By Marybeth Devlin
It is good to know that the US Forest Service is promoting adoptions of wild horses. However, no roundup should occur.
Inadequate Population of Wild Horses in Devil’s Garden
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature recommends a minimum-viable population (MVP) of at least 2,500 for a wild-horse herd. The arbitrary management level (AML) for the wild horses of The Garden — 206 to 402 — is way-below MVP. The AML implies that each wild horse needs 578 to 1,129 acres. But how many acres does BLM estimate each cow or calf needs? Answer: 38 acres. So, absolutely, The Garden’s 232,500 acres could support 2,500 horses at 93 acres per horse. I further note that it was USFS who split the horses’ habitat into 2 sections and, in so doing, took away 25,500 acres, which were then given over to commercial livestock, which already had many more grazing slots than the horses. Indeed, USFS allows nearly 4,000 cattle to graze in The Garden, where the horses are supposed to, by law, have principal use.
Costs and Method
Spending $600,000 on a helicopter roundup is a waste of taxpayer money, especially because there is a better way. Modoc National Forest Office declared that it had all the necessary equipment on hand to conduct bait-trapping operations in a humane manner. Therefore, the bait-trapping method should be used — when the herd substantially exceeds the IUCN guidelines for MVP. Bait-trapping is the cost-effective and humane technique.
Helicopters, in contrast, pose risks to both humans and horses. Their crash-record is high, with numerous fatalities. Using helicopters to chase wild horses is inhumane, especially in The Garden, where the landscape has been described as “… brutal for gathering. Dense stands of Western Juniper and many rocky outcropping make this landscape one of the most difficult places in the country to gather wild horses.”
Dealing with Roving Equids
Horses will roam. It is their nature. Surely, that’s why the Law is known as the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. It is management’s duty to keep them from places they should not be. Prevention is key. Removing horses that have wandered into onto private and Tribal lands just creates a vacuum for other horses to fill. Thus, removing them is an ineffective strategy. The elimination of mustangs from an open, accessible habitat results in repeated colonization by more mustangs. The process begins almost immediately, as horses roam into the area and see that it is attractive and vacant. Thus, removal is not a true solution. Instead, it perpetuates the problem and leads to the removal of more mustangs, a costly and unnecessary recurring action. More unfairly, the wandering equids may be only temporary visitors, not permanent residents. Worse yet, they may be driven out of their habitat by a profit-motivated helicopter pilot eager to “make his numbers.”
USFS and BLM should implement preventive measures to keep wild horses home in their habitat. Fence The Garden’s perimeters — after correcting all boundary-line discrepancies, making sure migration corridors are open, and restoring any herd-area land previously taken away. Next, address those factors that allowed the animals to leave home. For instance: Do fences need repair? It would be more effective for USFS and BLM to pay for new fences than to pay for a helicopter-gather. Removing wild horses will not mend fences.
Protect Mustangs is an organization who protects and preserves native and wild horses.