Winter 2005, Volume 22.2
READING THE WEST
read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.
Wild Horses and Mustangs
In December 2005 Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns slipped a last-minute amendment into a 4,000-page appropriations bill that lifted the ban on the sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros which had existed since 1971. Wild horses and burros more than 10 years old or unsuccessfully put up for adoption three times were deemed by this amendment to be eligible for sale. Since December the BLM has sold about 1,000 horses.
The agency suspended the sales in April after protests over 41 animals rounded up from Western rangeland sold to an Illinois slaughterhouse and processed for meat. One month later the BLM resumed sales of wild horses with protections to prevent the animals from being sent to slaughter.
The government's management of wild horses and burros has long been an emotional issue. The herds have no natural predators, so they can double in size every five years. The Bureau of Land Management estimates there are 37,000 horses and burros roaming across public rangelands in the West—by their count, this is 9,000 too many. Wild horses compete with cattle for grass on federal rangeland.
However, animal rights groups, such as the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates, have pushed for greater protection of the horses which numbered 2 million a century ago.
In this latest controversy, Ford Motor Company has been persuaded to oversee a "Save the Mustangs" fund raising drive to help groups that adopt the horses pay for their care. The Ford Company will be paying to transport up to 2,000 horses to Indian reservations and locations run by non-profit organizations. As reported by Tom Kenworthy for USA Today:
Wild horses are "a beautiful symbol of the Wild West" and an "icon" for Ford, said Jon Harmon, a spokesman for the company whose Mustang sports car has been a flagship brand since 1964.
Last month, Ford paid to save 52 horses about to be slaughtered. Those horses were transferred to a sanctuary in South Dakota. Ford launched its program at the urging of actress Stefanie Powers, a longtime animal-rights activist. "Nothing more symbolizes the move West to us as a nation," Powers said.
Source: Tom Kenworthy, "U.S. Will Resume Selling Wild Horses," USA Today, 19 May 2005, Section 1:3.
There are approximately 46,000 wild horses in the western United States (according to a 1997 census) on 43 million acres of federally owned rangeland. This estimate is in accordance with the Bureau of Land Management's population statistics for the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2000.
Source: Shane Yalowizer, "What About Wild Horses?" https://www.cnr.uidaho.edu/range456/hot-topics/wildhorse.htm. The BLM Web site for the National Wild Horse & Burro Program: https://www.doi.gov/horse/
Hollywood and Horses
Stephanie Powers is not the only Hollywood personality to be recruited to save wild horses from slaughter. Neda DeMayo, a former fashion stylist, who runs Return to Freedom, a 300-acre wild-horse sanctuary in Lompoc, California convinced Viggo Mortensen—who starred in the horse-race epic Hidalgo—to film a public announcement on behalf of the cause, while Hilary Duff serves as Return to Freedom's official youth ambassador. Duff, as quoted in People magazine, explained:
"I believe so much in the work that Neda and all her staff and volunteers do to provide a sanctuary for these horses," says Duff. "I'd like children from all over the country to be able to see these majestic horses in their natural environment. They are national treasures."
DeMayo advocates thinning the herds by darting the mares with a contraceptive vaccine is not to zero-out or destroy a herd," she says. "It's to control reproduction so you don't have to do removals."… She sees something in these horses that many others don't. She sees families. "They are born to live in herds," she says. "Why would we want to take that away from anyone?"
Source: Alex Tresniowski and Fannie Weinstein, "Horse Rescuer," People 63 ( 9 May 2005).
The West and West Virginia
About 50,000 domestic horses are killed every year at three U.S. slaughterhouses.That makes the US the fifth largest exporter of horse meat in the world— most of which goes to France, Belgium, Mexico, Switzerland, and Japan, where horse meat is socially acceptable food.
A bill that would ban the slaughter of any horse in the United States for human consumption was introduced in Congress in February by Democrat. Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Expressing concern for the change in BLM protection of wild horses, Rahall explained:
"When Americans picture the West, I doubt they envision wild horses being rounded up and sent to slaughterhouses to be processed into cuisine for foreign gourmets," says Rahall.
The mustangs' current troubles come thanks in part to another Western icon: cattle ranchers. There are currently 37,000 mustangs sharing public rangelands with several million head of cattle. The result has been overgrazing, exacerbated by six years of drought. To restore the land, the BLM has cut the number of cattle allowed, and ranchers say the horses and burros have to be pared substantially. "If we don't receive relief, and soon, we'll be out of business," Lemoille, Nev., rancher Kenneth Jones told a state legislative committee last summer. The BLM wants to cut the horses and burros on the range by 9,000 to 28,000, but critics of the agency complain that horses are being blamed for damage caused by the more-numerous cattle. "It's not the 37,000 horses that are tearing up the land," says Chris Heyde, an analyst with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.
Source: Andrew Murr, "A New Range War, "Newsweek, 145 (7 February 2005): 51.
Horses versus Cattle
The Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance a coalition of concerned animal welfare organizations posts the following:
• Processing wild horses into chicken food in the 30's reached its peak when nearly 30 million pounds of horse flesh were canned. The unregulated exploitation of the wild horse herds constituted the Grazing Service's (BLM) policy for nearly thirty years.
• In 1971,when the Wild Horse & Burro Act was passed, there were 303 herd areas where wild horses and burros roamed. Now there are only 184, and that number is steadily declining due to zeroing out policies of the BLM.
• The ratio of domestic livestock to wild horses and burros on public lands is at least 50 to 1. An estimated 4.1 million domestic livestock graze the public lands compared with approximately 25,000 wild horses and 5,000 burros. BLM cannot substantiate the 40,000 plus wild horses and burros they continually refer to.
• There are approximately 17,500 public land permittees, most of whom graze cattle and sheep.
• Less than 3 percent of the beef consumed in the U.S. comes from animals raised on public lands.
• Ranchers are charged only $1.81 per month to graze a cow and calf on our public lands. That's less than it costs to feed a hamster.
Horses and Habitat
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees 261 million Western acres on which some 37,000 wild horses and burros are on the loose. Over 4 million cattle graze on those lands and, say critics, cause considerable environmental damage.
Meanwhile, the ecologically fragile high desert—some 200,000 square miles, mostly in Nevada but encompassing parts of California, Oregon, and Utah as well—suffers encroachment from urban areas. Brad Knickerbocker, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, notes:
While eastern Democratic lawmakers are leading the congressional charge against Mr. Burns's controversial measure, it is taking hits from the right as well. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R) from the bluegrass state of Kentucky pronounced himself "appalled" that wild horses and burros could now be captured for slaughter.
"Horses that are sent to slaughter are often crammed into double-decker trailers, where conditions are so bad that many horses arrive at the slaughtering facility injured," Mr. Whitfield said in a House of Representatives speech. "Moreover, since there are no export tariffs on horse meat, no profits from this industry remain in America."
Back in the 1950s, a Nevada woman named Velma Johnston started a grass-roots campaign to prevent ranchers, hunters, and "mustangers" from harassing and killing wild horses. She became known as "Wild Horse Annie," and her effort led to passage of federal legislation protecting the animals. Horse lovers today hope a similar public outcry will work again.
Source: Brad Knickerbocker, "Tussle over Mustangs and Desert Habitat," The Christian Science Monitor, 2 March 2005; https://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0302/p03s01-ussc.html
Vets Oppose the Slaughter
In a recent issue of a magazine for veterinary medicine, David Frabotta reported that the veterinary profession is battling federal proposals that would eliminate funding for slaughter facility inspections and nix funds that administrate the sale of federally managed mustangs:
The U.S. House of Representatives struck down funding for the US. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) sale program May 19, when it passed the Department of the Interior's budget bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct 1.... Then, in a move that garnered prominent media attention, June 8, the House passed the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) budget bill for the same fiscal year with an amendment that eliminates funding for inspections at U.S. facilities that slaughter horses for human consumption. Slaughter-ban advocates claim the amendments effectually will halt the practice of horse slaughter at the remaining three U.S. facilities (two in Texas and one in Illinois), but the veterinary profession worries about the care and welfare of the USDA-estimated 80,000 animals processed in this country each year.
"We don't consider slaughter as a desirable situation, but neither do we think that a life of abuse and neglect is a desirable situation," says Dr. Scott Palmer, president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and proprietor of the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg. "We always have opposed this type of legislation because closing those plants is not going to improve the lives of unwanted horses, and it's not going to reduce their numbers."
Source: David Frabott, "Profession Fights Slaughter Ban," DVM: The Newsmagazine of Veterinary Medicine, 36 (Aug 2005) 2.
Controlling Nevada's Herds
Of the ten states where the BLM manages wild horses and burros (270 herd areas), Nevada has the greatest number of herds because Nevada has the most public land. Of the BLM districts, Battle Mountain, Winnemucca, Las Vegas, and Carson City, Las Vegas District has the highest population of burros. There are also over 1000 head of non-BLM wild horses, primarily in the Virginia Range, that are administered by the Nevada Department of Agriculture.
As part of a recent study examining the effects of treating mares with contraceptives, the Nevada Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources counted more than 800 wild horses in the Virginia range. Bob Conrad recently reported in YubaNet on that study:
"Wild horses are a management problem in the sense that they can overpopulate an area fairly rapidly," according to Meeghan Gray, a doctoral student of ecology, evolution and conservation biology. "They represent a unique problem because they reproduce so well even under really poor conditions and can cause extensive damage to a rangeland."
"Contraception has been argued to be the panacea of controlling wild horse populations," Gray said. "Before we throw all of our money into contraception as the solution this study wants to look at possible behavioral side effects."
Among aspects of horse behavior, Gray is researching whether reduced reproduction will lead to increased aggressiveness among horses in bands. The reasoning is that changes in hormone levels, as well as the lack of foals might impact relations among horses.
Prisoners and Ponies
Most Nevada wild horses and burros deemed excess by the BLM are brought to the National Wild Horse and Burro Center in Palomino Valley, north of Sparks, where they are readied for adoption.
State (non-BLM) horses are usually brought to the horse holding unit at the Northern Nevada Correctional Facility in Carson City, also known as the Stewart Conservation Camp or the Carson Prison Farm. Stewart Conservation Camp pioneered the Horse Estray Program and currently maintains a 600-horse holding pen for wild horses rounded up throughout the mountainous ranges of northern Nevada. Horses are transported to the holding pen and provided with veterinary services. Approximately 10-15 horses are then transported to Warm Springs Correctional Center where inmates gentle the horses through the Comstock Gentling Program, which was started in 2000. These horses are then placed for adoption through a network of wild horse groups that are approved adoption agents.
According to information provided by the program:
…[I]nmates, working under the guidance of a vocational instructor, practice "resistance free" training methods. Gentled horses are offered to the public during adoption days held at WSCC every two months. The program employs a professional horse trainer who is assigned as the vocational instructor for this program. When the program is operating at full capacity, there will be 24 inmates assigned to various positions. Proceeds from the adoptions will be used to offset the costs of managing the Virginia Range horses.