Horse News

Opinion: Just let the wild horses be

By Rhonda Ferris as published on The Nevada Independent

by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation


I am a former Nevadan who lived and worked in Las Vegas from 1983 to 2001. I am writing because the column by Mr. David Colborne recently published by The Nevada Independent and titled “My Invasive Species is Tastier than your Invasive Species” was both biased and disgusting. Mr. Colborne must have been sitting on a high desert mesa smoking Mormon Tea when this article came to him telepathically from the aliens in Area 51 during a feral cat invasion. How’s that for a catchy thought?

First of all, comparing feral horses to feral cats is pathetic on its face. Second, as a horse owner, advocate, rescuer (I rescue cats, too) and trainer, I think the column’s title was written specifically to capture the attention (it certainly did mine) of readers without respect to facts or a true understanding of the issue. The more I read, the angrier I became. Is Mr. Colborne actually suggesting that we gather up all these feral nuisances and slaughter them only to end up on a dinner plate somewhere in the world?

The wild horse issue in Nevada is a long and tenacious one regardless of how the horses got there. The problem actually started with the Bureau of Land Management when they took over wild horse management in 1971. I was there, and I saw first-hand the havoc BLM policies created.

I would like to take you back to 1984. It was a wet year for the Nevada desert. In Las Vegas, Sunset Road was still mostly dirt, and after one thunderstorm, it was a raging river. What happens with a prolonged monsoon season? All the dry lake beds fill up, all the grasslands and high desert mesas bloom with vegetation and all the grass grows much like the Serengeti when the rains come. What comes with more grass? More horses, antelope, cattle and every other creature that lives in those ecosystems.

In 1984, the wild horse population started to grow. Then came the drought years. So, with all these horses on the federal ranges of Nevada, the BLM decided they would drill wells to provide water for the horses. After all, it’s 115 in the shade on a midsummer day out there. I saw these wells and watched in wonder as the stallions would bring in their mares and foals to water. It was an amazing and beautiful sight.

But the horse population, thriving on still limited grass and free water, got too large for the environment to sustain them. (Horses can go without food, for a time, but they cannot go without water.) When the wild horse population got too big, the rains quit, the grass dried up, and guess what happened? The BLM shut off all the water in an effort to “control the population.” Where horses once peacefully waited their turn at the watering hole, there were now brutal fights between stallions and mares struggling to get to the trickle of water not flowing. Horses were injured, sick, starving, and worse, wandering beyond their normal boundaries, getting on roads and close to human populations searching for water.

Have you ever seen what happens to a horse when a car hits it head on? Or worse, what happens to the driver of the vehicle that hits it? I have. It is time for the BLM to quit being the wild horse population police.

Wake up, horse advocates. The American Wild Horse Campaign noted that in 1993, after 250 hours of counting, their count of 8,300 horses did not even come close to reconciling with BLM “estimates” of 24,000. So where did all the horses go? Well, in that publication, if you keep on reading, there was a strong suggestion that horses were being “carted off, in the dark desert night”. After all, there is a value to horse meat in Japan, France, Mexico, and other countries. Right?

The wild horse population, with the help of BLM and others, is quickly and quietly disappearing through the efforts of heavy lobbying by ‘rich’ ranchers, politicians, the oil and gas industry and most of all, horse haters like Mr. Colborne.

There is a problem. But it is not the horses; it is the humans. Horses are being terrified and brutalized in vast numbers every time a BLM helicopter swoops down to round them up. Mr. Colborne obviously does not understand, nor care to understand, the nature of horses: A 200 foot by 100 foot pen is a fate worse than death for a wild horse. The BLM started it. They should fix it. Leave the horses alone, and let nature take its course. Horses will manage their own populations if humans would just get out of the way. Like all wild animals, they will manage through good years and bad ones to sustainably survive as a species…(CONTINUED)

7 replies »

  1. Exactly right Rhonda. Nature knows very well how to dictate and manage all coexisting species, through its own principles. Every time mankind seeks to alter nature through artificial means, and its numbers, chaos takes over and a negative cascade effect results. They need to remain, unmanaged and untouched and allow natures own principles to dictate the numbers at any given time.. Nature is dynamic, constantly and continually adjusts numbers of all coexisting species through density dependent and independent inhibition, moment by moment. Again, this is why a fixed number like the AML cannot balance anything. The AML was designed to systematiclly wipe out the wild horses, giving the BLM an excuse to roundup. PZP is also an artificial control and a detriment regardless of motives. Nature is not a static entity, and only by a hands off policy will they thrive in numbers that are ideal for the environment,.Sometimes more, and sometimes less but always in balance with everything else This principle applies to all wild creatures, both flora and fauna. Nature is continually speaking. Do we have the time and patience to stop and listen


  2. These are great ideals, but the stark truth is our wild horses and burros are inded managed by law (though ineptly enough). We have fenced them in, reduced their habitats and resources, sterilized and contraceptive darted them, rounded up and removed thousands in the past 50 years… and all these interventions are not only continuing but escalating.

    As I see it there is no real option to leave them alone unless a large enough scale “reserve” were dedicated to their natural survival. Any species confined and allowed to reproduce will follow the rules of biology 101, meaning eventually they will overshoot their resources and adjust their populations accordingly. I don’t see this happening in our lifetimes without a major public policy shift.

    The general public won’t likely stand for horses being starved or slaughtered by their paid managers, hence the slow extinctions more or less out of sight are continuous. If we are to manage them (as we must) we need better than “all or nothing” approaches. I challenge everyone reading this to try to think of some not currently being considered as options. We can’t invent more land, we can’t invent more water, we can’t undevelop lands that were sold off to private property owners, and we can’t even seem to agree wild horses are native here despite irrefutable fossil and DNA evidence to that effect.

    So, bring on some better ideas! I can name a few but would like to start a dialogue with others chiming in. It’s your turn to help visualize what, if any, future America’s wild horses and burros will have.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Given the area that the 1971 free Roaming Horse and Burro Act had provided for the wild horses, this can still happen, even with the area they have now. Nature will accomadate. The policy change has to be that management has to be taken out of the hands of the BLM and Dept of Interior so that the wild horse and burro program is eliminated, and realize this takes some legal workings, but can be done. The idea that you mentioned has already been proposed by Craig Downer, wildlife ecologist, something which I agree with, called ” Reserve Design”. The premise of Reserve Design is that a large amount of land is set aside for the wild horses, legally designated for the horses, and in essence turn them loose and leave hands off and the horses to nature’s dictates. In essence, however this was the intent of the 1971 free roaming horse and burro act, however, so the BLM and the Dept of Interior have to be taken out of the equation. Regardless, a hands off approach, unmanaged and untouched has to be the only approach or it will never work. I know you may disagree but when one truly understands the ecological approach, it can happen

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with most all you write here (now and in the past), and especially that the BLM/USFS need to be out of the management of our wild horses and burros altogether. Both agencies have serious conflicts of interest and despite the mandate that wild equids are to be allocated “principal” resources, this hasn’t happened.

      I know Craig and his work quite well, but ask you to consider how the millions of acres allotted to our wild equids in 1971 (which at that time were simply estimates, to be followed up with actual mapping) now bereft of them could ever be returned. Some no longer have water, some were sold off, some now have completely different recreational use profiles etc. Not to mention the changes in livestock grazing allotments over the past 50 years.

      A “hands-off” policy makes some sense, but you surely realize that even in a “reserve” the area will be confined, and thus artificially implemented? We really don’t have any free-ranging animals on the range anymore, not with the numbers of people, fences, roads, transmission lines, and property boundaries of today.

      So what are your thoughts on a reserve — a single large one and abolish all the smaller HMAs, or a patchwork like we now have of ever-shrinking and genetically withering herds across a few states?

      If for example, we wanted a single HMA large enough to sustain 72,000 reproducing horses, what size would that have to be in the arid West? And where? And what is your answer to the millions of citizens who would find the notion of letting them starve horrifying, however ecologically valid?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article! I would add this. It’s about time the BLM was fired! Revamp and reorganize this Dept with knowledgeable and caring people! Stop putting together committees of cattle ranchers, PRO Horse Slaughter and others that lack appropriate knowledge regarding their care! The new Secretary of the Interior has a big job ahead of her! No more scum bags on decision making committees! Let Americans who care be a part of these committees!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reserve design carries with it the concept that it is not just one big area but as many big areas as necessary, so to speak specifically set aside that no one can touch them, again the premise being that nature takes over with njumbers, not mankind. The irony is that that is what the 1971 wild free roaming horse and burro act did, or supposed to have done, but the US government found illegal ways of getting their hands on everything. In my mind I wonder which one is better and what the 1971 wild free roaming horse and burro act did was great. Really think that there has got to be a way of removing the BLM and Dept of Interior from management of wild horses and burros. Definitely a ;legal process but that has got to be the focus. No more tap dancing, so to speak with this governmenet entity. As to the legal procedure, I’m not sure, but it has to be a concerted effort. Many groups are fighting, a little bit here and there along the way, FoA one of the big ones that has been doing a great job, The problem is that while a little here, and a little there is going on, the roundups continue, mainly because of the AML. So the battle cry continues of overpopulation, while the BLM wipes them out. Science proves the wild horses need to remain unmanaged and untouched, just like the rest of the wild, so somehow the focus has got to be to remove the wild horse and burro program of the BLM, or remove them as an entity over the horses, or both, because everyone knows they are illegal in their actions and unethical. Sorry just thinking out loud. Its clear the BLM doesn’t listen to the comment letters that are sent in against roundups, contraceptives, spaying, etc.. That part of it is just excuse for the BLM to say that they gave the public a chance to comment, and then they ignor the science. Still we can’t be silent. Somehow all of the groups AWHC, Cloud, FoA, and the others need to work together, pool the resources, financial,and legal as well as the other resources and remove the BLM from overseeing the wild horses. But it can only happen if everyone works together, only together, not separate. It has to be now as the numbers out there are not even close to what the BLM are saying and we are close to extinction. Together not separate is always where the big battles have been won

      Liked by 2 people

      • Agreed. Surely you saw and read the Unified Statement given to every sitting Congresspersion a few years ago? In that document several steps were outlined as a way to work together going forward. But it seems to have somehow led to the perversion we now see of the “path forward” to extinction. It is perhaps another eerie perversion that our advocacy tribalism mirrors that of many indigenous tribes as they faced a common foe. Individually they and we will lose, but to join forces, quiet our disagreements and face the same direction together seems a fantasy.

        I’m not a member of any particular group but entered the fray with the express goal of trying to use what I can to be an agent for change in a positive way. Over the years I (and others) have proposed some actions that would lead to such changes but these have mostly fallen on deaf ears within the advocacy, sadly. I’m not sure why this happens but as you point out, the time is NOW and unless we can unify and get more citizens involved our wild ones will be lost to us and those who follow us. Maybe most don’t care, but for those who do, working against each other is certain death for these creatures we pretend to care for.

        Link to the unified statement for those interested in seeing it. Take a look especially at who is (and is not) listed as a supporter:

        Click to access AWI-WL-Moving-Forward-A-Humane-Sustainable-Management-Plan.pdf

        Liked by 1 person

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