Wild Horses and wildfire fuels
Image courtesy: CAL-FIRE
Wildfires aren’t getting any better even though state and federal budgets to address wildfires have doubled and tripled over the past 10-years!
In fact wildfires are bigger, more intense, more damaging and more costly than ever!
Expensive band-aid solutions are now well-proven failures, with exorbitant costs bleeding taxpayers, as well as county and state coffers.
One of the major failed band-aids is the notion that prescribed burning can be a solution, which is now a highly flawed concept, as we read here:
Added to massive financial losses is the net loss of millions of acres of forests annually, along with the watersheds those forests had provided! We cannot sustain ANY MORE of such losses!
When will legislators start looking at the real Root Cause of the frequency and intensity of Wildfires?
Over 100 peer-reviewed published scientific studies prove that the collapsed herbivory (severely depleted deer and elk populations in far western states) is the source of excessive un-grazed grass and brush wildfire fuels.
The Executive Summary about the beneficial uses of wild horses in wilderness areas that are ecologically and economically appropriate can be read here (PDF):
Livestock are not the solution in the 110-million acres of critical/designated wilderness areas for the following reasons:
1. Costs to livestock producers for managing cattle and sheep in remote wilderness are prohibitive due to costs related to predation by apex predators of livestock.
And killing-off all the apex predators is ecologically unsound and leads to more problems, like spreading Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer because of a lack of Natural Selection by the co-evolved predators of deer, elk, etc. that remove diseased animals before they spread diseases…. That is part of their critical role on the landscape as a part of evolutionary Natural Selection.
In fact, the collapsed populations of apex in many regions (27-states+) is leading to the spread of the fatal disease called Chronic Wasting Disease (‘CWD’) in cervids (deer, elk, etc.).
I spoke to Dr. Mark Zabel at the Prion Research Center in Fort Collins, CO, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, who addressed that concern in the email message below where I posit questions about co-mingling cattle and sheep in areas grazed by cervids that might be carrying CWD:
From: Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
To: Zabel, Mark
Sent: Thu, Jul 12, 2017 21:16
I think we should have a discussion about how involved you and/or your team would like to be in studying a deployment of wild horses into an ecosystem alongside cervids. And if so, it may be important to survey the existing animals in the area(s) before the horses are deployed in developing some baseline data.
You’re the expert so you’ll have to tell me, but it seems logical that there may be some vector/biological path from the prions causing CWD in cervids to potentially infect livestock via some form of transmission, possibly from cattle and sheep being on grazing lands and sharing water sources with infected cervids? The cattle industry cannot afford any further BSE or similar out breaks (one sick cow with ‘mad-cow shuts the industry down), and they are pushing the US Forest Service hard to graze more cattle in immediate proximity to cervids, sharing grazing and water sources. I think that may be unwise until completed surveys have been conducted and pathways for transmission have been fully explored.
From my relatively ignorant perspective on potential transmission paths, it seems reasonable to think that the cattle/sheep industry would;
1. Want to avoid grazing cattle and sheep in close proximity to cervids, at least or until cervid populations could be surveyed for prions and rates of infection; and,
2. Begin the study of equids and cervids co-existing in an ecosystem to determine what aspect of the evolutionary mutualism has and may continue to benefit cervids through equid mutualism, and possibly determine what mechanism led to the horse’s acquired an immunity to the prions … and if there is a potential cure that can be applied; gene therapy … epigenetic path to resistance?
The USFS, BLM and the Cattle industry might be inclined to help fund such surveys and studies for the obvious reasons …
From: Zabel, Mark
To: Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
Sent: Thu, Jul 13, 2017 11:48 am
You are absolutely right and I would strongly discourage any cattle from grazing in CWD endemic areas. Really short-sighted and bad idea until we know further how prions jump species barriers. Cattle ranchers would not like the bad publicity if the media and beef consumers found out that cattle are mingling with cervids, especially in confirmed CWD enzoonitc areas.
2. Costs to livestock producers that result from management logistic costs in remote wilderness areas (fuel, personnel, trucking, etc.) also hit profitability hard.
3. It is well-established science that ruminant grazers (livestock) with complex stomachs strip-off native species flora due to their complex digestive system that digests all the seeds of the native plants and grasses they eat. This results in additional adverse ecological effects:
a) The fauna (animals) that depend upon their co-evolved native plants and grasses suffer and disappear when these food resources are stripped-off.
These animals include numerous species of pollinators, birds, and small mammals, many of which are threatened and/or endangered species!
b) The net loss of native species flora leads to more erosion and less infiltration of annual precipitation into aquifers. This is a serious issue in our current time of record drought!
c) Increased erosion from loss of native species cover crops in wilderness stemming from livestock grazing leads to excessive silting-in of the spawning beds of trout and salmon. This results in decreased and collapsed fish-runs and failed fisheries.
The Overlooked Solution
We currently have 60,000 wild horses that American taxpayers are supporting in off-range corrals at the cost of about $100-million annually!
These wild horses can be re-wilded using Existing Law (Humane Transfer of Excess Animals Act: H.R. 1625 – Section 313), and then employed as wildfire fuels reduction ‘work animals’ in remote areas unsuited to livestock wildfire grazing as cited.
Interestingly, the protections that wild horses enjoy under this existing Law, as far superior to the so-called ‘protection’ under the boot-heels of aggressively draconian BLM management, which arguably violates ever tenant of the preamble to the 1971 Act to protect wild horses. The BLM engages in brutal roundups, segregation of family members, branding, mutilation and chemical sterilization treatments, and ultimately, captivity and shady dealings that feed the black market slaughter pipeline.
A quick review of the preamble to the 1971 Act:
“It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming wild horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death…”
As is evident in the News Media, the BLM is clearly violating all of those cited intended protections, and has even created some new medieval tortures of their own, much akin to what the Nazi’s did to humans during WW2.
But there is hope and a Law that is administered by local officials and communities who have some oversight over county and state authorities. H.R. 1625 – 313 is a path for wild horses to be removed from the BLM’s heavy-handed tactics of extermination.
Wild horses obtained under H.R. 1625 – 313 can be deployed into wilderness areas overseen at the County and State levels for deployment as wildfire fuel maintenance using the ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’ model.
Having the experience with a working model, the team at Wild Horse Fire Brigade Org can provide guidance and oversight to county and state authorities who are interested in solving their wildfire fuels issues and also helping wild horses by giving them a place back into Nature, where they belong.
Equus Caballus, the modern horse, evolved in N. America 1.7-million years ago.
Their species has seen both warmer and colder climates and thrived through millions of wildfires. Each horse grazes about 30-35 pounds of grass and brush per day, or about 5.5 tons per horse, per year.
American wild horses are mono-gastric digestors, meaning: they have a simple stomach and virtually pass all the seeds of native plants and grasses they eat back onto the landscape where they germinate!
Numerous scientific studies have proven that horses are Nature’s re-seeders of native plants and grasses and are symbiotic because they help the native flora to complete their life-cycles!
This is very significant given the value proposition.
Economics of Wild Horse Fire Brigade (Re-wilding of captive wild horses)
1. Wild horses are ‘free’ to any government agency from the BLM… states, counties, as well as state and county agencies can obtain wild horses (and may even be paid an annual fee for keeping herds outside of areas of conflict on Herd Areas) and then apply them to the chore of sustainably and cost effectively managing wildfire fuels, without the dangers, adverse health affects, and costs of prescribed burning.
2. Using comparable cost-metrics for wildfire fuels reduction methodologies, we find that over the course of the life (~20-years) of one wild horse, each horse provides approximately $72,000.00 in wildfire fuels reduction services, and does so at no cost to taxpayers.
3. A small reduction in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in our 110-million areas of critical wilderness means this:
a) Saving old growth and heritage trees.
b) Saving watersheds
c) Saving wildlife from wildfire
d) Saving fisheries from post-wildfire catastrophic erosion
e) Saving taxpayers the costs related to un-ending wildfire suppression.
Doing What’s Economically, Ecologically and Morally Reasonable
America was literally built off the backs of American wild horses! People forget that important fact. There would be no America as well know it if we hadn’t tapped their populations for millions of horses to engage in a multitude of assigned work, including millions of our wild horses that were used (shipped overseas) in support of our War (WW1) and in support of the wars of allies. We owe a debt to this noble species. And if fail to honor that debt, then we are the lesser for that malfeasance.
Executive Summary of the Ecological Benefits of ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’
The PDF at the URL below provides a quick oversight of the proven benefits of wild horses that are restored as keystone herbivores into wilderness areas that are both ecologically and economically appropriate:
RECENT TV NEWS INTERVIEWS RE: ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’