How the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse Management is Causing Harm and Increased Population Growth.
April 14, 2018
We have long known that removing old horses from wild herds is a bad idea. Older horses in the herd provide knowledge that the herd needs to find food in winter months or water in dry years, but this study of collective movement in ecology also shows that such removals of older animals also changes the natural behaviors, including breeding behaviors.
“In species with complex and stable groups, optimal management approaches might take into consideration social structure, hierarchies and group dynamics. In species in which older members serve as informational repositories, such as elephants, the death of older animals has long-lasting effects. When culling elephants (Loxodonta africana), typically all of the older individuals in a group are killed and the younger individuals left. However, even decades later, the remaining elephants do not respond appropriately to social cues. In wolves (Canis lupis), in spite of compensatory dynamics, which support in general a high harvest rate, groups losing the alpha members may be more likely to skip a breeding season, alter group composition or break up altogether; so there may be some ephemeral behavioural and group-level responses. Further work indicates that there may be a critical group size, below which reproduction rates are negative. Some suggest that lethal population control efforts should target solitary individuals or territorial pairs.”
Collective movement in ecology: from emerging technologies to conservation and management
Peter A. H. Westley, Andrew M. Berdahl, Colin J. Torney, Dora Biro
Published 26 March 2018.DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0004
The 2013 National Academy of Sciences report on the wild horse and burro program also talked about recompensatory breeding side-effects of the disruption to the herds caused by a gather and subsequent removal of horses. And, in a report by Dr. Gus Cothran, a minimum number of horses in a herd is needed for genetic viability. When this number is not present, and the herds are repeatedly gathered, causing bands to be separated, older horses to be removed and stallions to fight to get mares and create a new band, these are all biological cues for the horse that create instinctual breeding for the survival of the species. In other words, they feel their survival, as a species is in danger, so they breed more than they would if left to behave naturally.
The statement we hear from those opposed to wild horses being managed on the land, those that feel they are overpopulated, is that the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA) was created to control the population and to kill excess horses. However, the WFRHBA was created at a time when there were so few horses left in the wild that Congress passed the bill to protect the horses. This protection was to be done on preserves, to be designated where the horses currently were in 1971. These maps or preserves were done by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1973 and 74.
This was also the time that the first census was done and nationwide there were estimated to be 58 to 60 thousand wild horses (all statements herein include burros as well, it is common to hear horses, when the speaker or author is actually talking about horses and burros which I do throughout this article when speaking of laws, management, and population).
Going back to the NAS report we know that the methods used to estimate population are likely to result in much fewer horses that are actually out there. So we have to assume there were significantly more horses at a time when Congress had stated that it was startling that wild horses were “fast disappearing” from the American west and unanimously passed a law to protect them. Scientists and ecologists have estimated the numbers were likely to double, meaning there was likely over 100,000 wild horses on the land at that time.
Those opposed to the current wild horse population claim that at the time of the 1971 law passing in Congress there were roughly 27,000 wild horses, and use that as the target number for total population today. Why would we want to return to a number that was so low that it caused unanimous agreement that they were in danger of extinction and must be protected?
How would it cause genetic extinction when there are 27,000? The horses are kept in small areas of the original land given to them via the 1971 law, in fact, the last statistics stated that they are only managed on 17% or the land that was once theirs following the implementation of the law. The following graphic will help explain.
The management using multiple-use formula was something mandated by the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) which came after the 1971 law that mandated the wild horse preserves created were to be managed ‘principally’ for wild horses. When FLPMA stated public lands must be managed for multiple use, that was implemented. However, the part of FLPMA ignored was the qualification that FLPMA did not override any existing federal land use laws.
There are court rulings that state the 71 law is a federal land use law, so FLPMA could not legally change the principal use of the preserves. The horses should be managed on the entire acreage allocated for them, and those HA’s or herd areas should be managed principally for horses. (*Note – throughout this author say horses, but this applies to horses & burros)
Why is the current administration, and the DOI, USDA willing to lie about wild horse numbers and effects on the lands when clearly the greater cost both monetarily and in wildlife loss, and land value loss comes from commercial livestock on the public lands?
October 2004: for the first time in the history of the agency, the Bureau of Land Management collected more revenue in recreational fees than annual grazing fees. This despite the fact that recreational fees are often collected through voluntary pay stations, while grazing fees are mandatory and enforced, and BLM does not charge fees for many recreational offerings on BLM lands.
In Nevada (the state with more federal land than any other outside of Alaska), federal public lands grazing provides 1,228 jobs. By comparison, one casino in Las Vegas employs 37,000 people.
Alternative uses of federal public lands contribute much more income to local and regional economies than livestock grazing. In the Central Winter Ecosystem Management Area in the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, dispersed recreation is worth $200,000 annually to the local and regional economies; fuelwood is worth $48,984; livestock grazing is worth $45,988, and deer and turkey hunting is worth $1,324,259.
As part of his research on public lands grazing economics, Dr. Thomas Powers produced two tables of data that are widely cited to refute the contention that public lands grazing is essential to western state economies.
In summary, we disagree with the target population of approximately 27,000 horses left on the range as stated by BLM, DOI, and others.
We assert that it will bring about a genetic extinction of the wild horses.
We assert that 41% of the land was removed from the program without consultation.
We assert that the remaining 59% has been illegally divided and horses are not the principal use of that 49%.
We recommend that the 41% be repatriated, that the land is managed principally for horses, and that horses currently in holding are released back out onto these lands.
French, B. Rec fees surpass grazing for first time in BLM history. Billings Gazette (Oct. 7, 2004).
Power, T. 1996. LOST LANDSCAPES AND FAILED ECONOMIES: THE SEARCH FOR A VALUE OF PLACE. Island Press. Washington, DC: 184 (table 8-2).
Greenhouse, S. Behind Las Vegas’s glitter, heavy losses and layoffs. New York Times (Oct. 19, 2001).
Souder, J. 1997. How does livestock grazing fit into the larger societal uses of wildlands?, PROC. SYMP. ON ENVIRONMENTAL, ECONOMIC, AND LEGAL ISSUES RELATED TO RANGELAND WATER DEVELOPMENTS. Arizona St. Univ. Tempe, AZ: 305.