A biologist’s response to the BLM’s wild horse “problem”

Pryor Mountain wild horses

Wildlife biologist and long time advocate of the wild horses and burros in the West, Robert C Bauer is our guest writer today. He responds to the Washington Post’s recent article on the BLM’s request for solutions to management of the wild horses of the U.S. ~ HfH

By: Robert C Bauer

Pryor Mountain wild horsesIn a recent article that was published in the Washington Post, under Health and Science, entitled “U.S. looking for ideas to help manage wild-horse overpopulation”, a plea was sent out by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a plea that requested ideas as to how to manage the wild horse and burro population in the wild. This plea was reinforced by claims that the wild horse and burro population, on the western rangelands, was approximately 40,605 wild horses and or burros. Additionally it was stated that there would be at least a 15% to 20% annual population growth rate of these wild horses and that in 6 years, by the year 2020, that number will have grown to be about 145,000 wild horses and burros in the wild. Its claims also stated that contraceptive efforts had failed, and that the range lands could only sustain about 26,677 wild horses and or burros. The undying claims of the BLM are that it is, in its efforts, out to help maintain a thriving natural ecological balance. This is the motivation to justify its roundups of thousands of wild horses that it says are destroying the rangelands of the west. As a biologist, there is a scientific response to these allegations that the public needs to take into consideration before swallowing these claims of the BLM.

There are numerous factors that govern population growth in the wild for wild horses and burros, or lack of population growth. The National Academy of Sciences did a study of the wild horse populations, using 8,764 wild horses, in the wild, as a basis for the following statistics. It found that 1st year mortality rates annually ranged between 14% and 50%. Beyond this, adult mortality was found to annually range between 5% and 25%. What this means is, that in any given year, equine mortality on the range lands would be anywhere between 19% and 75% of the total population of wild horses. I would ask that the reader to let these percentages sink in. This mortality occurs naturally, due to predators of the wild horses and burros, which do indeed exist, along with environmental and weather related factors, which also affect competitive grazers. In addition sex ratios were found to average around 55% female and 45% male. This must be considered as obviously only females can put a foal on the ground. This is something that the BLM statistics do not reflect, but have conveniently neglected in its population growth claims. The genders of foals must be taken into consideration, as not all foals are female, and only those that are females can begin to reproduce, but only after the 2nd year. Added to this are considerations of delayed implantation, when the gestation period of a mare actually extends, due to stressful conditions on the range. Spontaneous abortion also needs to be mentioned, along with selective breeding by the band stallions, whereby perhaps only one mare, if any at all, are bred, under harsh range conditions. It then must be stated that added to this natural inhibition are those artificial adjustments added by the BLM that only serve to encourage the extinction of these wild ones. The use of the PZP contraceptive is one, which has been found to inhibit reproduction in those mares that were treated, for up to 2 years, carrying with it other physiological side effects. After the roundups of the BLM, which have been very aggressive, and relentless, roundups of which this individual has both documented and videoed, sex ratios are adjusted to roughly 47% female to 53% male. This man made decrease in female density, along with the aggressive use of PZP by the BLM, have devastating effects on wild horse and burro populations. These only encourage annual reproductive rates that are far less than natural on range mortality. The result is diminishing numbers of wild horses and burros on the rangelands of the west. To further complicate population growth are the countless illegal killings of the wild horses, motivated by age old prejudices, most of which go uncaught. Also what must be included are the aggressive roundups of the BLM. All of these variables serve not only to disprove the astronomical population growth rates of the BLM but also overall numbers in the wild.

The false allegations, by the BLM, that the numbers of wild horses on the range, could increase from 40,605 to 145,000 by the year 2020, a 6 year period, can easily be illustrated by a similar scenario. This occurred in the 2009/2010 Calico Mt. round ups, that occurred in northwestern Nevada. In this situation, according to the BLM, at the end of the 2004/2005 gather there were 575 horses total existing in the five HMAs making up what would be called the Calico Mt complex. That population of 575, according to the BLM, in just a 4 year period, had grown to 3055 horses. Of those 3055 horses and burros the BLM intended to gather 2,476 – 2,787 horses, then releasing up to 264. The sex ratio after the 2004/2005 gather, however, was reported to be only 47% female and 53% male, which means only 47% of those horses would be able to contribute to a population growth. Added to this, the PZP contraceptive had been administered, which was still in the experimental stage, and has been proven to disrupt the social structure of the wild horse and burro bands as well as to result in an increase of futile matings. Of those 47% mares, 239 were said to have been inoculated with this PZP contraceptive which has roughly a two year effect.

Second, as stated earlier, it has been found that the minimum adult on the range annual mortality to be approximately 5%. This factor also was not included in the BLM’s calculations which further reduced the possibility of this meager wild horse population of 575 in reaching 3055 horses in just a 4 year period. Indeed, the number of horses that were rounded up, were only 1,992, at which point no other horses could be found. Yet calculating a population growth from 575 horses to even 1,992 horses in a 4 year period, including just a 5% annual mortality, 47% of the population being mares being able to put a foal on the ground, and eliminating 239 of that 47% for the first 2 years because of PZP, it would require a 125% annual reproductive rate to offset these variables to reach that number. Such reproductive rates do not occur in nature, which leads one to question or theorize exactly how those horses got out there!! To state that 40,605 wild horses could increase to 145,000 horses in just a 6 year period, while factoring in natural mortality rates along with all other natural variables, would require astronomical reproductive rates to offset those variables. Such reproductive rates do not and never will occur in nature. Indeed, using the BLM’s own population statistics, factoring in nature’s mortality, sex ratios, aggressive use of PZP, while subtracting wild horses that have been rounded up, the numbers of wild horses and or burros remaining in the wild are in the low teens, if that. Our wild horses and burros, existing in the wild, are close to extinction!!

wild horses in Montana's Pryor MountainsIn spite of the BLM’s assertions, that it is striving to maintain a thriving natural ecological balance, its methods and the manner in which they are being carried out, are anything but natural, nor do they bring about any balance. Indeed, it is by these very methods, that the BLM uses, that the wild horses and burros, along with other aspects on the range are being thrown out of balance. Nature, through its own mechanisms, has been maintaining what the BLM have termed, a thriving natural ecological balance, for thousands of years, without the artificial methods of mankind. Indeed, it is mankind’s incessant belief that he must manage nature, which has thrown nature continually and consistently out of balance. This makes the wild horse and burro program of the BLM completely unnecessary. This program, however, is the very avenue by which the wild horses and burros will be raped from their legally designated lands, and nature destroyed.

This brings up a vital question to the reader. With such factors as these existing, that govern wild horse and burros populations, along with the unnatural efforts of the BLM, that further degrade these same numbers, what are the true motivations of the BLM for distorting the numbers of wild horses and destroying these vital natural resources to true ecological balance? The answer lies partly in livestock, mining, and energy interests. The cow flop gets deeper when one realizes that in order for the BLM to acquire continued and increasing appropriations from congress, it has to justify the appropriations that it has already been getting. Appropriations means not only a continued Wild Horse and Burro Program, but a lot of money to be made, not just for BLM employees but contractors that the BLM employs in the roundups, like the Cattoors, and Sun J, helicopter contactors. This translates to a situation where the BLM has to somehow convince the public and congress, by whatever means possible, that the wild horses and burros are breeding like rabbits, and that the numbers are way out of control. Here comes the deceit and distortion of numbers. Somehow the public, for the most part swallows what the government is saying, hook line and sinker, without seeking the truly scientific truth, a truth which is for the most part grade school science. For example, the BLM could say that the appropriate management level of wild horses in a certain area is only 600 wild horses. In truth there may be only 300 wild horses there, but the BLM, to justify removal, continued appropriations, and appeasement of the livestock industry, will claim 900 horses existing in the area. It will in turn say we need to round up 300 horses to bring the numbers back to its appropriate management level of 600, (see article entitled “The Unnatural Concept of the Appropriate Management Level”). It will roundup 300 horses, zero out the area to make it available for the livestock industry, and still claim that there are 600 wild horses existing in that area. This is a simple illustration but it is a tactic of the BLM. This further translates to a governmental conspiracy by our government against wild horse and burro populations, in the wild, (see books written by wildlife ecologist, Craig Downer, “The Wild Horse Conspiracy “, and “Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom”).

In conclusion, the wild horses and burros are a vital component to ecological balance out on the range lands of the west, the benefits of which are innumerable as opposed to cattle. The numbers of these beautiful animals must be dictated, however, by nature itself and not man, through its own mechanisms. Only in this manner will wild horse numbers be in balance with all other forms of wildlife, including those of the predators of the wild horses. The wild horses are just this, wild, and in the wild, no matter how harsh or how mild the conditions may be, is where their beauty and their benefits exist and can be experienced. The range lands that were once filled with vast numbers of wild horses, and other forms of wildlife, are now quickly dying due to the artificial efforts of our government. The rangelands, however, can easily sustain not only the wild horses and burros existing out there now, but also every one of those in holding facilities, which now number well over 40,000. The truth is that every one of those wild horses and burros in holding facilities, if released back to the areas from which they were taken, along with those in the wild, would help bring the balance back to the rangelands, a balance that is so very vital!!

Robert C. Bauer

AUTHOR: Posted by Habitat for Horses Calaway
  • Janet Schultz

    Excellent! Rational, clear and plain English – thank you. I am also just finishing Craig Downer’s historically significant article, The Horse and burro as Positive Contributing Returned Natives in North America published in American Journal of Life Sciences January 30, 2014. BLM MUST stay further activity in the WHB program, except to feed and vet the captives. We must work out these obvious conflicts between the poolitics and science! I am a shareholder and I demand my voice be heard.

    February 11, 2014
  • Why are they asking for solutions???? There is not a Problem, well Wait Yes there is a problem, the problem lays with the BLM not the horses ?????? hummm well when they prove that there is a problem, I will offer them a solution……. My solution starts with putting the Mustangs back where they belong, and I mean where they came from first !!!!

    February 11, 2014
  • The BLM has dont nothing to prove that our wild horses and burrios are damaging the range .What i have read in great detailis that the cows are ddamaging the range .I would like to have it said to put the issue of removing the wild horses and burrios before the Americanpeople and let them decide.let the American people view the round ups so the people can see how they terrorise the horses and run the foal to death then let the people watch the men kick ,pull horse or burrio by the tail, the BLM RUNS THE LIFE RIGHT OUT OF THE ANIMAL ISNT BAD ENOUGH .THATS THE BEGINING OF THE TORTURE THERE SO TO KILL BUYERS ,OFF TO MEXICO WITH OUT FOOD OR WATER .THEN WITH BROKEN LEGS THERE BROUGHT INTO TO A KILL SHOOT AND THEY ASULT GETS CRUSOME .THE SLAUGHTER. 95% ARE ALIVE . IS THIS HOW WE PAY OUR ICONS – HORSES AND BURRIOS BACK FOR BUILDING OUR COUNTRY .SHAME ON YOU OBAMA ANS EVERY ELECTED OFFICIAL. McCain you going to hell.

    February 11, 2014
  • Sandie Hucal

    Great article! One mathematical issue…the total mortality rates for the herds are not derived by adding the mortality rates for foals to that for adults. Rather, with a maximum foal mortality of 50% and adult mortality of 25% the maximum overall herd mortality will fall somewhere in between, depending on what proportion of the herd is made up of foals vs. adults.

    February 11, 2014
  • Penny Zielstorf

    Mr.Robert C. Bauer, finally the facts all in a nut shell and the truth. We the American people need to demand our wild ones are returned to their homes after all our taxes dollars pay for it all. If we continue to leave it up to our government we will have no wild animals, let nature take care of itself it was doing just fine before we got here.

    February 11, 2014
  • Susan carter

    Thank You Robert Bauer for exposing the BLM for what it is. TheWild Horses must be protected before it is too late. I had hoped that SALLY Jewell would steer the BLM back to its’ natural roots but the opposite is happening. America’ s Western Landscape is doomed.

    February 11, 2014
  • Callie1983

    An outstanding study, which like all of Craig Downer’s, will be ignored by the BLM.

    February 12, 2014
  • I have been browsing online greater than 3 hours nowadays, yet I never discovered
    any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely price enough for me.
    Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made just right content material as
    you did, the web will probably be much more helpful than ever before.

    February 12, 2014
  • Mustangman

    Cool somebody else actually spent the time to read more then the conclusions of the NAS report. THe BLM has never had any natural roots as well. read “The Western range Revisited” by Debra L. Donahue wirtten about 12 years ago now. she lays it all out in the book on what is going on and how we must act if we wish to stop what is going on on the ranges

    February 12, 2014
  • Deanna Burger

    The problem is the BLM they need to be sent to hell for the lies and cruelty they dish out. The range belongs to the wild horses and burros. The cows belong in the ranchers fields and only those fields that rancher owns. Fire the helicopters and leave the horses the hell alone.

    February 12, 2014
  • Elaine Cummings

    I just read this article. Now, someone in the highest authority in our government must do the same; then, must take the words of this scientist and insist that they be implemented. BLM must be stopped. It is unbelievable that BLM ever “asked” for equine science and management techniques! What a joke! They have always HAD it, from so many sources, but have ignored it. These are the same people that refused to let volunteers build shelters for the wild horses taken in the last Wyoming round-up and left in holding pens with no shelter and inadequate feed and water in blizzard and ice storm conditions, and 70mph winds. They are criminally inhumane, and should be prosecuted. If any of us did this, we would be in jail. We are PAYING these people to NOT do their jobs. YES! Release ALL of the captive wild horses back into the vast expanses of our PUBLIC lands where they were assigned to live their lives. Who will start this?

    February 12, 2014
  • Kelly

    Thank you for the information in this article. While statistics heavy, all relevant and key in this debate. My one minor issue is one of semantics. They are not actually wild horses, but are feral horses.

    February 13, 2014
  • karen vaughn

    Sadly BLM could care less about a biological survey..They could care less about our heritage horse and only think about the payback they get from energy compamies..I’ve always said nature will take care of itself…Instead BLM insists on a horse holocaust to eliminate them all..shove this survey down their throats….its a wonderful one by the way..maybe they will listen to those who care.There must be more public awareness so BLM can be exposed for the horror it already is.How many more horses must die at their hands..set them free…..

    February 13, 2014
  • Ms. Sam Davis Funk

    The BLM has always been the problem. God Bless Gods beautiful and noble creatures. Craig Downer has done a fabulous study which deserves attention to stop the BLM madness.

    February 13, 2014
  • Ken Wheeler

    To look at the future of these majestic animals you only have to look to the past…where have all the BUFFALO gone…

    February 16, 2014
  • Judy Van Dusen

    Thank you for your information. I pray that this article reaches the powers that be and all newspaper/media

    February 28, 2014
  • Callie1983

    Wild Horses are Wild Horses and not ‘Feral’ horses. Great article which, as I have said, will be ignored by Sally Jewel.

    February 28, 2014
    • Kelly

      While they are “running wild” they are not technically wild horses, they are feral. Scientists label them feral, while many mustang advocates want to label them wild in the hopes it will ensure there protection. Of course I want them protected, but they are still feral.

      March 4, 2014
  • Have any of you ever been in Nevada and Oregon where the wild horses run wild? Have you seen what is out there? The pictures are of the few that are nice looking. There is a problem, and if any of you know any thing about history you would know we controlled the horse population for a century. Now with you tree hugging pain in the bums running are country it has went down hill. I have been there and they are not all pretty. You should find out how many AUMs there are and find out if the land can support that many horses.

    March 3, 2014
    • jfinch

      May I suggest that you get a degree in biology, and perhaps a minor in English, so your arguments would rest on an equal level as the author of this article? Your ability to present another viewpoint is somewhat lacking in its presentation.

      March 4, 2014
    • FYI….. I have seen the Wild Mustangs hundreds of times in Nevada , I have never !!! not ever seen even one not absolutely beautiful Mustang each one different each one with beauty beyond the imagination !!!!!!

      March 4, 2014
    • Callie83


      Here is an article written after the Burns Amendment was slipped in to the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill & the research proves irrefutably that there are NOT too many wild horses and burros on the Public Lands. Rather, there are too many in Long Term Holding and they must be released to where they came from.

      So tired of people spreading false information.

      March 4, 2014