Wild Horses: Myths vs Facts

As we keep calling those on the Budget Committee and wait for them to decide when to meet again, perhaps you would like to read a bit about the twisted logic inside the BLM. The myths and outright lies told by the Department of the Interior to validate their goal of the eradication of wild horses and burros by mass killing is compared to the actual facts in this paper by Linda Loman of the Equine Welfare Alliance.


FERTILITY CONTROL

MYTH:
Managing wild horses with birth control vaccines won’t work, it’s unsafe, it’s too expensive. (When introducing his effort in the House to lift the long-term prohibition on the destruction of healthy wild horses/burros, Representative Chris Stewart of Utah declared about fertility control “it simply isn’t practical”; “the logistics of trying to identify studs and to manage them and actually do what’s necessary for them and the need for repeated inoculations, it just simply hasn’t worked.” Mr. Stewart was misinformed – fertility control vaccine for wild horses is used in mares (females), not studs (males). And it does work.)

FACT: Efficacy
-The National Park Service has used the Billings, MT, manufactured and distributed PZP vaccine for nearly 30 years to safely and effectively manage the wild horse herd on the Assateague (Maryland) National Seashore
– Herd size has been maintained between 80 and 100 horses
– PZP programs have helped reduce and even curtail removals across the West in the Pryor Mountains on the Montana/Wyoming border, McCullough Peaks in Wyoming, and in the Spring Creek Basin and Little Book Cliffs areas of Colorado
– BLM spends less than 1% of annual budget on fertility control
– BLM spends millions on roundups/removals in a futile attempt at “population control” – These methods scientifically proven to stimulate remaining horses breed more
– Accordingly, the National Academy of Sciences has requested the BLM to shift their strategy to something proven to work for population control!

FACT: Safety
– Administered via remote darting of mares
– Social structure of wild bands not disrupted
– Does not require inhumane, costly helicopter roundups/removals
– Millions of tax dollars saved annually compared to current “unsustainable” costs
– One study to determine PZP health safety factors was conducted between 2002-2006 by Gary Killian and Nancy K. Diehl J. O. Almquist Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA; Lowell Miller and Jack Rhyan USDA APHIS National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO; and David Thain Division of Animal Industry, Nevada Dept. of Agriculture, Reno, NV
– Study resulted in findings of positive fertility control with no ill effects.

FACT: Cost
– Each vaccinated mare requires two initial doses with follow ups at approximate one year intervals. Each 0.5ml dose is $30
– The PZP is mixed with an adjuvant for maximum effect. Each 10ml vial of adjuvant costs $15 and contains between 18 and 20 doses
– Contrasted with BLM’s acknowledged remove and warehouse “population control technique” which now supports more mustangs and burros in government holding facilities than in the wild, this one example of fertility control is vastly more affordable
– Long-term holding costs consume a large portion of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s annual budget – focus mainly on roundups, removal and, warehousing
– In July 2017, the agency estimated it would cost $1 billion to care for the animals over their lifetime (perhaps 20 years). However, this assumes that all wild equines live for that long when actually most of them do not due to unhealthy conditions at holding facilities, which are former cattle feedlot operations.
– When the choice is made to “warehouse” with its accompanying expenses for roundup costs, transport costs, feed costs, removal of severely ill and dead animals, etc, it’s easy to see why that method is “unsustainable”
– An economic study published in Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine said BLM could save $8 million over 12 years by using PZP in one herd management area (HMA) alone and there are nearly 200 HMAs in the United States
– Increased use of PZP in more HMAs would save hundreds of millions of dollars – Best of all, unlike roundups and removals, using the vaccine would actually help, as necessary, control wild horse populations!


OVERGRAZING (ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT)

MYTH:
Public lands are overwhelmed and being destroyed by wild horses

FACT:
https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/pdfs/CostsAndConsequences_01-2015.pdf and https://www.doi.gov/ocl/wild-horses-and-burros
-Wild equines have been allocated approximately 5.4 percent of Interior Department controlled lands
– As per 2016 Interior Department numbers, it controls approximately 500 million acres; 27 million acres allocated for usage by wild equines
-In 2015, Interior Department allocated approximately 229 million acres for livestock operators
– these operators comprise less than 2.7 percent of America’s total livestock owners
-By statutory direction, BLM and USFS must manage their lands for multiple purposes
-The direct federal subsidy of BLM and USFS livestock grazing programs exceeded $120 million every year for the past 12 years (that’s YOUR tax dollars spent for these subsidies)
-BLM reduced Wild Horse habitat by 23 million acres since 1971
-A 2013 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study indicated there was no science-based rationale for this allocation/management system
-GAO reports and the National Academy of Sciences contradicts BLM claims that horses are destroying critical habitat, competing for grazing lands, and overpopulating
-When arguing wild equines damage Western grazing lands, the BLM ignores the millions of head of private livestock it allows to graze on those same public lands!

MYTH:
Wild horses are to blame for range degradation

FACT:
-Creators of 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act recognized the wild horse as an “integral component of the natural system”; vegetation thrives in areas they inhabit – the Great Plains were once a “sea of grass” where wild herds roamed
-Range conditions in steep hilly areas favored by horses exhibit less disturbance than in lower areas frequented by cattle – why?
-Cows have no upper front teeth and graze by wrapping their tongues around grass to pull it out; if the ground is wet, roots and all are removed preventing it from growing back
– Horses have upper and lower incisors, they graze by “clipping the grass,” similar to a lawn mower which allows grass to easily grow back
– When foraging, cattle do not cover large areas; their ‘pull out by the roots’ style destroys areas where they do graze ruining them for native wildlife
– When foraging, horses and burros roam; their “landscaping” leaves behind many plants as forage for others
– According to cattlemen resources, sufficient forage for beef cattle is on average 30 pounds daily, consumed in those smaller areas
– According to livescience.com, adult mustangs eat 5 to 6 pounds of forage each day over their larger territory
– Food consumed by wild equines does not thoroughly degrade in their digestive system. Consequently, wild horses and burros “replant” over a widespread area byproducts of their own forage as seeds pass through their system un-degraded
– These roaming “landscapers” contribute to the build up of the absorptive, nutrient-rich humus component of soils which, in turn, helps soil absorb and retain water upon which many diverse plants and animals depend
– Wild burros have been observed digging water holes over a meter deep that attract other wildlife, increase water availability, and create vegetation “nurseries” in the desert. https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2016/06/05/secret-lives-well-digging-burros/
– Additionally, because horses and burros wander farther from water sources than many ruminant grazers, they serve as fire preventers. These widespread, “landscaped” areas have less ground fuel (grasses and brush); less ground fuel means less fire; less fire means less fire suppression costs in addition to less loss of property and endangerment to human and animal lives alike. An unexpected benefit!
-Water quality in streams extensively used by cattle has fewer nutrients and the streams themselves exhibit signs of bank erosion and damage to nearby plants/trees, according to a 2001 United States and Russian joint study
-Cattle tend to gather around water sources and remain there causing extensive damage
-Horses and burros tend to drink and move on leaving behind hoof prints, clean water, overhanging branches, and no signs of bank erosion
-Wild equines should not be scapegoats for range degradation that is primarily caused by private livestock
– Environmentalists have determined in Nevada, home of the majority of America’s remaining wild horses, the herds have little impact on the ecosystem compared with the hundreds of thousands of cattle that also roam federal land
– The Western Watersheds Project acknowledges “the main cause of degradation of public lands in the arid west is livestock use and not wild horses.”


ENCROACHMENT ON CATTLE RANGELAND

MYTH:
Wild horses take away grazing land from cattle.

FACT:
-According to a June 2012 Congressional Research Service report, fees were charged for grazing cattle on approximately 160 million acres of BLM land and 81 million acres of Forest Service land
-Over seven million head of cattle grazed on these rangelands
– Free roaming wild horses and burros can be found mainly on government designated HMAs in 10 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming -Wild horse habitat has been reduced by 22 million acres since 1971 by BLM
-The BLM has insured “unsustainable growth” of its own management program


There is one other factor to consider. Killing horses or shipping them to slaughter requires them to be managed via roundups and removals, costing millions of dollars and placing the government in the horse slaughter business. A national poll conducted this year shows 80% of the American voting public strongly opposes horse slaughter. These findings are consistent with polls done years ago; public pressure to preserve wild horses so strong in 1971, the U.S. Congress voted unanimously to approve the Wild Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act. Americans’ love of wild horses has not diminished. Please respect American taxpayers’ and voters’ wishes. Choose to continue protection of our wild horses/burros and return them to their own rangelands. It is economically and efficiently possible to manage them humanely instead of relegating them to a tragic footnote in American history.

Compiled by Linda Loman for Equine Welfare Alliance, October 2017

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
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