We Are Playing a Dangerous Game with a Crucial Legacy

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McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd, 2022

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McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd, 2022

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McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd, 2022

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McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd, 2022

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McCullough Peaks Wild Horses

written by Kim Zierlein | 2.16.2022

The American wild horse is a western legacy that needs to be protected. It is iconic to who we are in the historical founding of our nation. From its first peoples to the Spaniards who introduced the “mustango” to this continent to the American cowboy that still works the rangeland today; this creature has played a crucial role in the economy, westward expansion, and civilization growth.

People have mixed feelings about the wild horse’s place in society for 2022. It is important to understand they are a stakeholder, and they need advocates to responsibly manage the herd numbers since rangeland is limited now. There is no room for eradication, but rather working together to all share the natural resources and appreciate nature. Last year at Friends of a Legacy’s (FOAL) 50th celebration in honor of the 1971 act being signed, there were two Wyoming wild horses highlighted. This demonstrated the heritage and importance of the free-roaming wild horse.

A strong agreement needs to be met; there must be population control and management since these horses are now penned in from their large ancestral territories. This brings in the controversial side of helicopter gathers that happen routinely. This is a dangerous option for herd management for the humans and horses involved. Also, it has shown on trend data from horse management specialists that herd numbers will peak 1-2 years after an aggressive gather of this nature.

How is this even helping the situation?

 

It is not. Sadly, it is creating a pattern of conflict between wild horses and humans. They do need to be managed. In the last 10 years, the McCullough Peaks herd management team consisting of BLM representatives and FOAL advocates there is successful trending data showing that a historical herd can go from about 500 head and habitat depletion with starvation issues to a controlled herd of 170 today. This herd is managed in the best interest in the three-pronged approach to BLM public lands.

The three prongs include public access via motorized vehicle or on foot, grazing allotment permits for cattle, and the wild horse herd management area. How are the horses not just surviving, but thriving successfully today on home ground? Thanks to the Reproductive Physiologist Jay KirkPatrick, PhD, and his team at The Science and Conservation Center in Billings, MT, and their production of PZP fertility control serums the herd is safely managed.

Past Executive Director of FOAL, Marion Morrison, was very clear in her message via a past news interview that FOAL supports the BLM’s approach to fertility control with the wild herd so that the herd can be preserved, yet not in a dire situation of overpopulation. This eliminates the stress on horses and a gather that can cause bands to be separated or horses to be injured unnecessarily in the process.

A creative and effective population control needs to happen with wild horses, livestock, and wildlife's use of the range heavily in the summer months, there just is not enough grazing. Cattle grazing permits are on schedule for a rotation based on location and certain months. This requires all cattle to be pulled off the public rangelands to give the range a rest at certain times of the year. Wildlife is migratory and only affects the range seasonally. The wild horses utilize the range year-round.  

Kirkpatrick was quoted in a 2015 Cody Enterprise article interview with Buzzy Hasserick as saying roundups are ‘self-defeating’. If you can avoid them, he lists things like protests, massive genetic loss, and compensatory reproduction can be avoided in order to be accurate and safe in population control.

 

The stats are real!

 

With contraceptives used, the herd growth is steady at 14.8% on sited records of about 40 years. When you decide to lay in roundups and instigate harsh control tactics you are looking at a responsive rate of 26-58% herd growth the next year according to KirkPatrick.

Twenty-first century technology and innovation are the answer that can hopefully help us all to meet an understanding of the wild horses right to public lands. Our generation has been tasked with their conservation, and to hand this off responsibily to future generations we must be cooperative and proactive.

 

 

 

Citations

Reported for Powell Tribune. June 17, 2021. Article: FOAL to celebrate 50 years of federal wild horse protection. Website: https://www.powelltribune.com/stories/foal-to-celebrate-50-years-of-federal-wild-horse-protection,3247

Hasserick, Buzzy. May 22, 2015. Wild horses, other animals benefit from drug. Website: https://www.codyenterprise.com/news/local/article_26b0715e-00c7-11e5-9d52-ebbb347d66f0.html#tncms-source=login

Girard, Tisa L., et al. "Landscape-Scale Factors Affecting Feral Horse Habitat use during Summer within the Rocky Mountain Foothills." Environmental Management (New York), vol. 51, no. 2, 2012;2013;, pp. 435-447.

"I am still under the impression that there is nothing alive

quite so beautiful as a horse." 

- John Galsworthy

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