Concern for Montgomery Pass Wild Horse Territory (Inyo National Forest, CA) and Marietta Wild Burro Range (Bureau of Land Management, Carson City District Office, NV) and for Wild Horses and Burros Everywhere
By Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist
December 31st, 2014
During the 28th and 29th of December of present eventful 2014 (just reported by ABC News to have been the warmest year for planet Earth in human recorded history), I made my way south from where I live near Minden, Nevada, to one of the most spectacular and dramatic spots on Earth. This lies just east of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains and Mammoth Lakes, just south of the surreal, vast, salty Mono Lake, and just to the west and north of the august White Mountains, home to some of the oldest living trees on Earth: the Bristlecone Pines, whose ancient presence can be palpably felt.
Since I was a boy, I have been coming to this intriguing place … to soak in its profuse and invigorating mineral waters, to thrill in beholding and even climbing its hoary, dramatically rising mountain tops, etc., etc., over and over again throughout the years, that now seem to spin by so rapidly. And it is unnerving to realize that these magnificent landscapes are underlain by a vast and deep pool of molten magma that reaches very near the surface here, causing many tremors and ground swells. Indeed, the Mono Craters I pass by coming south between Lee Vining, CA, and Benton Hot Springs, CA, were recently active, geologically speaking, and could again erupt at any time. California State Route 120 assumes a roller-coaster effect about midway between US Highway 395 on the west and US Highway 6 on the east due to the unpredictable surgings and subsidings of this vast, molten pool close under the Earth, as my nephew Dr. Chris Sanders discovered during his Ph.D. work at Cal Tech University. At 13,141 feet elevation a.s.l., Boundary Peak in the White Mountains is the tallest in Nevada. The ecosystem here is in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada to the west, one of whose peaks: Mount Whitney at 14,414 feet is the highest in the lower 48 states. So It is little wonder that the prevailing storms coming off the Pacific Ocean to the west dump most of their rain in California while what remains of the clouds lightly pass over Nevada and the rest of the Great Basin on their way to the Rocky Mountains. This makes for an austere desert with low precipitation of ca. 8 inches on average per year, higher in the mountains and lower in the valleys; and there is a gradation, or ecological transition, from mountain alpine meadow, to forest to semi forest-bush slopes to dry, sparsely bush-and grass-covered valleys in this “ecotonal” transition zone.
It is an exciting place to be for anyone consciously attuned to the vast dramas Nature plays out here and a perfect habitat for the returned North American native horse and burro species, certain individuals of which have reverted to their wild, naturally living way of life on their not-too-distant ancestors’ home stomping grounds of countless generations. Indeed, they are like the very reincarnations of these – and who is to say they may not be in truth be just such returning presences?
These are not ruminant digesters, but post-gastric, or caecal, digesters, and their feces contribute greatly to the ecosystem both by adding more vital humus and more intact, germinable seeds of a greater variety of plant species when compared to that/those contributed by the ruminant grazers here of the bovid (cattle, sheep) and cervid (deer, elk) mammal families.
Horse and burro fossils including petrified tracks in this area are found in great abundance and date from recent times to a few or even many millions of years Before Present. Indeed, I have discovered a petroglyph of a horse without rider that I judge to be between one and three thousand years old, based on the patina of weathering on the hard rock surface and similarly dated petroglyphs of spirals, bighorn sheep, snakes, etc., found nearby. I took care to document it again with my digital camera. It is Figure 1 in the 2014 edition of my book: The Wild Horse Conspiracy (www.amazon.com/dp/1461068983).
In February, 2010, I also trekked in to observe the ancient fossilized horse hoof prints in Death Valley National Park just to the south of here. Dating between 2-million and 3-million years, these occur alongside the tracks of such dramatic characters as the Dire Wolf, Sabre-Toothed Tiger/Cat, Thunder Bird, and Woolly Mammoth.
It is exasperating that neither Death Valley N.P. nor Inyo N.F, nor Carson City BLM give much emphasis to the wonderful significance of the returned native “equids” who are now reestablishing themselves. Indeed, the museum at the Furnace Creek Death Valley park visitors’ center makes no mention of the horse, burro, or zebra ancestors who lived here for millions of years and up until relatively recent times; and the policy of this and other national parks is to eliminate all wild horses and burros who “stray” into their jurisdictional lands. I expose this gross injustice in my book and go so far as to name the names of individual officials who are responsible. The greater truth concerning these wonderful presences who share planet Earth as home cannot continue to be mocked with impunity!
In December 2013, I visited both the Montgomery Pass wild horse herd and the Marietta wild burro herd and observed many more wild horses (ca. 60) in the Montgomery Pass Inyo USFS Territory than I did just recently. I also observed more wild horses here during my recent visit in mid-November 2014 in route to southern California. On December 28, 2014, I searched all along California Route 120 and all along US Highway 6 north of Benton, CA, and then again on the 29th of December I searched into Nevada clear to Montgomery Pass along Nevada State Highway 360. During both days, I encountered only one band of 8 wild horses just to the southwest of Montgomery Pass. They were above the valley floor and at the foot of the Pinyon-Juniper forest that lies below Boundary Peak, huddled together taking shelter from the cold, biting wind from the north. I was able to get a telescopic photo of them from across the valley (see photo). The only other wild horse I saw in this my most recent trip was a muscular, bright chestnut stallion with a broad white blaze on his face (see photo). He was alone and though I searched far and wide with my binoculars, I could not see any other horses near him. A year prior, I saw six times this number of wild horses! I hope these mustangs have relocated to another part of their year-round habitat and that they have not been illegally captured or killed.
The Montgomery Pass wild horse herd is documented to be naturally self-stabilizing and has not been “gathered,” or rounded up, by government-sponsored contractors – one of the few that claim this distinction. One contributory factor operating here is the high density of mountain lions, or puma, a predatory species that preys upon the wild horses and burros, particularly the very young, infirm, or the aged ones nearing the end of their individual life cycles. They act according to the age-old laws of natural selection, and, so, help to make these equid populations actually more fit for survival in the natural world when compared with the unnatural “take-all” ages and conditions of horses/burros that helicopter or water/bait trapping removals by both BLM and USFS perpetrate against these wonderful animals — all the while wasting many millions of dollars of tax-payer money each year. It would be better by far to employ the sane and well-founded principles of Reserve Design that I have described in Ch. IV of my book as well as in my scientific article of January 2014 (see www.thewildhorseconspiracy.org under Resources).
I am concerned that illegal takings of the Montgomery Pass wild horses may be occurring and recommend a closer monitoring of this herd. The public lands permitted livestock ranchers here receive the hog’s share of the grazing resources and this does not accord to the pure intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 where it clearly states that land where the wild horses and burros lived in 1971, meaning year-round occupied habitat, would be “devoted principally” to their welfare and benefit, not that of the ranchers, nor the big game hunters, nor the open-pit miners, energy developers, frackers, Off Road Vehicle racers, nor any other sort of disrupters of ecological harmony! Whether for short- or long-term profits, short- or long-term subsidies, or for maintaining a resource-squandering, consumerist lifestyle that is dis-attuned to the age-old cycles of Nature at any cost, it is simply not right to subvert the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This is its 43rd anniversary and it is high time that it be obeyed. To do so is in the wholesome interest of the General Public, and there are intrinsic natural values and ecological services at stake, including the great natural beauty of the wild ones themselves that must not be taken for granted. For what is life worth without such beauty?! These are values, my friend, that do in fact preserve the whole of life as one amazingly inter-communicating and inter-dependent community far into the Future.
As concerns the exquisite desert valley and western bounding, colorful Excelsior Mountains known as the Marietta Wild Burro Range (BLM), my two companions and I were able to observe a fair number of wild burros here and to obtain some fine photos (which see). However, the wild horse band I nearly always saw on the northern boundary north of the main entry road off Nevada Highway 360 was not observed nor were the band’s customary abundance of spoor (tracks and feces). The magnificent paint stallion was a real exemplar of equine aliveness and self-realization, with his handsome mares and offspring and all of their keen alertness, spontaneity, and cohesiveness to meet the challenge to survive, to carry on over the generations in this resource-sparse yet awesome desert environment. It is my New Year’s hope and prayer that these special mustangs, as well as those of the Montgomery Pass territory, are still alive and thriving, keeping out of harm’s way in a world that is being increasingly over-populated and overexploited – but not by them! They are very under-populated in relation to their vacant ecological niche here, yet these wild equids are the true restorers and healers of this life home. Needless to say, the over-population and the over-exploitation is by our own kind: humanity!
During the late afternoon of December 29th, while out by the Teel Marsh in the Marietta burro range, my two companions and I were observing a few of the remaining wild burros, when suddenly we were all – humans and burros alike – jolted by a series of 15 massive explosions. These came from an area just to the west of the Excelsior Mountains and to our west. Each detonation produced a series of deep, rumbling shock waves that penetrated not only our ears but our internal organs as well, causing them to vibrated violently and palpably, even with a little pain. And I seemed to hear the whole Earth groaning here. About every half-minute to minute, another such detonation would occur. As two large passenger jets simultaneously to the blasts passed overhead, we began to wonder whether this was the start of WWIII and the beginning of the end for life as we know it on Earth – the prophesized holocaust of the “latter days”. A large and wind-diffused cloud of dusty and debris rose 1,000’s of feet into the air, but fortunately no mushroom cloud appeared. We thought these violent explosions were caused by open-pit miners. This is an interest to which the BLM and USFS have given pretty much carte-blanche to do what they please on the public lands, except in wilderness areas, where, however, cattle and sheep hordes continue to be “grandfathered in” contrary to the true purpose of The Wilderness Act. And these domestic animals, though no fault of their own, are thus make to damage rare and threatened species and their habitats as well as the vital headwaters for all species concerned, including we people!
I shall never forget the look of shock and worry on the faces of the wise, old burros whom we were observing when the terrible explosions went off; and I thought of all the intricately connected subterranean water flows and sources: seeps, streams, and springs that would be violently disrupted by these explosions, and of all the myriad micro-organisms, fungi, plants, and animals whose lives and interrelations would likewise be dealt a very harmful blow by these shameless violations and trespasses against the living world of Nature. And all in order to maintain an extravagant and wasteful modern life style by people who seem oblivious to all that they are destroying, who seem only bent on materialistic conquering and control of a living world they only superficially appreciate or have any respect for.
So, as the New Year 2015 is about to begin and as the Chinese Year of the Horse is now closing in around a month, my prayer and my resolution is to bring enlightened change to all life on Earth where it is most urgently needed: in the minds and hearts and wills of us people. For, while we are most clearly the cause of most problems in the world today, by the same token we are the solution to these same pressing and life-threatening problems. And we can start by increasing the allowed population of wild burros in the Marietta Range, for the arbitrarily set, so-called Appropriate Management Level of ca. 125 individuals is in no way a genetically viable population level (IUCN SSC Equine Specialist Group recommends 2,500 individuals for an equid population to be viable in nature), nor does such a population level begin to fill the natural niche of the burro in this vast desert area. By the way, the wild burro should be classified as an endangered species restoring itself in the land of its origin (see Ch. I of my book).
And much the same can be said of the Montgomery Pass wild horses on their legal Inyo USFS Territory. The ranchers here have to learn to share more of the resource and to release their stranglehold and monopoly on the public lands! So do the giant open-pit mining corporations. So do the big-game hunters. Both the ranchers and the hunters war against the natural predators and the U.S. as well as state and local governments spend millions of dollars each year, e.g. through U.S. Animal Control Service, to cater to pipe dreams for worldly power, control, and wealth. So many endangered Gray Wolves were killed last year in the U.S. after being delisted from Endangered status due to overweening human arrogance and ignorance, yet these interests will arrogantly proclaim that the wild horses or wild burros have no natural predators. How utterly hypocritical and how utterly false!
But let us not end on this note. To begin the New Year and in fulfillment of the Year of the Horse, let us stress what both can and should happen in the way of change. We humans can – in fact we must – transform our relation to “the Rest of Life”. We can learn to share the land and freedom with such magnificent animals as the horses and burros. They have done so much for us and truly we would not be living so high on the hog today were it not for their cooperation. We have what is called a “mutual symbiosis” (a mutually beneficial living together) with them that dates back thousands – I would daresay even millions – of years; and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. So what better way to repay this debit than by simply allowing them to be themselves, to carry on their age-old trajectory, to fill their niche and role in the world of Nature and life community in which they are true restorers and healers.
By the lofty grace of God, may this enlightened and beneficent transformation on the part of Man become a living reality right here and right now, in this life and in this world where the Fates have decreed we all live and unfold together. This is our shared home. This is our challenge … and this is my prayer.
Craig Downer, Wildlife Ecologist, President: Andean Tapir Fund (also dedicated to helping wild horses and burros), P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423. www.andeantapirfund.com, www.thewildhorseconspiracy.org firstname.lastname@example.org, Director of Ecology and Conservation at Protect Mustangs.org