Horse News

OPINION: BLM Seeking to Decimate Wild Horse Populations?

by as published on The Pagosa Daily Post

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West…”

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

According to a November, 2020, article in The Aspen Times, the US Bureau of Land Mangement (BLM) seeks to cut Colorado’s wild horse population by more than half.

The remaining wild horse may be subjected to questionable chemical population control.

Let’s start by examining some facts, instead of the misleading agenda-driven narratives that are promoted by some non-profit activists who condone what are arguably violations of at least the intent of the very Act created to protect wild horses and burros.

The Preamble to the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro and Horse Protection Act assigns the intention of the Act by the will of the American people through Congress. That Preamble states:

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.

The intent of the 1971 Act is paramount and timeless. As outlined in its Preamble, the intent was not to have herds of wild horses and burros artificially managed as if they are livestock.

Wild horses being harassed by misguided activists and advocates. Wild horse activist-advocates, disturbing and chasing horses around the landscape with high-powered compressed-gas firearms, and shooting them with heavy darts filled with chemicals, is technically ‘harassing’ American wild horses. Non-profit wild horse activist-advocates who condone or support the policy of chasing wild horses around the landscape and shooting them with chemical contraceptive darts weighing 500-grains or more, are indirectly culpable in this harassment.

Physical Trauma Inflicted via Contraceptive Darting of Wild Horses
“Even on a large animal struck correctly, the dart (contraceptive PZP and GonaCon darts) can cause hemorrhage and hematoma. Misplaced shots can break bones or even kill the animal” (Thomas and Marburger 1964).

“Muzzle report can cause problems in darting either captive or free-ranging animals. In captive situations, the noise can be more disturbing to animals than getting struck with a dart… Disturbed animals are then more difficult to approach, or the entire group of animals may run away”. (Page 32; Overview of Delivery Systems for the Administration of Contraceptive to Wildlife”, by Terry J. Kreeger.)

Selective breeding used on American wild horses
The use of any contraceptive chemicals on wild horses is a form of ‘selective breeding’. Horses that are treated cannot have foals, while the untreated do have foals. And the person pulling the trigger decides which mares (and genes) are selected. The act of choosing which animals get to breed and which do not, is a form of ‘selective breeding’, and that is part of domestication. In some cases, the decision is based upon a horses’ appearance in the eyes of a person engaged in darting, or which horse is a convenient target. And even with a genetic analysis of the target horse(s), it is still a form of selective breeding.

Long-term effects of contraceptive chemicals (PZP & GonaCon) are genetically devastating. The use of the contraceptive chemicals known as ‘PZP’ and ‘GonaCon’ have a seriously adverse effect on the gene-lines of native species American wild horses. The results of using PZP and/or GonaCon to control populations of equids, kept in artificially managed herd areas with collapsed trophic cascades (natural predators of equids are largely missing), disintermediates the essential evolutionary process of ‘Natural Selection’, where co-evolved predators weed-out the sick, elderly and diseased animals.

So, keeping (managing) wild equids comingled with livestock in herd areas where their co-evolved predators have been depleted or are missing, is doing wild equids an ecological and genetic disservice and is actually mismanaging them.

It’s a fact that chemical contraceptives (PZP and GonaCon) cause genetic erosion over time, and social disturbances in family bands, as well as other adverse effects (aborted foals, etc.). Dr. Cassandra Nunez PhD has many published studies outlining these issues, here:

Condoning, supporting or standing silent about such questionable conduct against wild horses, even as a so-called interim solution to arbitrarily and artificially reduce wild horse populations, is engaging in willful ignorance and harming wild horses and ecosystems. Wild horses and burros must be ‘wild and free’ and living naturally in a ‘natural system’ on public lands.

There is a proven, natural method for saving America’s wild horses, that is economically and ecologically appropriate (cash-positive for taxpayers), instead of the $-Billion dollar drain over the next ten years that is proposed by the Biden administration and supported by Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, which is laden with potential for ongoing headaches and litigation for all stakeholders.

‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’ is a natural, holistic solution:

10 replies »

  1. Good information here I have also suggested in recent years, but with little response, sadly.

    I quibble with the word “decimate” in the title, since technically that means only one in ten is being removed when clearly half or more are targeted for removals and unnatural selection through darting and ever-harsher “contraception” tactics.

    I am curious about the darting study referenced, which is from 1964, mentioning bones can be broken. I expect this study was on larger animals like rhinos and elephants, not equids, but am not sure it matters. Surely there is more recent information on wild equid darting and related problems (if any)? While I am not a fan of this approach generally I have viewed some darting videos posted by folks from the Sand Wash Advocates Team which show the horses undisturbed by the quiet approach and even the noise and impact of shooting the darts.

    While I understand this matter divides the “advocacy” it would be helpful to avoid the “my way or the highway” rhetoric which all seem readily supplied with. These divisions do not help the wild ones at all, and further enable their extermination.

    We can all surely agree the mismanagement writ large must end! What comes next should be a matter of consensus and deliberation, teamed with some pilot projects (aka the Fire Brigade) to inform future strategies with a central focus on keeping these wild animals wild, in the wild, as the law and nature intended. Unnatural selection is NOT congruent with either the letter or intent of the law and further cripples the abilities of these animals to adapt to a changing world in ways we cannot predict or comprehend–as they have for millennia.


  2. Nice text but the sentence below needs to be corrected ” The use of the contraceptive chemicals known as ‘PZP’ and ‘GonaCon’ have a seriously adverse effect on the gene-lines of native species American wild horse” There are no “native species of American Wild horse”. Horses are an introduced species and all horses (wild and domesticated) belong to the same species. I am not contesting the fact that contraceptives disrupt population genetics in a random way that can be deleterious, I am questioning your use of the terms “species”, and “native”, which are not in line with the biological use of these terms.


    • There has been more research regarding how old the horse fossils are that have been found here. Fossils from before the Spaniards arrived here. I think the information is available if you look for it. I’ve seen several studies done – of course I didnt write down the names. But the internet is “out there” – and I’m positive – if you look – you will find it. Perhaps it would change your opinion – or not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • NONE of the horses currently in the USA descend from those “horses” you are talking about. All mustangs descend from introduced horses. I do not look for information “out there” on the internet, I am a biologist and a researcher and I look for information on research databases.


      • The problem here is that it takes several years of studying evolution and systematics to be able to have this discussion and I do not have the time to elaborate on every aspect. The NA horse linage for which there is fossil record became extinct. There is really no way to tell with certainty if an extinct lineage belongs in the same species as a modern lineage because there is no way to apply the test of reproduction and viable offspring up to the second generation, to comply with the biological species’ concept. Please note, first, that there are different understandings of what constitutes a species, or subspecies, and second, the ways we taxonomists delimit species, is somewhat subjective, if the teste of biological species cannot be applied. Although the term “genetic analysis” may sound convincing to a lay person, there are different ways to interpret the results of such analyses and the results from different genes may also conflict. Without reading and thoroughly understating the relevant literature, you and I will be arguing without arriving at a mutual understanding. The feral horses roaming the West are introduced from a domesticated linage from Europe, and therefore, managing the American wild horses with contraceptives will not in any way disrupt the extinct native lineage of horses, whether they correspond to the same species (which I seriously doubt) or not. I am sympathetic with your cause and wish horses and burros were maintained free, but I also think that writing sentences that are not perceived as accurate by biologists does not help your cause. Be well and congratulations for fighting for these marvelous creatures.


    • The evidence of nativity is multifaceted and quite clear; the only argument is if there were any alive on this entire continent when the Spaniards brought some back (and if any of theirs survived the early forays). The phenotypes which came from the Spanish earliest introductions are substantially different as well.

      I (and others) am a serious researcher and welcome any concrete, peer-reviewed evidence you may have proving “all” horses today descended from the Spanish mounts, as well as your related assertion the Americas were entirely horseless in 1500.

      Can you provide credible evidence countering the substantial DNA and fossil evidence that all horse species originated in the Americas, not simply your own opinion?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Quite a novelty here & elsewhere to hear two different views/opinions on any subject (much less THIS one) with no rudeness, or name calling in this particular current time! How sad is it that it has become such an abnormal happening? I guess it really is possible to “agree to disagree”. And have both parties (including me, I hope) end on a friendly note! Kind of nice, huh? It may not change anyone’s opinion but at least it isnt the kind of vindictiveness that I’ve heard & read before – not only here – but too many other blogs.
    NOW if we can actually do something about these darn roundups.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We can argue taxonomic systems all day long but these also are often fluid and not uniformly agreed upon. I think we can also agree that even today we are finding new species that don’t exactly fit our intellectual constructs, and some we thought extinct are not, and others are being reclassified. After all, the core principle of science is a hypothesis must adapt to new information, otherwise is is simply dogma.

    Need to add this clarification as well:

    “The feral horses roaming the West are introduced from a domesticated linage from Europe…”

    First, a feral horse is not one born wild, by legal definition, and in our American laws any estray or unbranded animal is considered wild in this context. Feral as a legal term means an animal born under domestication then released by various means into wild living. One has to wonder how many federal and state wildlife programs would have to be classified as releasing feral animals by this incorrect definition. If a lynx or wolf pup was raised by state officials and then released (as is happening in my state and others, using taxpayer dollars), are they then to be considered “feral” as well? Our laws and dollars designate them as wildlife being reintroduced into their natural habitats.

    Further, those “horses from Europe” descend from ancestors who originated here, as other credible science and scientists have shown, so describing them as “introduced” is also incorrect. The term most widely in use is “reintroduced” since what animals were brought over, released, and survived likely found mates already here, in their native homelands. In common parlance, they were coming home, biologically.

    I will make a plea here for everyone to avoid using the word “feral” without biological justification, as it has simply become a pejorative term through overuse. It should be reserved for specific identifiable cases where an animal or animals raised domestically are released from human care altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well – to use a slighter older term – RIGHT ON, ICY.
    I admit to being a “layperson” where science & biology are concerned. Have learned so much from various people on this blog – including yourself, Grandma Gregg & bless her, Marybeth Devlin, among others. Still put my foot in my mouth now & then. But do appreciate any corrections or information coming my way.
    The whole “feral” moniker needs to be retired, I think. Mainly seems to get used by naysayers, anyhow.

    Liked by 1 person

Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.