Horse News

OPINION: The Dollars and Cents of America’s Wild Horses

By William E. Simpson as published on The Pagosa Daily Post

“Only a tiny minority of Americans want to see American wild horses sent to slaughter to make room for more livestock grazing on public lands.”

BLM Victims of Antelope Complex Stampede ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Obviously, we don’t see most Americans giving up their hamburgers and steaks, so the demands for beef, lamb and pork are slowly increasing. But do we need to kill wild horses in slaughter houses?

And is this even a wise use of these publicly-owned wild horses?

The Questions of Value Arise

Are wild horses more valuable in a pet food can and/or sitting in exile, wasting away in a Bureau of Land Management off-range corral costing American taxpayers nearly $100-million per year? Is there a much higher value proposition that’s been overlooked?

What about the undeniable billion-dollar economics of using wild horses in a wildfire fuel abatement role — protecting human lives, assets, forest and timber resources, as well as other tertiary benefits?

Since the codification of the 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Burro and Horse Protection Act five decades ago, there have been many profound breakthroughs and discoveries in science. For instance, modern paleontology informs us that wild horses have successfully maintained habitats in virtually every biome on the planet ranging from sub-arctic to tropical.

We also now know that wild horses survived the Ice Age in forests, as we read here in Cosmos magazine.

Given recently discovered facts, as far as equine genetics (including epigenetics), paleontological ecology (habitats and ranges of wild equids based-on fossil records), and through the cultural archaeology of native Americans and their horses, which arguably pre-date the Columbian Period, would planners today draw the same lines on maps defining areas for wild horses under any new law for their protection?

I seriously doubt it. Comparing what we know today, to what we knew in the 1960s and in early 1971, it’s clear we knew very little about wild horses, as well as their history and ecology.

And even by today’s standards, we still have much to learn in many areas. Scant funding is provided for the study of American wild horses in comparison to studies related to livestock.

In a world where we have more people than ever wanting more resources than ever before, financial considerations must not be discounted.

What is the real value of an American wild horse?

I would respond, to those with love in their hearts; the sum is beyond quantification.

To those who render meat? An 800-pound horse is worth about $160.00 (20-cents per pound wholesale).

To those who have knowledge of recent scientific facts and vision; each wild horse is worth at least $72,000.00.

Why Each American Wild Horse Is Worth About $72,000

Each wild horse deployed into and around remote forest and wilderness areas with depleted deer populations can abate 5.5 tons of wildfire fuels (grass and brush) annually — about 30 pounds/day/horse.

As an evolved North American native species, wild horses are quite at-home in and around forests and areas that are virtually inaccessible, especially wilderness areas.

For comparison, on average, deer consume about 7 pounds of grass and brush per day, per animal. Many remote wilderness areas are poorly suited to commercial livestock grazing due to the extensive predation of calves and lambs, and logistics cost related to poor accessibility and very difficult terrain.

These and other factors significantly reduce profitability to livestock producers who use public lands grazing permits. Losing calves and lambs is not an option of livestock production.

And at least in wilderness areas, depleting all of the Apex Predators is unwise, and is what has led to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.

Apex predators have evolved with unique skills that allow them to quickly cull and sick or genetically weak animals from the populations of large and small herbivores. Their predation as it turns-out is vital in preventing deer sick with Chronic Wasting Disease from remaining among populations of healthy deer and spreading the disease. Predators quickly cull diseased deer and elk and that helps to prevent the spread of that deadly disease.

Western forests are depleted of deer due to poor wildlife management. California and Oregon are down over 2 million deer over the past five decades even as Chronic Wasting Disease is spreading, and is now in at least 27 states. These now missing deer had been abating nearly 3 million tons of grass and brush. It will take decades to correct our depleted deer populations.

A re-wilded American wild horse, which is resistant to Chronic Wasting Disease, will abate about 5.5 tons of prodigious grass and brush annually in and around forests. 5.5 tons of grass and brush equals roughly 5-7 acres of grass and brush (varies with area), which can easily be maintained by wild horses year-round at nominal levels without any human intervention or the added risk of man-caused wildfires, especially during summer…(CONTINUED)

5 replies »

  1. This is an enlightened and fiscally sound proposal that also would save a lot of wild horses from the inhumane and inexcusable treatment they currently get from our federal government agencies that ignore federal laws and mandates to protect them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope and pray that the power brokers in President Biden’s cabinet and in the congress read and understand this very valuable info re OUR WILD HORSES. PROTECT our public lands and STOP the BRUTAL ABUSE that the BLM wild horse roundups truly are. And the massive millions it costs taxpayers to accomplish nothing. Leave wild horses on THEIR wild public lands! No roundups. No horse jails. No privately owned cattle ruining our public lands. Save tax dollars.
    Win Win !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some good points here, but a few things worth pointing out:

    1. The science is still “out” on whether equids can become infected on repeated exposure to prion diseases. Some published research shows mammals once thought to be immune in fact succumb on repeated exposure.

    2. Prions persist in the environment and though it makes ecological sense to keep apex predators in place, they are not a “cure” for CWD prion transmission as they can spread it themselves. Here’s one source on that (and where I live it is disconcerting since our wild deer and elk tend to winter with domestic livestock to avoid hunters and eat at the hay buffet ranchers put out):,environment%20after%20consuming%20infectious%20parts%20of%20CWD-infected%20cervids.

    “How does CWD spread?

    Infected individuals shed CWD prions in urine, feces, saliva, and eye fluids. CWD is likely transmitted by direct contact with infected individuals, or by contact with contaminated soil, leaves, bedding, feed, or water. In mule deer, scientists have found that CWD is transmitted from does to fawns.

    When deer have frequent, close contact with each other, such around feeding stations or in fenced enclosures, their risk of CWD transmission rises. Contact between wild and fenced cervids along fence lines can also spread CWD (in either direction).

    Sites where CWD-infected cervids died (or were placed) may also become contaminated as tissues decompose. Predators and scavengers can also transmit and spread CWD prions around the environment after consuming infectious parts of CWD-infected cervids. CWD prions are not easily destroyed by environmental factors, heat, or disinfection solutions and can persist outside of a host for many years; and recent research has shown that plants can uptake the disease agent and become a potential disease vector.”

    And this, indicating there is not yet sufficient data to claim wolf predation limits CWD at all, but wolves are a key part of hydatid transmission:

    “Key Points….

    Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious and fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk, and moose in Colorado. Selective predation by wolves on sick and diseased animals may help limit CWD in big game, but no field study has tested this prediction.
    Hydatid disease is caused by the Echinococcus tapeworm. Canines such as wolves, coyotes, foxes, and domestic dogs are the definitive host, and ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, and domestic livestock are intermediate hosts. In rare circumstances humans may be infected by accidently ingesting eggs, but direct human infection from wolves is extremely unlikely.
    Dogs and wolves are closely related and also can share many of the same parasites and diseases. Dogs are much more likely to infect wolves than vice-versa.”

    3. “Losing calves and lambs is not an option of livestock production.” This is simply untrue, any livestock operation hopes to have no losses but they are inevitable, and inescapable despite the best precautions. That domestic livestock are released onto public lands with minimal supervision makes them vulnerable to all sorts of losses from weather, lightning, various diseases, accidental injuries, wildfires, and various predators. We regularly compensate livestock producers for losses on public lands.

    4. While horses and other grazers can mitigate tons of growing grasses, by definition they will grow back if grazing is properly managed. While this may mitigate some wildfires, the author seems to imply wild horses should be removed from their currently legal areas and relocated into higher and dryer areas – those which are generally not the rich grassy lowlands and plains grazers prefer. Another factor is that dung of all grazers does indeed burn and thus the mitigation of fire fuels has to be reconsidered. It isn’t as simple as grass in and taken to be deposited elsewhere, unless the grazers are forcibly kept moving some distances quite regularly, their dung remains close to its source. One positive is that grazers can (if correctly managed) prevent grasses from bulking up and drying out, keeping them more or less “mowed” so the growth is kept new and green most of a growing season. Again, less true in higher elevations though, where grasses erupt late — after snowmelt — then the native grasses go dormant again in fall. So for this plan to work human intervention must still be in the mix at more or less intensive levels based on the particulars of each grazed area.

    5. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to create a dollar value of a wild horse — it makes a great talking point — these animals were not protected 50 years ago with an eye towards making them pay their way. They are not and were never intended to be a sort of “cash cow” in that sense; they were protected as part of their natural ecosystems and were to be kept that way, using the “minimal feasible” introduction of management. Attempting to make them pay for their keep also opens the door to the opposite argument, that being that if they are not worth anything then they deserve to be killed off. And fiscal responsibility has never been a hallmark of any decisions taken by the BLM or USFS wild horse programs, rather the opposite is the history. Budgets continue to rise, horses and burros continue to be removed, and population numbers are perpetually disputed as either way too large or way too small. One need only consider that the population target now is evidently aiming to match that of 1971… yet how many millions of dollars have been spent in the past 50 years to get us exactly… where we started?

    6. The way the 1971 Act is written, wild horses and burros simply cannot be moved into places other than “where then found” at that time. To take large numbers and drop them off into designated wilderness areas may have some merit but would necessitate changing the law, and then untangling the legal mess inherent in introducing any animals into designated wilderness areas, one by one. While I fully believe wild horses to be native to this continent, our official government policy remains that they are considered “invasive” and therefore introducing them into a wildnerness area would meet some substantial pushback, in my opinion. In the eyes of many they would be no different than domestic cattle or sheep being dumped into what some consider “pristine” protected areas.

    7. One thing not mentioned is valuation of tourism opportunities, which the author clearly enjoys by being able to live near a wildnerness area that includes wild horses. For those less fortunate, the appeal remains but the data is sparse. Can the value of these inspiring wild creatures somehow also include calculating this? For example, I just got information that a single county in Colorado (my home), outdoor recreation of all sorts exceeded $30 million dollars… in 2008! Wild horse tourism should be a subset of this sort of toursim financial fact finding, I expect if we don’t lose what’s left of our herds the dollar value returned to local communities will far exceed other financial benefits, especially since this sort of tourism often includes international travelers (pre Covid at least).

    8. It seems to me the Fire Brigade idea has enough merit to pursue a pilot project which could provide better data to inform the value of taking it further. A location should be carefully selected and documented ahead of introductions, then studiously monitored for a number of years, perhaps with some university involvement?

    9. Keep those innovative ideas coming, folks! We sure need more, and more quickly. In the meantime contact your elected representatives to request a moratorium on roundups and removals to allow time to avoid making yet more irreversible and deadly decisions.

    Liked by 1 person

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