Comments From Our Readers
The beautiful pyrrhuloxia on the cover of your January-February issue [Special Photo Awards edition] reminded me of the cardinals in Michigan. But my favorite picture is second-place Youth winner Ryan Watkins’s nuthatch (page 52 in the print version). Nuthatches come to my sunflower feeder; I’m amazed at how they hang upside down to eat!
I conducted the first BLM-authorized helicopter horse roundup under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 [“Saddle Sores,” Incite, January-February]. I spent 18 years trying to keep ahead of the population growth with BLM crews, in Wyoming and all over the West. Then, beginning in 1993, the BLM started to move into politically correct management of wild horses and lost the war. Thanks for an honest summary of the wild horse situation and for referencing the problems in the Adobe Town and Salt Wells Horse Management Areas, which are part of our 1981 court order to Interior to manage [horses] or remove them. Your article should be read into the Congressional Record.
Rock Springs, WY
I’ve worked in the horse industry for years, and have seen both sides. The ratio of psychologically or physically damaged horses is immeasurable compared to the number of useful horses. I’m not saying that every horse can’t be saved, but people want horses they can connect to or use for sport or pleasure. All others get tossed aside. People aren’t educated about a horse’s true needs, and the equine industry banks on naivete. Handling most of our treasured “mustangs” requires professionals. Humane slaughter could solve some of our human and horse hunger problems. That’s more realistic than trying to change the attitude of the good ol’ boy breeder who’s been in the industry for 50 years.
Anonymous Horse Advocate
I’m the former president of the Public Lands Foundation, a nonprofit whose members are primarily retired BLM employees. Drawing on our experiences, we’ve developed a paper with what we consider the solution to the wild horse issue. It’s available at publicland.org.
Perhaps the most significant inaccuracy in Ted Williams’s piece is his reference to the wild horses as being “feral,” “non-native,” “alien,” and “invasive.” The National Academy of Sciences released findings in December 2010, concluding that wild horses are indigenous to the United States.
Williams also writes that wild horse herds grow at an annual rate of 20 to 30 percent. Independent researchers writing in the Journal of Wildlife Management note that the actual rate falls between one and five percent. The BLM’s own estimate is that approximately 25,000 horses remain in the wild. Assuming this is accurate, even if the growth rate were over 20 percent, the current “gather schedule” is slated to remove 12,000 horses this year alone—and these aggressive gather schedules could continue or escalate with increasing pressure from big business and the beef lobby.
Williams doesn’t mention that current grazing programs offered to ranchers are operating at a deficit of more than $120 million, says the Government Accountability Office website. So not only is the taxpayer funding roundups, we subsidize ranchers.
Regardless of what the BLM states publicly, wild mustangs are going to slaughter in record numbers, according to “Horses to Slaughter,” by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Once they reach long-term holding, they’re in private facilities and off the public’s radar. From there, they can be sent for butchering in Mexico.
A more just writer would acknowledge that the wild equids have much to contribute to the American ecosystem. They’re post-gastric digesters, unlike the majority of ruminant herbivores, and their less-decomposed droppings add humus to the soils and augment their moisture retentiveness and nutritional content to plants growing from them. Williams also fails to acknowledge the relative proportions of livestock and big game animals vis-a-vis wild horses on public lands, which reveal just how tiny are the numbers and resource consumption of the latter and how overwhelmingly monopolistic are the former.
Craig C. Downer
Ted Williams responds:
G. Confalone’s contention that feral horses are indigenous is absurd. The modern horse, selected for domesticity for centuries, is bigger and radically different than the truly wild Yukon horse that went extinct 12,000 years ago. Since the Yukon horse was outlived by the American camel by two millennia, Confalone must believe camels are more “indigenous” than horses. Feral horses are not “going to slaughter in record numbers” or in any number. The PEER document Confalone cites is 14 years old. Mr. Downer’s claim that feral horses are good for native ecosystems because road apples, laced with invasive-plant seeds, fertilize soil is also absurd.
“Saddle Sores” has inspired a passionate debate on the wild horse issue. Join the conversation on our blog site here.
In “Salt on New Wounds” [Incite, July-August 2010], we reported that the Great Salt Lake Minerals Corporation “has applied to take, and evaporate out, an additional 353,000 acre-feet of lake water annually—more than all the recharge the lake gets from rain and melting snow from the Wasatch Range.” The lake also gets runoff from the Uinta Mountains, according to the corporation’s Dave Hyams. He also notes that average Wasatch runoff is more than the corporation’s water request and that a quarter of the water from its existing evaporation ponds leaks back into the lake. Data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that the 353,000-acre-feet figure represents roughly 17 percent of the lake’s total average annual recharge from both the Wasatch and Uinta ranges.