An Update Seen Through the Eyes of One Biologist

robert c bauer

Robert Bauer is a biologist whose works have been published before on Habitat for Horses. Today’s article is on the myth of overpopulation of wild horses. He, and other prominent biologists, claim that the actual numbers of wild horses is so low that the use PZP contraceptives will greatly increase the likelihood of the total destruction of the wild horses of the West. ~ HfH

By: Robert Bauer

robert c bauer

Robert C Bauer

The passion of my heart is, and has been, to emphasize how nature through its own mechanisms will and should be allowed, to maintain natural ecological balance, without human intervention. It does this through physiological differences, found within each species inside any given ecosystem. Each of those differences, contribute as a vital factor in a broad ecological equation. It also accomplishes this through the numbers or density of any given species of animal or plant within that system, in conjunction with competitive species, and the carrying capacity of the land. There is a misconception, even amongst advocates of the wild horses, that the only things that are necessary to check wild equine population growth is the presence of its predators and or natural environmental factors. Although, natural predation is important and environmental impacts, density dependent inhibition plays an important role also. In this scenario, what that means is that the numbers or density of wild equine, versus competing ruminants, such as the pronghorn, each will fluctuate in response to the other based upon the carrying capacity of the land, yet always in perfect balance. In essence, the pronghorn need the presence of wild horses and burros, just as much as the wild horses need the pronghorn. Each population will have the effect of keeping the numbers of another competing population at levels that are ideal for the carrying capacity of the land.

Also, what must be understood is that nature is dynamic, and not static. This infers that it continuously fluctuates and adjusts, through its own negative and positive feedback loops, from the molecular, all the way up the scale of organisms. Because it is dynamic and not static means that its functions cannot be confined to finite thinking, and fixed statistics but must be allowed, through its own mechanisms to maintain itself, hands off, so to speak. In other words, nature cannot be limited at any given time to a given number, or average of numbers, that mankind deems appropriate. An example of this is the Bureau of Land Management’s, “Appropriate Management Level“, of wild horses in their legally designated lands. Mankind’s sole responsibility has to be focused on keeping the restrictions off of nature, so that nature can be itself, and not an offspring of man’s seemingly brilliance. The moment mankind seeks to alter nature according to a fixed number, or an average of numbers, is the moment that nature and balance itself begins to break down. At first it occurs little by little, yet as artificial alteration persists, the breakdowns become greater and greater. This has occurred in every branch of nature, where mankind has endeavored to manage natural balance, assuming nature to be static and not dynamic.

With these thoughts in mind as an introduction, the tenacious destruction of a vital component of nature’s beauty and balance continues to be removed from the rangelands of the west, even the wild horses and wild burros, by the Bureau of Land Management. It has turned a blind side to the solid science that opposes the idea that these creatures are a detriment to the ecosystems they exist in. Just as much, it is opposed so to the myth that there is over population of our wild equine. The ludicrous concept of the “Appropriate Management Level”, of wild horses in any area out west is a lie concocted by the bureau. This is based upon how much forage that the BLM is going to allow the mustangs, as opposed to how much they would actually consume. This is opposed to cattle and other competing ruminants in these same areas, which are allocated by this same bureau, the major percentage of the forage. From this comes the propaganda that there exists overpopulation of wild Equids, and the subsequent removal of them in mass, from their legally designated lands. This, the bureau does regardless of the fact that our wild horses and burros, by law, are to be considered as the principle species in a multi use situation. This is all accomplished to accommodate the Bureau of Land Management’s leasing of those same lands for cattle and cattle ranchers, for energy interests, and big horn sheep hunters.

In a desperate attempt to curb the devastating roundups many advocates are succumbing to the pressure of the BLM to utilize the PZP contraceptive on our wild horses. This thinking may be based on a heartfelt love for our wild ones, but also with the idea that a compromise in this area will at least preserve them in the wild. There are those that believe that the roundups have already decreased because of this compromise to use the contraceptive. As a biologist I would ask all to consider some truths concerning this issue.

First, the numbers of the wild horses remaining in the wild are not the 20,000 to 30,000 that many assert are out there. The numbers of our wild ones are not even in the tens of thousands anymore. This has its basis upon the liberal use of PZP, the thousands of wild horses and burros already removed, and the adjustment of sex ratios. Added to this, are mortality rates in the wild that range between 19% to 75% annually, both first year and adult. The reasons that the roundups have decreased is simple because the wild horses remaining in the wild are so few, they can’t be found. This is despite the continued propaganda that there is still overpopulation.

Secondly, with continued use of the PZP contraceptive, population growth will be driven down even further, in as much as reproduction will continue to decrease dramatically because of PZP, but mortality percentages will remain the same. In essence, mortality will completely overwhelm reproduction and accelerate the population decline. Added to this will be the increased chances of the loss of genetic viability. All of this the BLM is fully aware of, however not unlike our Native American ancestors, the U.S. government promises a compromise but are taking a 100 miles for every mile we give them.

The roundups will continue, even though the wild horses are fewer in number. There doesn’t have to be many roundups, however, to decimate our wild horse herds with what few numbers are out there, especially with an even more rapid decline in population growth and the threat of inbreeding. The proponents of PZP, whether they love our wild horses or not, will be aiding the BLM in driving them to extinction. The only answer is to continue fighting for the truth, and to allow nature to remain untouched. The wild horses and burros will continue as the poetically beautiful, yet vital components of ecological balance if, and only if, we allow nature alone, through its own dynamic methods to dictate the numbers in the wild that are to exist, at any given time.

Acknowledgments: Craig Downer, Wildlife Ecologist

AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
12 Comments
  • mustang man

    For the everyday person ( me at least) a great book that is readable in a non textbook sense to explain genetic drift and even has the accepted minimum population levels that are world recognized is
    “Song of the Dodo” by David Quammen, read this and change your life forever and be able to hold a conversation with any Govt biologist.

    January 18, 2015
  • arlene

    I certainly hope this has been sent to every offical and to our President and to all of Congress each member and also far and wide , absolutely Brilliant and concise in every area !!!!!!

    January 18, 2015
  • Sue

    I read Quammen’s book years ago. It frightened me then, and I remain pessimistic at “managing wildlife.”

    January 18, 2015
  • Ken McLeod

    In Alberta Canada there is only a few Hundred left in the Wild .. we must protect them now before they are all gone .. Wild Horses have roamed the Alberta foothills for Hundreds of yrs.. and we may have Rare Bloodlines that are very important to the Horse Industry and to the Natural Horse of the Wild ..

    January 18, 2015
  • Robynne Catheron

    My humble two cents :

    I was always under the impression that the lower the wild horse population gets, the more aggressively the herds will reproduce, or try to. After all, their two purposes in life are to survive and reproduce. If what I’ve heard is true, and the majority of the mares in the wild are rendered sterile, the band stallions will mate with any fertile female, even the yearlings and two-year olds in order to restore the herds’ natural balance. That’s part of their job. Doing so will more than likely result in incest, weaker and/or deformed foals, spontaneous abortions, and stillborns.

    As far as I know, only two of the larger, more well-known advocacy organizations have jumped ship and condoned the use of PZP. The most disheartening to hear about was The Cloud Foundation. I’m not sure what Ginger was thinking when she changed her course, unless she was pressured into believing it was the lesser of two evils- PZP or round-up. In any case, it doesn’t matter because the BLM is just going to round them up later in order to appease the welfare cattle ranchers.

    I have communicated several times in various ways to Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS, and begged and pleaded with him to change his mind and cancel his contract with the manufacturer of PZP. He obviously believes the BLM’s outlandish lies, and the garbage he’s being fed by their “scientists,” and the distorted facts from the drug manufacturer. His oversized ego simply will not allow him to listen to anyone else. His assistant basically told me me there are no other facts or experts for him to listen to. He stands to make a massive profit from the government for his role in purchasing and administering the PZP. There is no other reason for his decision.

    My last statement: Craig Downer is a brilliant man, wise and extremely knowledgeable about our wild horses and burros. I only wish the DOI would listen to him. If Craig could form a power group of subject matter experts like Ann Novak of Protect Mustangs and Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals, they could knock on Sally Jewell’s door and give her an education.

    January 18, 2015
    • arlene

      Yes i dont know what the heck Ginger Katherns is thinking but i am disappointed in her recent change in her thoughts about PZP, I say shame on her !!!!!!

      January 18, 2015
  • Elaine Brown

    I have supported the HSUS for years not knowing that the advocate for PZP which I have suspected from first knowledge. I will not donate to them again until they grow up and help us stop the use of this pesticide being injected into our Wild Horse mares.

    January 19, 2015
    • jfinch

      Not agreeing or disagreeing, but making a note that PZP is not a pesticide. It forms a covering on the egg that prevents the sperm from entering. Made from pig ovaries.

      January 19, 2015
      • arlene

        PZP is NOT needed for Our already non viable herds , shouldnt even be an option………….. i an extremely disappointed that Ginger Nows has changed her tune and recommends it, shame !!!!!!

        January 19, 2015
  • A trial PZP Program has begun in Alberta on our wild horses. The original program was to target 10 – 18 mares in one of six equine zones, known as the Sundre Zone. The 2014 Sundre Zone count showed a population of 448 horses in total. In essence, if half of the total population of 448 horses were considered mares, then 10-18 mares would equal less than 10% of the mares being darted. It was agreed, with input from the General Public, that the short program of PZP would be implemented, which would render the targeted mares infertile for 1-2 years, after which they would produce a foal. The long PZP Program, renders mares infertile for life and was not considered. Due to some behind the scenes dirty dealing between ESRD and WHOAS, the PZP Program went ahead under the control of ESRD and WHOAS, instead of the original teams, with no input from the General Public and all dealings in secrecy. Misleading information was released implying that all horses in the Sundre Zone (448 horses) were involved in the Program and under protection for the next 5 years. It came to light through information obtained, that only a small number of horses were in the “protected” zone, that being 1/3rd of the Eastern Sundre Zone, and the remaining 2/3rds of the Zone were open to captures and culls. A radio announcement indicated that 30 mares had been targeted and darted in this small zone, which seems to imply that most of the mares in this small “protected” Zone are now infertile for the next 1-2 years. It is unclear, as misleading information, or no information at all, is being released as to which Program, long or short, is being used. The General Public is not being considered for input into this process, nor being kept fully, or factually, informed as to what is happening to our wild horses. A condition of WHOAS being given this Trial Program, is they will trap and remove horses from our Public Lands under ESRD’s direction. If ESRD decides there are too many wild horses and wants 200 removed, WHOAS will trap and forever remove those horses. WHOAS has now become the official cullers of our wildies. Again, no input from the General Public, and done in secrecy. This dirty deal is not what the General Public were working toward. A trial PZP Program, on a small number of mares, using the short, or 1 – 2 years pregnancy pause, was agreed to by the majority of the General Public, with NO captures or culls while the trail was in progress. Due to all the secrecy and double dealing over the PZP Program, the anti-PZP groups are growing in number. No one can trust what is being done, as there is no input or consideration by anyone, other than ESRD and WHOAS. AGAIN, not what the General Public agreed to, or were working towards!

    It has yet to be announced if ESRD will be issuing another cull this year. There are reports that wild horses are being captured year round, and sold to slaughter. Complaints were made to ESRD and the RCMP, but nothing has been done at this point.

    January 19, 2015
  • arlene

    PZP Program make Wayne Pacelle and HSUS Rich Shame !!!!

    January 19, 2015
  • MS

    Quite a few differing opinions. Keep at it until someone listens — the facts must be there — the truth must be there!

    Whatever keeps our horses alive, healthy and comfy is good with me — if chemicals are NOT needed, if chemicals bring damage to our horses, do NOT administer —

    January 20, 2015