Wild horse overpopulation is fake news

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Meet the new Bureau of Land Management propaganda mouthpiece who just voted to kill 45,000 American wild horses and burros in holding

pm-ben-masters-headshot

Ben Masters claims, in his PRO-KILL statement on 9/10/16, that there are 3,160 wild horses in the area he visited on the BLM tour last week. He visited Dolly Varden Spring in Antelope Valley, Nevada. One of our members was there too.

A well established local journalist, Larry Hyslop wrote about the wild horses at Dolly Varden Spring on 8/20/16. According to Hyslop there are 1,100 wild horses. Ben Masters, a new Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board member, claimed there were three times as many in his PRO-KILL statement on 9/10/16.

So who is telling the truth? 

 

How many wild horses are out there? Where is the evidence?

 

 

Ben Masters only holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University. He produced and played himself in the film, UNBRANDED, a Bureau of Land Management propaganda film with all those talking heads forced into the story of an epic journey.

Sign and Share the Petition to Demand #NoKill 45,000 Wild Horses & Burros in Holding: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/907/592/301/demand-nokill-45000-wild-horses-burros-in-holding/

Sign and Share the Petition to Defund to Stop the Wild Horse and Burro Roundups and Slaughter https://www.change.org/p/defund-and-stop-the-wild-horse-burro-roundups

Sign and Share the Petition to Investigate the Wild Horse & Burro Count in Captivity and in Freedom https://www.change.org/p/u-s-senate-investigate-the-wild-horse-burro-count-in-captivity-and-freedom

Ben Master on far left

Help fight the killing!

Protect Mustangs is a 501c3 nonprofit organization who protects and preserves native and wild horses.




BREAKING NEWS: Wild Horses and burros are protected from slaughter!

PM BLM Wild Horses Running

Wild horses & Burros under federal jurisdiction are safe for now

“We are very grateful wild horses and burros, under federal jurisdiction, will receive protections from slaughter in 2016. They are underpopulated on public land after all the taxpayer funded roundups. But the battle isn’t over. We want our national icons of freedom to be protected from forced drugging with pesticides such as PZP for fertility control or other forms of sterilization. Wild horses and burros are an essential part of the thriving natural ecological balance in the West. We must save them for future generations.” — Anne Novak, Executive Director of Protect Mustangs

“Appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.” Page: 714-715 of the Omnibus. http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20151214/CPRT-114-HPRT-RU00-SAHR2029-AMNT1final.pdf

We are grateful to Senator Tom Udall, Victoria McCullough for bringing this to the appropriations bill and so thankful to the White House for their approval. A big thank you to the and the thousands of advocates who have made this happen by all your hard work. Bless you!

Links of interest:

NV Judge Stops BLM Roundup Of Famous Mustang Herd ‘The Misfits’

Washington Post: U.S. looking for ideas to help manage wild-horse overpopulation

Associated Press (viral): Wild-horse advocates clash over contraceptives for mustangs

PZP Pesticide Fact Sheet: http://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/pending/fs_PC-176603_01-Jan-12.pdf

www.ProtectMustangs.org

https://www.facebook.com/ProtectMustangs

 

Washington Post reports: Federal horse, burro adoption event designed to help manage population

By Will Greenberg      August 14, 2015

The wild horses and burros that are part of the federal Bureau of Land Management’s latest adoption effort were notably calm Friday as they moved slowly in the early afternoon heat. The mustangs were looking for a new home, and their potential owners were looking for more than just a pet.

About a dozen people sized up the 20 wild horses and 24 burros in a makeshift pen at the Meadowood Recreation Area in Lorton — offering grass to the animals to see which were friendly. Some people were there ahead of Saturday’s adoption event looking for a gentle companion that a child could ride; others came just to admire the animals.

Makayla Cardova, 16, arrived with her mother and sister. She’s hoping the family adopts their third horse, having already trained two just this year. Cardova said her love of horses was fostered by her grandpa, saying he “created a monster.”

Bill Blake, 65, probably isn’t ready to adopt one right now — maybe next year, he said. But to him, mustangs are a pure animal, a sight worth coming from Culpeper, Va., two hours away.

“They’re just real,” Blake said, talking as he tousled the hair of a gentle brown mustang. “Nobody’s fooled with them.”
Saturday’s event — which is first come, first served and begins at 8 a.m. — is one of about two dozen adoptions being held by the bureau during the second half of this year. Adoptions are held at a variety of locations across the country in addition to online.

It’s just one of the ways the federal government is working to contain the burgeoning population of mustangs and burros in the western United States. As of March, according to bureau’s Web site, there were more than 58,000 horses and burros living on wild lands of 10 Western states in an area that can handle only about 26,700 animals.

Contraception and adoption, among other methods, are used to curb population growth, said Davida Carnahan, who works with bureau’s Eastern States office. Crowded federal lands don’t just harm the other wildlife, Carnahan said: In the long-term, the area can run out of food and end up harming the horses.
Adoptions cost about $125 per horse, but not just anyone can leave with one. Adopters must be at least 18 years old and have an enclosed facility with food, water and at least 400 square feet per animal. And, a year after the adoption, a bureau official must check up on the animal to ensure that it’s healthy.

But taking in a mustang is a project: It needs to be taught to trust humans.

For Kimberly Loveless, a horse lover and trainer from Fredericksburg, the difference between owning a wild horse and a domesticated horse is patience. Loveless has adopted five mustangs and is a volunteer for the program. Wild horses, which rarely have any human contact in nature, are generally terrified of people, she said, and it takes considerable time to gain their trust.

But for Loveless, befriending a wild animal has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
“Just to see some of the horses when they’re wild — nobody’s brushed them, nobody’s trimmed their manes and nobody’s cleaned them up — if you can just kind of look past that and see what’s in their eyes and what’s in their faces, you know, and maybe find something special about one of them, it’s worth every bit of your time and effort,” Loveless said.

Another trainer, Steve Mantle, has a Wyoming-based private horse-training facility: Mantle Ranch. Mantle, 58, often trains horses for the bureau’s program and said that making a mustang comfortable around people — or “gentling” them — can take from days to weeks. People need to be ready to put in the work when they adopt a wild horse, he said.

It’s “not the quantity of horses adopted, it’s how many horses stay adopted,” Mantle said.

Still, what if the horses were better off in the wild?

Anne Novak, the executive director of Protect Mustangs, a wild horse advocacy group, said the federal government misrepresents the need to remove mustangs from their natural habitat, and she questions the agency’s head count of animals as well as its estimate of how many horses the land can support.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 protects mustangs from harm and capture, although the law does allow the government to remove “excess animals” if they are damaging an environment.

Although Novak’s organization isn’t against adoption, it says that when that’s not necessary, the horse should remain in the wild.

“If they were able to gather the number of horses that they adopt out annually, then there wouldn’t be this problem,” she said. “They need to reestablish a fair allocation of public land to the wild horses who legally have a right to it.”

Ultimately, the debate over the best place for these horses – in the wild or with people – boils down to a question that’s hard to get a firsthand answer for: Which would the horse prefer?

“If you asked the horse, they would be perfectly fine being wild and living the way they’ve always lived,” Loveless said. “I guess if I had my say-so in the matter, that would be wonderful, but it’s not realistic because there are things like droughts, and there’s wildfires and because the government’s been charged with looking after them, they have to take steps to do that.”

Cross-posted from the Washington Post for educational purposes. The original article is here.

Fundraising for Wild Horses and Our Long Term Goals

Ghost Dancer Oct 2014

Dear Donor,

One of the reasons why we are fundraising on an open platform at GoFundMe http://www.gofundme.com/9xcfag and http://www.gofundme.com/fujloc is to provide transparency and education. Your donations are tax-deductible as well. Our transparency is important and crowd funding encourages transparency. We also accept donations via PayPal to Contact@Protect Mustangs.org Most people have no idea how much is really being donated to orgs and how much the true cost is to feed and care for rescued wild horses for example.

Out on public land it costs basically nothing to have wild horses and burros because they are part of the eco-system and fill their niche. It’s important to fight for their freedom to live in the wild.

Our plan is to create a sustainable eco-sanctuary where the the wild horses can graze and we can grow hay for the winter. The WY14 will be allowed to live in sanctuary and to be observed by visitors, students, artists, veterans, etc. They will only be minimally gentled to provide foot care and other care as needed but otherwise left in peace. The other wild horses in our Outreach Program are Ambassadors that interface with the public in a hands on way and will go to events to champion and encourage wild horse adoption as well as bust prejudice against WILD horses.

Val for example has already dispelled many myths to a lot of DVMs and vet students at UC Davis. It’s beautiful to watch it happen. Maybe now some of those people will think slaughtering wild horses is a bad idea because they met Val.

We are a national nonprofit organization based in California. Donations made directly to us via www.PayPal.com or by mail to Protect Mustangs, PO Box 5661, Berkeley, Ca. 94705 should be tax-deductible retroactively as we are filing with the IRS in 2014. Meanwhile the Andean Tapir Fund (501c3) is our fiscal sponsor while ours is in the works. When we have our own 501c3 status then we will start a fundraising campaign to create the ecosanctuary. In the meantime we need to feed, board, train and care for the wild horses in our program. We are 100% volunteer–no salaries. Your tax-deductible donations are going to the wild horses in our program.

Hay is extremely expensive and the only power we have to get a better rate is if we buy semi truck loads. We haven’t been able to raise that kind of money so we buy it in blocks of 30 bales or less at a time. Most rescues and sanctuaries are struggling with hay prices so high. For example, in the SF Bay Area hay retails for $25 a bale. In Reno the hay is cheaper. We always are sourcing out better prices to stretch out donor dollars.

We are not funded by corporations, oil, gas or big pharma so we have no conflicts of interest. We can speak out without any hidden agenda. Read this week’s Washington Post article to see how we often champion to the voiceless wild horses: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/energy-environment/feds-to-gather-nuisance-mustangs-in-nevada/2014/10/23/d8ef5aae-5ade-11e4-9d6c-756a229d8b18_story.html

We are here for the wild horses, period. We are a dynamic org and we need more volunteers so let me know if you would like to help : )

Many blessings,
Anne

Anne Novak
Executive Director
Protect Mustangs
Contact@ProtectMustangs.org

(Photo of Ghost Dancer taken in October 2014)

AP reports: Feds to gather nuisance mustangs in Nevada

Well it is Mercury Retrograde which can cause some communication glitches so it’s no surprise it happened to me today in the Associated Press article, Feds to Gather Nuisance Mustangs in Nevada. It seems an important word is missing from what I said. The word ‘nuisance’ was edited out and not by the reporter. Here is how the article reads:

Anne Novak, executive director of the California-based horse advocacy group Protect Mustangs, acknowledged the  roundups are legal under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. But she said the ranchers are “grabbing at straws to remove native wild horses.”

“If people are going to live outside the city and don’t want wild horses and other wild animals eating their grass, then they need to pay for fencing with their own money, not expect another government handout,” Novak said.

This is what I said specifically about the nuisance roundup:

The nuisance roundup is allowed in the 1971 Act. It seems like the ranchers who want wild horses removed are jumping on the bandwagon. I’d like to see ranchers work with wild horse advocates to find the win-win. After all “wildlife and cows can be partners, not enemies in search for food” according to Princeton University’s Dan Rubinstein. http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S32/93/41K10/index.xml?section=featured It’s time to stop the fighting and focus on improving range-land health. Old grazing practices can be improved with holistic land management incorporating America’s wild herds.

You can read the corrected version in the Washington Post: http://wapo.st/1DKtvc5

A big thank you to the Associated Press for reporting on America’s wild horses!

Anne Novak

#Gratitude 2 @GASLANDmovie 4 exposing #FRACKING wipes out #WildHorses ~ Come 2 Sacramento Rally 3/15

“We’re so grateful  Josh Fox answered our call for help and included the American wild horse crisis in his awesome film GASLAND Part 2,” says Anne Novak, Executive Director of Protect Mustangs. “We won’t sell out. We will continue to fight for their right to live wild and free.” www.ProtectMustangs.org

HBO released GASLAND Part 2 in 2013 to an audience of more than 40 million people. Since then the film’s audience has grown around the world.

Please sign and share the Petition for a Moratorium on Roundups for Scientific Studies before wild horses are tampered with using risky fertility control that sterilizes, are euthanized or are slaughtered. http://www.change.org/petitions/sally-jewell-urgent-grant-a-10-year-moratorium-on-wild-horse-roundups-for-scientific-research

Today America’s wild horses are underpopulated. The Spin Dr.s have released a huge campaign to fool Congress and the public into believing there are too many when the truth is the feds are managing our native wild horses to extinction.

Why? Follow the money and it leads you to Big Oil & Gas that wants to FRACK their native land and needs tons of water for fracking.

Come to the Rally to Stop Fracking in California this Saturday March 15th in Sacramento! California wild horses need you! https://www.facebook.com/events/727804507253568/

What else can you do? Email, call and meet with your senators and representative to request a moratorium on roundups for scientific studies to ensure their survival. Fertility control is premature. http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

Read the fine print, ask questions and beware of vague pledges people are asking your senators and representative to sign. Certain wild horse groups aren’t fighting for the herds’ freedom any more but are pushing for fertility control experiments and sanctuary-style management with restricted use pesticides (PZP, etc.) branded as “birth control” and without scientific studies on population when wild horses are underpopulated and are being managed to extinction by the feds.

IN THE NEWS: http://protectmustangs.org/?page_id=218

INFORMATION:

Are wild horses going to be sterilized due to an advocacy campaign? http://protectmustangs.org/?p=6356

The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America: http://www.sciencepublishinggroup.com/journal/paperinfo.aspx?journalid=118&doi=10.11648/j.ajls.20140201.12

Press Release: No proof of overpopulation, no need for native wild horse fertility control http://protectmustangs.org/?p=4453

Bogus Science and Profiteering Stampeding Their Way into Wild Horse Country http://protectmustangs.org/?p=4475

Protect Mustangs speaks out against the Cloud Foundation’s PARTNERSHIP with BLM using risky PZP that could terminate natural selection: http://protectmustangs.org/?p=4941

Wildlife Ecologist, Craig Downer, speaks out against using PZP in the Pryors: http://protectmustangs.org/?p=4178

Report unveils wild horse underpopulation on 800,000 acre Twin Peaks range: http://protectmustangs.org/?p=6278

GASLAND website: http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/

(Photo of Josh Fox & Anne Novak at the Oakland Preview of GASLAND Part 2. )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

URGENT: Don’t Kill America’s wild horses!

 

URGENT ACTION ALERT It’s Wild Horse Wednesday™ !

Let Congress know they must prevent wild horses from being killed to make room for more in holding. http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ Be sure to tell them the overpopulation scare is a farce! According to the National Academy of Sciences there is NO EVIDENCE of alleged overpopulation. Email and Call your senators and representative today!

Background news to send to senators and representatives:

Associated Press (viral): http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_24897316/nevada-farm-bureau-counties-sue-over-wild-horses

Washington Post (viral): http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-looking-for-ideas-to-help-manage-wild-horse-overpopulation/2014/01/26/8cae7c96-84f2-11e3-9dd4-e7278db80d86_story.html

The Horse article: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/33289/blm-seeks-ideas-on-wild-horse-management

KPFA Evening News reports http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/100329 (begins at 11:05)

More info on the plan that makes sense– the Moratorium on Roundups for scientific studies on population, migration and holistic land management: www.ProtectMustangs.org

#WildHorseWednesday

Moratorium on roundups needed for scientific research before sterilization

PM Hazard Foter Public domain Marked Sterilize

“Currently there is no evidence of overpopulation but the runaway train for fertility control and sterilization bashes down the tracks,” explains Anne Novak, Executive Director of Protect Mustangs. “We request a ten-year moratorium on roundups for scientific studies on population, migration and holistic land management. Science must come first.”

Please sign and share the petition for a moratorium on roundups: http://www.change.org/petitions/sally-jewell-urgent-grant-a-10-year-moratorium-on-wild-horse-roundups-for-scientific-research

Cross-posted from the Sacramento Bee for educational purposes.

Panel: Sterilize wild horses to cut population

By Sean Cockerham
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Published: Thursday, Jun. 6, 2013

WASHINGTON – The federal government should do large-scale drug injections of wild horses to make them infertile, according to a highly anticipated recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences.

The report released Wednesday said the Interior Department’s strategy for wild horses is making a bad situation worse. The government has rounded up nearly 50,000 wild horses and put them in corrals and pastures.

More of America’s wild horses are now in holding facilities than estimated to be roaming the wild, in what the National Academy of Sciences called a failure to limit the animals’ fast-growing numbers.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management requested the report amid frustration and skyrocketing costs of the wild horse and burro program. The annual cost to taxpayers of the program has nearly doubled in four years to $75 million, with more than half going to costs of holding facilities.

The BLM says roundups and holding facilities are needed because swelling horse populations are too much for the wild range to sustain. Wild horse advocates say the issue is really about favoring the interests of ranchers whose cattle and sheep graze upon the public lands.

The National Academy of Sciences said a big problem is that the Bureau of Land Management doesn’t really know how many wild horses and burros there are in America, or their true impact on the rangelands. The report concluded that BLM is likely underestimating the number of wild horses in America and that their populations are growing by as much as 20 percent a year.

The independent panel of scientists that wrote the report said the agency needs a more defensible scientific backup for its decisions on wild horses, including consideration of the impact of livestock on the range.

“The science can be markedly improved,” said Guy Palmer, a Washington State University professor who led the panel.

The government’s roundups of wild horses are just making the population problem worse, according to the report. Shutting tens of thousands of horses in holding facilities means less competition for food and water on the range and more population growth, it concluded.

Leaving the horses alone to roam the range would lead to a competition among them for food and water that would meet the goal of cutting their numbers, according to the report. But “having many horses in poor condition, and having horses die of starvation on the range are not acceptable to a sizable proportion of the public,” the authors concluded.

The best alternative is a widespread use of fertility control measures, the independent scientific panel decided. They recommended chemical vasectomies for stallions and the injection of the contraceptive vaccines GonaCon and porcine zona pellucida for mares.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/06/06/5475171/study-sterilize-horses-to-drop.html#comment-923308337#storylink=cpy

In contrast, Karen Sussman of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros has been studying herds in her care for 13 years. The results show healthy social structures of wild horses control population.

ISPMB herds show that functional social structures contribute to low herd growth compared to BLM managed herds

As we complete our thirteenth year in studying the White Sands and Gila herds, two isolated herds, which live in similar habitat but represent two different horse cultures, have demonstrated much lower reproductive rates than BLM managed herds.  Maintaining the “herd integrity” with a hands off management strategy (“minimal feasible management”) and no removals in 13 years has shown us that functional herds demonstrating strong social bonds and leadership of elder animals is key to the behavioral management of population growth.

ISPMB’s president, Karen Sussman, who has monitored and studied ISPMB’s four wild herds all these years explains, “We would ascertain from our data that due to BLM’s constant roundups causing the continual disruption of the very intricate social structures of the harem bands has allowed younger stallions to take over losing the mentorship of the older wiser stallions.

In simplistic terms Sussman makes the analogy that over time Harvard professors (elder wiser stallions) have been replaced by errant teenagers (younger bachelor stallions).  We know that generally teenagers do not make good parents because they are children themselves.

Sussman’s observations of her two stable herds show that there is tremendous respect commanded amongst the harems.  Bachelor stallions learn that respect from their natal harems.  Bachelors usually don’t take their own harems until they are ten years of age.  Sussman has observed that stallions mature emotionally at much slower rates than mares and at age ten they appear ready to assume the awesome responsibility of becoming a harem stallion.

Also observed in these herds is the length of time that fillies remain with their natal bands.  The fillies leave when they are bred by an outside stallion at the age of four or five years.  Often as first time mothers, they do quite well with their foals but foal mortality is higher than with seasoned mothers.

Sussman has also observed in her Gila herd where the harems work together for the good of the entire herd.  “Seeing this cooperative effort is quite exciting,” states Sussman.

ISPMB’s third herd, the Catnips, coming from the Sheldon Wildlife Range where efforts are underway to eliminate all horses on the refuge, demonstrate exactly the reverse of the organization’s two stable herds.

The first year of their arrival (2004) their fertility rates were 30% the following first and second years. They have loose band formations and some mares are without any harem stallions.  Stallions are observed breeding fillies as young as one year of age.  Foal mortality is very high in this herd.  Generally there is a lack of leadership and wisdom noted in the stallions as most of them were not older than ten years of age when they arrived.  In 2007, a decision to use PZP on this herd, a contraceptive, was employed by ISPMB.  This herd remains a very interesting herd to study over time according to Sussman.   “The question is, can a dysfunctional herd become functional,” says Sussman who speculates that the Catnips emulate many of the public lands herds.

In 1992 when Sussman and her colleague, Mary Ann Simonds, served on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, they believed that BLM’s management should change and recommended that selective removals should begin by turning back all the older and wiser animals to retain the herd wisdom.  Sussman realizes that the missing ingredient was to stop the destruction of the harem bands caused by helicopter roundups where stallions are separated from their mares.  “Instead, bait and water trapping, band by band, needed to be instituted immediately,” says Sussman.  Had this been done for the past twenty years, we would have functionally healthy horses who have stable reproductive rates and we wouldn’t have had 52,000 wild horses in holding pastures today.   BLM’s selective removal policy was to return all horses over the age of five.  When the stallions and mares were released back to their herd management areas by the BLM, younger stallions under the age of ten fought for the mares and took mares from the older wiser stallions.  This occurs when there is chaos happening in a herd such as roundups cause.

Sussman also believes that when roundups happen often the younger stallions aged 6-9 are ones that evade capture.  This again contributes to younger stallions taking the place of older wiser stallions that remain with their mares and do not evade capture.  She is advocating that the BLM carry out two studies: determining the age of fillies who are pregnant and determining age structures of stallions after removals.

Currently Sussman is developing criteria to determine whether bands are behaviorally healthy or not.  This could be instituted easily in observation of public lands horses.

Taken from BLM’s website:  “Because of federal protection and a lack of natural predators, wild horse and burro herds can double in size about every four years.”

White Sands Herd Growth: 1999-2013 – 165 animals.

BLM’s assertion herds double every four years means there should be 980 horses or more than five times the growth of ISPMB’s White Sands herd.

Gila Herd Growth:1999-2013- 100 animals.

BLM’s assertion herds double every four years means there should be 434 horses or nearly four times the growth of ISPMB’s Gila herd.

Sussman says that BLM’s assertion as to why horse herds double every four years is incorrect. The two reasons given are federal protection of wild horse herds and lack of natural predators. ISPMB herds are also protected and also have no natural predators, but they do not reproduce exponentially. She adds that exponential wild horse population growth on BLM lands must have another cause, and the most likely cause is lack of management and understanding of wild horses as wildlife species.  Instead BLM manages horses like livestock. “According to the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, all management of wild horse populations was to be at the ‘minimal feasible level’,” Sussman says. “When the BLM’s heavy-handed disruption and destruction of wild horse social structures is the chief contributing factor in creating population growth five times greater than normal, than the BLM interference can hardly be at a ‘minimal feasible level.’”

Sussman concludes that ISPMB herds are given the greatest opportunity for survival, compared to the BLM’s herds which are not monitored throughout the year.  “One would assume,” Sussman says, “herds that are well taken care of and monitored closely would have a greater survival rate.  Yet, even under the optimum conditions of ISPMB herds, they still did not increase nearly 500% like BLM herds.”

It’s time for a moratorium for scientific studies like Sussman’s. We need to help the wild horses and burros not harm them. Let us use science to guide us.

Washington Post reports: U.S. looking for ideas to help manage wild-horse overpopulation

Truck in the pens (© Anne Novak, All rights reserved)

Truck in the pens (© Anne Novak, All rights reserved)

When Velma Johnston almost single-handedly persuaded Congress to pass the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, her goal was to protect an icon of the American West that had been slaughtered, poisoned and abused and was quickly disappearing.More than four decades later, the woman known as “Wild Horse Annie” would undoubtedly be shocked by what her law has wrought: so many mustangs, stashed in so many places, that authorities admit they have no idea how to handle them all.

Under the law, the federal government is responsible for more than 40,000 mustangs on the range in 10 Western states, where they compete with cattle and wildlife for increasingly scarce water and forage. The public desire to adopt them is limited. Contraceptive efforts have largely failed. U.S. law — reaffirmed this month — effectively precludes slaughtering them, or selling them to anyone who would. Activists want the horses left on the land.

Solving the decades-old problem is the task of the federal Bureau of Land Management. Already it manages 50,000 horses and burros it has rounded up and sent to pastures and corrals. But it is rapidly running out of places for more.

Now, by devoting about $1.5 million from the new budget agreement for fiscal 2014, the agency is ready to take another shot at one of the West’s most in­trac­table wildlife problems. It is inviting anyone with a legitimate idea of how to curb the horse and burro populations to step up and propose it. The agency will study the ones it finds most promising and try again to find a solution.

“We need all the help we can get,” said Ed Roberson, the BLM’s assistant director of resources and planning.

The agency periodically takes wild horses from 179 “herd management areas” it controls on 31.6 million acres, mostly when they threaten to overwhelm the available food and water or destroy the surroundings, officials said. It sends them to private pastures if space is available and holds the rest in corrals.

Not only do these efforts feature the unfortunate visual of panicked mustangs fleeing low-flying helicopters, but activists and others have claimed that horses have been injured and treated inhumanely during roundups.

“We don’t have an overpopulation problem,” said Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs, a horse advocacy group. “The only overpopulation problem is in the holding pens.”

The BLM says that the open range it manages can support 26,677 horses and burros, and estimates that 40,605 are roaming that land. A National Research Council study released in June concluded that the agency may have undercounted by 10 to 50 percent, and that horse populations were probably growing at 15 to 20 percent every year.

The mustangs, offspring of horses left behind by miners, ranchers, Native Americans and others, have no natural predators, except for an occasional mountain lion or bear. Left alone on the range, the agency predicts, their population would soar to 145,000 by 2020.

Meanwhile, the BLM is sheltering and feeding 33,608 horses in pastures at $1.30 per head each day, and 16,160 horses and burros in “short-term corrals” at four times the expense, officials said. (The temporary stays can last as long as 18 months.)

Joan Guilfoyle, chief of the BLM’s wild horse and burro division, predicted that the holding areas in states such as Kansas and Oklahoma will chew up 64 percent of the $77 million Congress gave the program for fiscal 2014.

“Our long-term goal is to reduce that,” she said. “We don’t consider that a success story. We haven’t had very many options.”

Bruce Wagman, a California-based attorney who represents numerous animal protection groups across the country, argued that the government’s approach violates the spirit of the 1971 law.

“They’ve been doing the wrong thing since day one,” he said. “Instead of protecting and preserving them, they are doing the opposite.”

The Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation couldn’t disagree more. Last month, they sued the BLM, alleging that it is not enforcing the portion of the 1971 law that requires it to manage wild horses in a way that maintains ecological balance for all species, including the millions of cattle that graze on federal land.

“They’re not managing the herds,” said Lorinda Wichman, a Nye County, Nev., commissioner and president-elect of the state’s Association of Counties. “We have some herds in Nye County that are 600 percent over” what the area can support.

More than half the wild horses are in Nevada. The overcrowding, coupled with the drought plaguing the Southwest, has “severe impacts on the rangeland. It has severe impacts on the natural riparian areas. And in the long run, it has severe impacts on the horses themselves,” said Zach Allen, director of communications for the Nevada Farm Bureau.

Novak, of Protect Mustangs, dismissed the notion that wild horses have destroyed grazing lands that ranchers need to feed their cattle. She cited work by Princeton University researchers that shows that allowing wild animals to graze alongside cattle can actually result in healthier cows. Their conclusions were based on studies conducted in Kenya, where cattle paired with donkeys gained 60 percent more weight than those left to graze only with other cows. The researchers said that the donkeys ate the upper portion of grass that cows have difficulty digesting, leaving behind lush lower vegetation on which cattle thrive.

One obvious solution, sending the horses to slaughter, is out of the question. The BLM does not knowingly auction horses to anyone who would slaughter them. And the last of several domestic horse-slaughtering plants ceased operation in 2007 after Congress withheld funding for federal inspectors.

When that funding was restored in 2011, several companies sought permits from the Department of Agriculture to resume horse-slaughtering operations. The most high-profile was Valley Meat in New Mexico, whose efforts triggered renewed debate — and many months of legal fights — over whether the practice should be allowed.

When Congress cut the funding for inspectors, “it did far more to hurt the welfare of horses,” said A. Blair Dunn, an attorney who has represented Valley Meat. “People were just abandoning them. . . . They are starving to death or dying of thirst.”

Wagman, the attorney who represents horse advocacy groups, responded that “horse slaughter is inherently inhumane. Even if it’s not a legal issue, it’s an ethical issue.”

The argument became moot recently when Congress passed a budget that again withholds money for inspectors in horse-
slaughter plants.

Adoption was once a serious option. In fiscal 1995, 9,655 horses and burros were adopted, according to the BLM, but that dropped to a low of 2,583 by fiscal 2012, for reasons that aren’t clear.

That leaves fertility control as the most promising alternative. One drug, porcine zona pellucida, is effective for a year and can be injected into horses on the range. But longer-acting versions have proven to be not nearly as reliable, Guilfoyle said.

Until a new idea comes along — the BLM hopes its $1.5 million offer will generate creative suggestions — the agency is left with a combination of fertility control and roundups.

“What is the solution? You know, I really wish I knew,” said Wichman, the county commissioner. “As a race, I believe we have loved our pets and our animals into a corner, because as soon as we started playing Mother Nature, we kind of messed with the balance of things.”

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Cross posted from the Washington Post for educational purposes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-looking-for-ideas-to-help-manage-wild-horse-overpopulation/2014/01/26/8cae7c96-84f2-11e3-9dd4-e7278db80d86_story.html