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American Mustangs by Anita Modlovany & Bob Crosby.

American Mustangs by Anita Modlovany & Bob Crosby.

America’s Wild Horse – Grazing on Public Lands An Overview to Learn About Wild Horse Habitat

This overview was compiled by Lili Hein for a wildlife advocacy retreat with Tonglen Healing Arts at the Earthfire Institute in Idaho.  Lili organized a screening of “Wild Horses In Winds of Change” on Orcas Island, November, 2011.  Because of this public showing, a group to help mustangs has formed on Orcas.  New friends have been made for humans and equines.  I have made a few comments in red italics.


Wild Horse History • America’s “wild” or “feral” horse Equus feral caballus evolved in North America, disappeared 10,000 years ago when man arrived • Returned 500 years ago with Columbus, became an integral part of many Native American cultures  { There have been many “digs” with remains of horses from the end of the Plasticine Era which leaves room for the possibility that not all of the horses died out.  It is believed they traversed the Northern ice bridge, possibly as migratory animals, or as pack animals along with camels. Clearing history changing evidence through all the research science departments is laden with politics so… many believe it is purposefully held back from completion.  Paleontologists and Anthropologists I interviewed had no problem believing the horse could have survived the ice age and/or traversed it.  Historians generally don’t want to rock their hard held beliefs and lots of people have financial stake in the horse not being categorized as  a native species. There have never been donkey remains found dating back pre- Colombus.  They originated in Africa. )
• In the 1800s, more than 2 million wild horses roamed the West (alongside 40 million cattle)

Roles of America’s Wild Horses • War – more than 1 million conscripted for World War I combat
• Pet food – millions of pounds in 1930s
• Learning – based on wild horse research, the development of barefoot hoof care, paddock paradise concepts, and new training methods, all as natural care innovations for domestic horses

Protection & Management of America’s Wild Horses • The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act mandated that wild horses and burros be protected and managed on “areas where presently found,” which included 47 million acres of public lands on 303 herd areas, to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
• BLM’s first census in 1974 reported 42,666 horses and 14,374 burros, in 10 Western states, about half in Nevada
• Since 1971, wild horses have been zeroed out from 111 herd areas representing over 20 million acres
• In 70% of the remaining herd areas, BLM’s population targets are set at levels that will not ensure genetic viability.
• Over 36,000 wild horses are now held in government holding pens. (more in captivity than in the wild)

Viewpoints – Wild horses in competition for grazing and water
• Cattle and sheep producers – want cheap grazing, fewer predators, preserving the cowboy way of life, though half of grazing permit holders are hobbyists who do not rely on ranching for their livelihood, better policy for compensation to retire grazing permits
• Consumers – want cheap grass-fed meat that is “healthy” and “happy”, however steady trend in lower US beef consumption, 25% lower in 2011 from 1980 with heart disease #1 killer, increasing beef exports to Asia and Russia
• Wildlife advocates – want more wildlife, more vegetation
• Big game hunters – want more elk and deer, fewer predators, more hunting of predators

Key Issue – Wild horses are greatly outnumbered by cattle and sheep grazing on public lands
• Today, fewer than 33,000 wild horses remain on public lands.
• 2.5-3 million head of private livestock are on subsidized grazing on public lands.
• Wild horses account for less than 0.5% of large grazing animals on public lands.
• Livestock grazing is authorized on five times more acres of BLM land than wild horses (160 million acres for livestock vs. 26.6 million acres [shared with livestock] for horses and burros).
• In 1990 a comprehensive report by the US General Accounting Office found livestock as the primary cause of degraded rangelands.

Wild Horses as an Indicator of Wildlife on Public Lands
• Bison, elk, antelope, deer – scarce vegetation and habitat for young
• Cougar, wolf – scarce prey, government pays hunters to kill predators to protect livestock, and also pays compensation when predators kill livestock
• Coyote – overpopulated when larger predators are removed to protect livestock. In 2004, coyotes killed 5,700 sheep in Oregon, the USDA estimates, while cougars killed 1,200. In Idaho, where wolves are more prevalent, coyote kills outnumbered wolf kills by more than 7 to 1.
• Bear – scarce vegetation (diet for black bears 75-85% vegetation, grizzlies 80-90% vegetation)
• Birds – scarce vegetation, nesting habitat
• Fish – trampled streams

Livestock Grazing Fees and Costs to Taxpayers • Publicly-subsidized livestock grazing on public lands costs taxpayers in excess of $132 million annually, yet cattle grazed on public lands provide just 3% of the nation’s beef supply. If all livestock were removed from public lands in the West, beef prices would be unaffected.
• BLM issues 18,600 permits to run cattle on nearly 13 million AUMs (Animal Unit Months = AUM is defined by how much forage per animal per month is required). The Forest Service issues 8,500 permits on roughly 9.3 million AUMs. This is a total of more than 26,000 permits and 22.3 million AUMs.
• The grazing fee is currently at $1.35 per cow per month (the equivalent of $0.06 per acre per year, or about 1/10th of market rates to graze cattle on private lands)
BLM costs to care for wild horses and keep them in holding pens is projected to rise from $36 million in 2008 to at least $85 million in 2012.
• Congressman Adam Smith has introduced the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (REVA) to save taxpayers up to $115 million each year by reducing the costs of public lands management. REVA provides a private market mechanism, on a voluntary basis, for grazing permit holders to have the option to relinquish their permits in exchange for market value compensation paid by private parties. To pass this legislation, more support is needed on the Senate side with requests for help to Maria Cantwell.

Wild Horse Balance with Cougars • Wild horse advocates are requesting protection for mountain lions in all designated wild horse and burro herd areas.
• The mountain lion is well-known for predation on wild horses. Where there is natural balance of predators and prey, wild horse numbers tend to stay in balance. However, natural predators have been greatly reduced or eliminated from the ecosystem in many areas.
• Innovative predator programs are starting, such as certification for “predator friendly” livestock, and assistance to ranchers on methods to protect livestock and coexist with predators.

Managing America’s Wild Horses.

• Can a compromise be found to determine public land usage for wild horses, other wildlife, and livestock?
• Can the wild horse population be balanced by allowing more cougars and other large predators in herd management areas?
• How to evaluate possible positive or negative outcomes of phasing out subsidized grazing on public lands? For wild horses and other wildlife? For meat prices and exports to Asia and other markets outside the US?


“All the Missing Horses: What Happened to the Wild Horses Tom Davis Bought From the Gov’t?”. Dave Philipps, Special to ProPublica, Sept. 28, 2012

“Mustangs: Spirit of the Shrinking West”. National Geographic, April 2009.

“Myths and Facts about Wild Horses and Burros”. Animal Welfare Institute.

“Myths and Facts”. National Wild Horse and Burro Program, Bureau of Land Management.

“Natural Predators”. The Cloud Foundation, 10 August 2010

“Plan to round up wild horses draws opposition”. USA Today, 12/8/2009.

“Report to Congress on the Administration of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act for 1992-1995.” Bureau of Land Management, 1995.

“Secretary Salazar Urged to Consider Strategy to Manage Free-Roaming Horses and Burros: Grazing Permit Retirement Effective Tool for Resolving Grazing Conflicts”. Wildearth Guardians, October 2009.

“The Voice of the Cattle Industry: In Search of a Sustainable Wild Horse & Burro Program”.

“Wild horse plan rekindles cattle grazing debate”. Seattle Times (Associated Press), October 17, 2009

“Wild Horses Survived World War I, But They May Not Get Past Bushco”. Huffington Post, Deanne Stillman, August 3, 2005


“Cougar advocates slam plan to increase state hunts”. The Oregonian, October 07, 2009

“Decline in big predators wreaking havoc on ecosystems, OSU researchers say”. The Oregonian, October 01, 2009

“Oregon Officials Misleading Public About Cougar Killing Plan”. Big Wildlife, October 7, 2009

“Reining in a Runaway Herd: With a little help from mountain lions, researchers in Nevada are learning to bring wild horse populations under control”. National Wildlife Federation, 1992.

“Scientists tracking mountain lion to find out impact on wild horses”. Reno Gazette-Journal, 1/8/2007


“Battle for Bighorns: Conservationists are struggling to protect bighorn sheep on public lands from disease-carrying livestock”. National Wildlife Federation, 2011.

“Cattle Grazing on Public Lands: The Hard Fought Battle in the Southwestern United States”. (a history of grazing, grazing fees) 5 October 1996

“From the desk of President Ron Cerri: Sage Grouse have a real possibility of becoming the next spotted owl of the west”. Nevada Cattlemen, August 2011.

“Giving Yellowstone Wildlife Room to Roam: NWF program works with ranchers to retire grazing lands, creating prime habitat for bison, grizzlies, wolves and other wildlife”. National Wildlife Federation, 2010.

“Grazing is Razing: The Big, Bad Impact of Livestock on Public Lands”. Adventure Journal, May 1, 2009

“Grazing on public land: helpful to ranchers, but harmful to habitat?”. Seattle Times, July 28, 2008

“Land Study on Grazing Denounced: Two retired specialists say Interior excised their warnings on the effects on wildlife and water”. Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005.

“Livestock grazing called threat to wildlife on Western public lands”. The Oregonian (Associated Press), May 01, 2009

“Livestock versus Wildlife: Grazing Competition with Wildlife”

“The Voice of the Cattle Industry: Oppose BLM Wild Lands Policy”.

“Western Wildlife Under Hoof” (Report on the myriad effects of livestock grazing on native wildlife and ecosystems across the western United States). Wildearth Guardians, April 2009.


“Does grass-fed beef have any heart-health benefits that other types of beef don’t?” The Mayo Clinic

“From Hoof to Plate: Two Beef Tales”. The New West Blog, 10-07-09

“Grass Fed Beef”. American Cattlemen, 2010

“Grass-fed beef: One steer’s organic journey from ranch to dinner”. The Denver Post, 09/30/2009

“Cardiovascular Disease is the Leading Cause of Death in the US” January 30, 2012

“The Truth About Grass-Fed Beef” NPR, April 8, 2010

“Where’s the Beef: U.S. Beef Consumption in Decline” December 22, 2011


“Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns”. Ginger Kathrens, BowTie Press, 2004
“Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat” (Chapter 7: Bovine Planet). Howard Lyman, Touchstone, 1998
“The Nation’s Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West”. James R. Skillen, Univ Pr of Kansas, 2009
“Public Lands and Political Meaning: Ranchers, the Government, and the Property between Them”. Karen R. Merrill, University of California Press, 2002
“Ranching West of the 100th Meridian: Culture, Ecology, and Economics”. Richard L. Knight, Wendell Gilgert, Ed Marston, Island Press, 2002
“Waste of the West: Public Lands Ranching”. Lynn Jacobs, Lynn Jacobs, 1992
“Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of The American West”. George Wuerthner, Mollie Matteson, Foundations for Deep Ecology 2, 2002
“The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to Conserve Native Biodiversity (Legal History of North America)”. Debra L. Donahue, University of Oklahoma Press, 2000
“Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston”. David Cruise, Scribner, 2010
“Wild Horses & Renegades” James Anaquad Kleinert, Moving Cloud Productions, 2012
“Wild Horses in Winds of Change” Mara LeGrand, Skydancer Productions, 2012 http://wildhorsesinwindsofchange.com


www.wildhorsepreservation.org – American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign – a broad-based coalition of public interest groups, environmentalists, humane organizations and historical societies representing over 10 million supporters. Spearheaded by Return to Freedom in the summer of 2004 after a preliminary investigation into some of Nevada’s Herd Management Areas, it was conceived as a campaign, as opposed to a new organization, specifically to allow its participants to present a united front for America’s wild horses.

www.awionline.org – Animal Welfare Institute – Founded in 1951, dedicated to alleviating suffering inflicted on animals by humans.

www.aanhcp.net – Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices – advancing the humane care and management of domestic equines worldwide through the applications of proven practices and principles based on the research and findings of wild, free-roaming equines.

www.bigwildlife.org – Big Wildlife – Working to assure the long-term viability of top carnivore wildlife in the west.

www.blm.gov – The Bureau of Land Management’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram.html – BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program

www.biologicaldiversity.org – The Center for Biological Diversity works through science, law and creative media to secure a future for all species, great or small, hovering on the brink of extinction. It has led efforts to reform overgrazing on public lands in the West. Our work protecting endangered species has removed cattle from hundreds of vulnerable riparian areas in national forests in Arizona, New Mexico and California over the years. We’re now in court to increase the federal fee for livestock grazing on public lands to an amount that’s fiscally responsible and less ecologically harmful.

www.carolynresnickblog.com – From her studies of wild horses, Carolyn Resnick formulated her own system of relating to horses. She has a lifelong passion for developing innovative horse training methods created from her interactive studies with wild horses.

www.thecloudfoundation.org – Cloud Foundation – Dedicated protect wild horse herds on public lands, especially isolated herds with unique characteristics and historical significance, and to preventing the extinction of Cloud’s herd through education, media events and programming, and public involvement. Cloud is a wild horse stallion living in the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Cloud has been documented from the day of his birth (May 29th, 1995) by Emmy-winning filmmaker Ginger Kathrens. Her films about Cloud air on PBS’s Nature series.

www.cougarfund.org – The Cougar Fund – Protecting Americas’ Greatest Cat

www.keystoneconservation.us – Since 1991, Keystone Conservation has worked to protect and restore native predators and their habitats in the Northern Rockies. We pioneer innovative solutions that help people and wildlife coexist. We partner with rural communities to design strategies that save a place for America’s keystone species.

www.mountainlion.org – Mountain Lion Foundation – Saving America’s Lion

www.predatorfriendly.org – Many predators are keystone species – as critical to an ecosystem as the keystone of an archway. Predator Friendly® producers coexist with coyotes, bears, mountain lions and other wild animals. Our certified farms and ranches use humane practices to keep livestock safe and wildlife alive. Through pasture management strategies, guardian animals such as dogs and llamas, and vigilant observation, Predator Friendly® producers reduce the risk of conflict between livestock and wildlife.

www.publiclandscouncil.org – Public Lands Council – Represents livestock ranchers who use public lands since 1968, preserving the natural resources and unique heritage of the West. Public land ranchers own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and the nation’s natural resources. PLC works to maintain a stable business environment in which livestock producers can conserve the West and feed the nation and world.

www.beefusa.org – National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is the national trade association representing U.S. cattle producers, with more than 28,000 individual members and sixty-four state affiliate, breed and industry organization members. Together NCBA represents more than 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders. NCBA works to advance the economic, political and social interests of the U.S. cattle business and to be an advocate for the cattle industry’s policy positions and economic interests.

www.publiclandsranching.org – The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign is a multi-year, multi-organization strategy to end abusive livestock grazing on the nation’s public lands. A steering committee representative of public lands grazing activists and organizations across the West is coordinating the NPLGC. The Campaign seeks to (a) educate the American people of the ecological, economic and fiscal impacts of public lands livestock grazing; (b) fully enforce environmental law to end abusive livestock grazing and/or hold public lands grazing permittees accountable for their activity; and (c) amend federal law to allow for the voluntary retirement of federal grazing permits for $175 per animal unit month. If voluntary permit buyout legislation is enacted, livestock grazing can be ended for an average of $13.45 for each acre in the program.

www.nwf.org – National Wildlife Federation – America’s largest conservation organization. We work with more than 4 million members, partners and supporters in communities across the country to protect and restore wildlife habitat, confront global warming and connect with nature.

www.nwf-wcr.org – National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program (finding solutions to livestock-wildlife encounters). Ranchers receive fair payment to retire livestock grazing allotments that experience chronic conflict with wildlife.

www.nevadacattlemen.org – Nevada Cattlemen’s Association – Promoting a dynamic and profitable Nevada Beef Industry which represents the interest of its producers and consistently meets consumer needs while increasing Nevada’s market share.

www.wildearthguardians.org – WildEarth Guardians – Works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places and wild rivers in the American West.

www.wildhoofbeats.com – Wild Hoofbeats – Saving America’s Vanishing Wild Horses

This overview was compiled by Lili Hein for a wildlife advocacy retreat with Tonglen Healing Arts at the Earthfire Institute in Idaho.