, which is unique between a predator and its prey, and has evolved over the millennia. All wild horses in the world originally evolved about 55 million years ago in North America.

The removal/reduction of apex predators from many HMAs has occurred over the course of nearly a century.

The notion held by a few people of suddenly changing course and reintroducing apex predators back into herd areas, which due to powerful economic pressures have evolved into livestock production areas is just not going to fly in the face of the market demands for livestock products by the vast majority of American consumers.

The bottom line

Keeping American wild horses commingled with livestock in herd areas where apex predators have been depleted is perpetrating an ecologic injustice upon native species of American wild horses. It’s simply obtuse management as are the many very costly work-arounds, such as the failed attempts to address the fallout (overpopulation) from a lack of natural wild horse predators, using expensive roundups and contraception.

A modern science-based solution

Relocate and rewild native species of American wild horses where they belong; into the remote wilderness; beyond conflict with livestock enterprises.

We have more than 10 million acres of remote wilderness areas in the western states that are unfit for any livestock production due to difficult mountainous terrain, which adversely affects livestock management logistics, combined with the presence of robust populations of apex predators. Either one or both of these challenges significantly increases costs of livestock production, thereby increasing the cost of goods sold to a point where the end products are not competitively priced.

These same remote areas are nevertheless blessed with abundant water and forage, yet are suffering from almost annual catastrophic wildfire due to the depleted populations of large native herbivores (deer and elk) that had previously inhabited those landscapes.

In the not-too-distant past, these same wilderness areas had proper population densities of deer and elk, which through their grazing maintained ground fuels (grass and brush) to nominal levels year-round, keeping wildfires in the realm of normal wildfire.

There have been serious declines in deer and elk populations in some western states. And over the past decades, that has resulted in the increase of prodigious annually occurring ground fuels (grass and brush), which is now left ungrazed in these very remote wilderness areas. These ground fuels are then subjected to a warming climate, rendering these fuels viable for wildfire sooner in the season, and remaining as dry tinder longer.

Environmental complications and costs for wildfire fuels reduction can be eliminated using wild horses. Wild horses don’t have the complex stomachs of cattle and sheep, which virtually digest all the plant and grass seeds they consume, rendering them unable to germinate.

On the other hand, wild horses pass virtually all the seeds they consume in their droppings, providing a critically important reseeding function for native plants. This evolved symbiosis between wild horses and the flora of the North American continent is especially beneficial for wilderness lands that have been devastated by catastrophically hot wildfire. The droppings of wild horses also contain microorganisms that help fire-damaged soils to recover.

Each wild horse deployed into selected wilderness areas will consume about 5.5 tons of grass and brush annually as they concurrently reseed the landscape, keeping a delicate ecological balance in place.

The resulting wildfire fuels reduction via wild horses is virtually cost-free for taxpayers, and simultaneously solves the livestock-wild horse conflict on lands where livestock production is virtually a permanent enterprise.

An added benefit is taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for the $100 million-plus in annual costs (BLM spends more than $100 milion annually rounding-up and warehousing wild horses off-range), nor the expensive taxpayer costs related to the draconian sterilization-contraception concepts that some people are motivated to support.

More information and a draft outline for a legislative bill here can be seen at

7 replies »

  1. We need new management strategies for sure, so this idea should be considered. However, on first read I noted this:

    “It’s unreasonable and illogical to expect ranchers to reduce production of affordable livestock products when consumers are clamoring for more. … the demands for livestock will continue to rise as they have over the past many decades.”

    First, the actual production of beef and lamb on our public lands is a single digit percentage of what is produced nationwide on mostly private lands, and most of our lamb is exported. So the argument that public land meat production is somehow feeding our nation isn’t truth based. It’s also not true that range raised meat is somehow cheaper to the consumer. One would expect it to be since the grazing fees are laughable and highly subsidized (such that taxpayers should get a discount at the grocery stores but that doesn’t happen), and as any shopoper knows the cost of all beef is skyrocketing. Not to mention those few who can access public lands grazing permits have an unfair advantage in the market against those who pay for private land grazing. Thus the reduced grazing fees don’t help consumers, only a handful of producers, and their entire production is but a very small fraction of what ends up on American tables.

    A second difficulty is the author doesn’t spell out just what lands our wild horses would be relocated to. “Wilderness” areas may or may not be managed by the BLM and USFS, which currently are the two entities charged with oversight. By definition introducing any new animals into designated wilderness areas is likely a violation of federal law, as would be essentially any management of them, since wilderness areas are to remain as untouched as possible.

    Livestock production in arid western lands has never been a good idea other than for a few (and those mostly in the era of the open ranges). I agree horses are native grazers and belong in these places, but the forages in steeper, higher mountains is generally less grass and more forest, which also raises questions of sustainability for the animals as well as the ecosystems.

    And I have to point out, the photo appending this article (not sure who put it here) is of DAIRY cows in a near-monoculture pasture with high fertility, not beef cattle scratching out a living on our much drier (and thus more fragile) public lands.

    It’s a far better argument financially and ethically to get private grazing interests off the public lands altogether. Better for the land, the animals involved who cannot make decisions about where we will or will not let them live, and the vast majority of public lands stakeholders in this country who endlessly pay for all this, yet see no return.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All the talk is very interesting! My take on it is this. First END the disgusting Roundups and the quick to use birth control being perpratrated on these poor horses and Burros thru committee or Congressional action! Or Executive actions! Then FIRE and dismantle the entire Bureau of Land Management once there is a new Secretary of the Interior! All leases will be put on hold and reviewed! Then most canceled and revoked over a limited time! Public lands are NOT there for the livestock’s personal profits thru cattle and livestock! In my neck of the woods, YOU BUY the land it’s not leased for nothing from Forest preserve or conservation areas! Regions would be set up and represented by every part of the country on a national committee! Wild Horse advocates to play a vital part in the establishment of this! No take over and grand standing by the cattle and livestock industry. The free ride is OVER! Scientific research put in place and well documented! A total review and accountability for every Wild Horse and Burro held in captivity or killed as a result of these Roundups! At some point they will be returned again to the wild! But the pure.stupudity of releasing horses in places like Colorado when they have been raised in the desert is unimaginable! Of course unless the main purpose is to have them die!

    The BLM like this current Administration are and have been totally INCOMPETANT! We need the voices and ideas of many! The Forest Service also needs an overhaul too! It’s time we ALL fight for the Wild Horses/Burros and the land they once again should be free on! We need to prepare protests all over the country in the form of Car Protest.Convoys! Contact all your US House and Senate members and push for their FREEDOM! The time has come to DEMAND they NO longer take a back seat! I am preparing signs for my car! People read them now while you are in parking lots! Do a hand sign and display it proudly! THEY are depending on ALL of US! And please DONT waste ANY TIME!


  3. This seems relevant to this discussion:

    “‘Eric Belasco is an associate professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University. He says live cattle prices dipped about 11% between mid-February and mid-December. One culprit – yet again – is processing.

    “Really, a lot of the pressure seems to be on the processing side,” Belasco said. “That’s where the live cattle market is, the one that has just seen a huge drop in prices that just has not recovered.”‘

    It’s also worth remembering that the only legal areas where our wild horses and burros are allowed to exist at all were defined in 1971, and as noted, persistently reduced ever since. It would literally take an act of Congress to relocate them to areas not previously defined, raising questions about how safe they might be if relocated, and what consequences (if any) would befall any who harmed them outside their federally designated homelands.


  4. Possibly another reason prices have dropped for beef – could it be that people are buying less & less of a demand has caused lower prices? Its been several years since I have bought any beef – added to the pictures of downed cattle being picked up by a forklift & hauled into the slaughter plants is the simple reason that beef just doesnt appeal to me anymore nor does it agree with me. I think there are many people who also realize its not the healthiest of foods. I’m no vegetarian, just have gotten older & changed the way I eat. I know not everyone feels the need to do that, but I believe there has been a change in the way people eat more & more. And frankly, the less appetite people have for beef the less need for grazing allotments and feed grown for cattle.


    • Probably not less demand (and there are about 1.5 million more US citizens now than a year ago):

      “Despite being the biggest protein of all in dollar sales, beef also gained the most, at +19.9% versus year ago. This strengthened their dollar share to more htan 54% of total fresh meat sales. Ground beef did tremendously well given its versatily, ease of preparation and price point. But at the same time, many high-end cuts also saw big gains as consumers recreated restaurant meals at home. In processed, hot dogs, brats, etc that help stretch the meat dollar and make for a quick and easy lunch all did great as well.

      Q: According to your charts, it looks like pork and turkey have lost some percentage points but beef, especially grass fed, has seen a significant increase. To what do you attribute those numbers?

      A: Despite all the nay-sayers in the consumer media in recent years, meat is holding its own and then some. During the pandemic, we’ve seen center store and frozen foods come on very strong with an eye on shelf-life, stocking up, minimizing trips and covering many more meals. But while frozen foods and center store outperformed the combined fresh departments of meat, produce, seafood, deli and bakery, it was meat that reclaimed its position as king of the castle.

      The gains in meat far exceeded those of produce, though the departments were very similar in size. Add to that gains in frozen meat and accelerated growth in fresh and frozen seafood and it is clear that animal protein is still very popular. Pre-pandemic, foodservice received the majority share of the total food dollar, and meat consumption is a lot harder to track on the restaurant side. So, in a way, the pandemic provided us with a much clearer look at consumers’ true meat consumption with sales far ahead of last year’s levels.”


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