Freedom on the Open Range - Alvin Harp cc 2.0


The recent response editorial (RGJ 1/27/2022) by Dennis Golden is full of hyperbole and bias as concerns the wild horses, livestock, and other presences on our public lands, both in Nevada and throughout the West. Golden presents a lopsided view that exaggerates the wild horses and their impacts while ignoring the much greater impacts and relative proportions of domestic cattle and sheep operations and other resource exploiters. 

Here are some basic facts that give greater perspective. According to BLM Statistics (3/1/2020), given a census of 51,528 wild horses and burros (lumped) in Nevada on a total of 22,890,624 original 1971 Herd Area (HA) acres and given their reduction through oft-suspect ways to 15,668,201 Herd Management Area (HMA) acres, there would be 444 HA acres/0.694 HA sq. mi. and 304 HMA Acres/0.475 HMA sq. mi. per individual wild equid. (Remember a burro only requires ca. half the forage/water of a horse.) This sparse density is not an overpopulation, especially when we consider the millions of cattle and sheep that BLM, USFS and other agencies permit to graze and water in Nevada. 

Equus Asinus – Image:: Dan Dxuris, cc 2.0

Obviously, Mr. Golden does not care to be fair in this regard and also in regard to the additional major exploiters of public land forage, water, soils, minerals, gas, oil, etc. These include big game interests, giant open-pit mines, fracking, damaging off-highway-vehicles, land “developers” and others who deplete water tables, etc. BLM’s high Appropriate Management Level (AML) for Nevada is only 12,811 wild horses and burros. This is equivalent to an outrageous 1,787 HA acres/1,223 HMA acres per individual wild equid – a grievous mockery of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA)! This unanimously passed act stipulated that the legal lands of the wild horses and burros would be “devoted principally” to the horses’ and burros’ welfare and benefit, not that of ranchers and every other resource exploiter that shows up to demand its “pound of flesh”. Furthermore, the wild horses and burros should be treated as returned native wildlife species that complement and enhance a great majority of the other native species of plants and animals with whom they co-evolved for many thousands – even millions of years. And they are urgently needed for this today!

Image: US Dept of Agriculture

In conclusion, the so-called “overpopulation” accusation that Golden and other wild horse enemies continually throw at these innocent animals is a “convenient” but false claim that aims to appease the true over-exploiters of public lands, their natural ecosystems and their “resources.”  Now, at the 50th Anniversary of the WFHBA, we should be cutting back on livestock and other ecosystem disrupters and despoilers within the legal BLM HAs/HMAs as well as the US Forest Service Territories. We should be restoring wild horses and burros to truly thriving and genetically viable population levels – and restoring their original habitats to be commensurate with truly long-term viable, interbreeding population numbers that are not drugged but rather part of a Reserve Design approach to their conservation. We should be doing this, but the perverse “Path Forward” policy is currently reducing our nation’s national heritage wild equids and their legal habitats to dangerously low, inadequate “token” levels that subvert the noble intention of the WFHBA. 

Both horse and burro possess deeply rooted ancestries in Nevada and North America, contribute in many positive and unique ways to ecosystem balance, health and resilience, especially in relation to certain overly promoted ruminant herbivores. They also greatly combat Global Warming through reduction of dry flammable vegetation and superior Carbon-sequestration. They mitigate and even prevent catastrophic wildfires. –They are harmonious and healing presences whose special and intrinsic beauty enhances all precious Life on Earth.

Craig Downer photo in field NW Nevada ca 2017 by Bernie Rodgers Capture

Craig C. Downer is a wildlife ecologist with an M.S.-UNR who has observed, studied, written about and defended wild horses and burros as well as endangered Andean Tapirs. He is a 4th generation Nevadan and heads the Andean Tapir Fund / Wild Horse and Burro Fund and wrote the book The Wild Horse Conspiracy.

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