Starting in early June of this year we released a series of articles that discussed the American Horse Crisis, the impact of feral horses, and our responsibility to manage the horse population to mitigate their impact. Today we start a new series, this time focusing on not only the how and why we have this problem, but individuals who perpetuate it and hinder the attempts of farmers/ranchers to protect and do what is best for the horse population as a whole.
If you would like to catch up on The American Horse Crisis we encourage you to take a look at those previous articles, which can be found HERE.
If you have been keeping up with the issue of horse overpopulation you have probably already seen this video. However, for those who are just now joining the conversation, it is a great place to begin a comprehensive understanding of the crisis.
The Bureau of Land Management has catastrophically failed to keep the horse population under control. Despite an enormous budget, there are simply too many horses for the BLM to round up. Shelters are full. Adoption centers are failing to distribute the feral animals. Lands that were once covered in vegetation have been turned into barren plains of dirt and dust. Animals once dependent on these lands are dead or dying out. American ranchers are being pushed off of their permitted land, and the world is losing many important food producers.
Sadly, the hands of ranchers and citizens are often tied – there are many laws in place to stop individuals from feeding or watering wild horses. For example, Nevada rather recently strengthened the punishments of these laws through SB 264 in 2013. Average citizens are put into a situation where they are forced to stand by and watch these horses die, and it is illegal for ranchers to care for the wild horses. The BLM and animal rights groups are not helping these horses and it is illegal for individuals to do so.
Yet, the situation was not always this dire. There is a long history of horses in America, their involvement with individuals, and their management. It was only in the past few decades that a crisis has been building.
How Horses Got To Where They Are Today
It is fairly well known that the current species of horses entered North America with the beginning of the Spanish conquest. These horses arrived in the early 1500s, when just around 15 of them were brought with the Cortez expedition. A few escaped horses eventually spread throughout the Great Plains of America. Believe it or not, this total expanded to millions just within 150 years of introduction.
Wild horses are classified non-native, meaning the American west is not the natural habitat for these horses. With no natural predators and no true place in American lands, their mismanagement has heavily contributed to the destruction of important ecosystems and ultimately the land as a whole. History has shown that nature alone cannot manage this foreign species, and it is now up to humans to bring our lands back to balance.
As early as the late 1800s, humans have attempted to round up feral horses to control their population. In 1971, the government took control of these practices and the management of wild horses. For a while the BLM was able to maintain appropriate management levels of the horses based on the number of wild horses the land can sustain. Now, there are several times the number of horses that can be provided for according to AML equations, and there is no way for the BLM to legally dispose of the animals.
Take a look at these graphs, the first showing the dramatic increase in the number of wild horses in sanctuaries over the past few years, and the second showing how the BLM attempted to steady that number – no longer gathering the wild animals.
The BLM has begun to severely limit the number of horses that it gathers each year. With the size of feral herds doubling in 4 years, this is extremely dangerous for our environment. The consequences we have seen will only continue to get worse as the years pass by and the BLM does nothing to limit the impacts of wild horses.
Before 2007, a viable way to maintain and manage the wild horse population was processing. After inspectors for these facilities were defunded and they could no longer legally operate, there was no place for the feral horses to be sent inside the U.S.
With double the manageable level of horses on public lands it has become increasingly more difficult for the ecosystem to sustain these horses and other animals. Many species are beginning to starve and die out. The herds of our nation’s ranchers are being cut down due to BLM regulation and the simple fact that it is impossible to raise livestock on the land that the horses have destroyed.
There are many types of public land and reasons for its government management, including habitat conservation, recreation, natural & cultural preservation, health & safety, and commercial use, which is what we are discussing. Contrary to popular belief, not all government land is used for preservation, although to fulfill its purpose that is often a part. The government realized that with the growing population we would also need a growing supply of resources, and set aside land to provide that. Food is one of these resources and ranchers that apply for permits to raise cattle on public land are supposed to be protected.
Therefore, when the wild horses and the BLM are taking permitted land from ranchers that were set aside to produce food for the nation, it has a major impact. Not only are they ruining the livelihood of traditional American families, but taking food out of the mouths of people starving around the world. When Kevin Borba’s herd of over 500 cattle was cut to 1/5th that size, food was being taken from the plates of hungry children.
On Wednesday, we will continue our series with a closer look at the BLM, Wild Horse Education, and Laura Leigh.
Statistics on horses in sanctuaries and horses gathered from public land: