Tuesday, October 14, 2014

America's Wild Horses -- Not Mere "Strays" on BLM Lands

Lately, the BLM has been in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons.

With over-payments that total over $2 Million to the State of Utah Department of Corrections for horse training that will now not take place, and the overreaction at the Bundy Ranch, the agency has had a bad year in the public eye.

Add to that reports out a few months ago that BLM agents herded a large number of wild horses together in the state of Wyoming then ceded control of the horses to representatives of the State of Wyoming -- only to have those caring Wyoming officials sell them off to a slaughterhouse in Canada.

Obviously, that development outraged all sorts of folks already angry by what took place when BLM officers gunned down and number of cows at the Bundy Ranch -- out of spite.

Paula Todd King, a wild horse advocate with Colorado’s Cloud Foundation, said it would have taken “very little to do this in a more effective way so that horses are not just sent off to slaughter indiscriminately.”

Though wild horses, which have roamed throughout the American West for hundreds of years, and are supposed to be protected under Federal Law, believe it or not, the BLM contends these animals "do not qualify for such protection."

While I don't belong to the Colorado Cloud Foundation, they have a point.

BLM spokesperson Sarah Beckwith, on the other hand, says that the BLM considers them simply "strays descended from rodeo horses from four decades ago."

Yes, that's right, she said "strays descended from rodeo horse from four decades ago"!

Before going on, let's understand that Ms Beckwith is "technically" correct that some are that. But she is incorrect because they are also more than that.

She is incorrect because American Wild Horses, Mustangs, are technically strays descended from once-domesticated horses over a five hundred year period -- and not just "four decades."

Besides needing a spokesperson who knows what she's talking about, the BLM should acknowledge the fact that Wild Horses on BLM lands are classified as "feral horses" -- and not merely strays from rodeos.

It is a shame that the BLM needs to be taught that these "strays" came to America with the Conquistadors, beginning with Columbus, who imported horses from Spain to the West Indies on his second voyage in 1493.

Domesticated horses came to the North American mainland with the arrival of Cortés in 1519. The first Mustangs descended from Iberian horses from Spain and Portugal.

Some of these "strays" escaped or were captured by Native Americans, and rapidly spread throughout western North America .

Native Americans quickly adopted the horse as a primary means of transportation. These "stray" horses replaced the dog as a "travois" puller and greatly improved success in battles, trade, and hunts, particularly bison hunts.

"Mustang runners" were usually cowboys in the U.S. and vaqueros or mesteñeros in Mexico who caught, broke and drove free-ranging horses to market in the Spanish and later Mexican, and still later American territories of what is now Northern Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and California.

They caught the horses that roamed the Great Plains and the San Joaquin Valley of California, and later those in the Great Basin, throughout the 18th century and into the 20th century.

One myth is about inbreeding, studies have shown that wild horses are not inbred.

In fact, mares do not mate with the same stallion all their lives -- and young fillies are run off by the herd stallion to find a new stallion for mating.

Young colts are driven off by the stallion to form bachelor bands until they are old enough to compete for mares.

Like other horses, mares carry their foal for an 11-month gestation period.

Mustangs typically give birth to their foals in April, May, or early June. This gives the young horse time to grow before the cold months of the year.

Believe it or not, in the wild, Mustangs can live up to 40 years.

And yes, believe it or not, unlike the myth that hurt and disabled horses are simply abandoned by the herd -- fact is that they are protected by the herd and can live remarkably long lives when compared with other animals that live in the wild.

Mustangs live in large herds. The herd consists of one stallion, around eight females and their young -- though separate herds have been known to blend when they are in danger.

There is the other myth, that they have no natural predators and that without human intervention their population can double in size every four years.

Mountain lions are the number one predators of wild horses. Second comes wild dogs, and now with the reintroduction of wolves -- they too feed on horses just as they do on cattle and bison, and other animals in the wild.

As for the herd, believe it or not, the herd is led by a lead mare. In dangerous situations when predators are present, the lead mare will lead her herd to safety while the stallion will stay and fight.

Herds spend most of their time grazing on grasses. Mostly, they eat grass and brush. They can stay a healthy weight on very little food.

When food is readily available, adult mustangs eat around 5 to 6 pounds of food each day.

And yes, looks can be deceiving, when it looks like they are fighting -- in reality young mustangs are actually playing. Though it is not unusual to see them playing, grouping, almost as if snuggling together.

So, like Paula King, I can't help but wonder how such a distinction as "strays" can be made?

"How long does a horse have to live wild and free before it’s considered wild?" she asked.

The roundup in Wyoming concluded with the sale of more than 40 horses to the Alberta-based slaughterhouse, bringing in a grand total of $1,640.

The BLM insists the entire process was conducted in concert with existing laws, and notice of the sale was posted in local post offices.

BLM Senior Ranchland Management Specialist Robert Bolton, however, acknowledged this haul was much larger than usual.

"That’s a pretty sizable number," he noted, explaining that “most of our impounds have been in the low numbers.”

While the roundup is not unheard of, and went largely unnoticed by the mainstream press, the spotlight has been on the BLM ever since the overreaction of the agency in responding to the Bundy Ranch and this which they see as no big deal.

These "strays" are their responsibility and should be handled with the care that the 1971 Federal Law provides.

Protection became law through the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which provided for protection of America's horses and burros.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management is the primary authority that oversees the protection and management of Mustang herds on public lands, but the United States Forest Service administers additional wild horse or burro territories as well.

Because the spotlight is now on the agency, the BLM, like the shenanigans conducted by the EPA and the IRS, has understandably increased public scrutiny of the BLM.

As most concerned Americans cited overreaches by Federal agencies such as the IRS and the EPA, the BLM generally flew under the radar.  But frankly, those days are gone.

The legacy of good stewardship by the BLM seems no longer the case as the American public is learning how horrible that agency conducts itself and is managed.

The American people sees their actions and attitude questionable.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

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