In a scathing diatribe about our wild horses in the American West, Christopher Lepczyk [ecologist and associate professor at Auburn University] and Daniel Rubinoff [conservation biologist at University of Hawaii] wrote that the horses are nothing more than “scourges, not symbols, of wilderness.” According to them, wild horses are only feral descendants of horses brought to North America by the Europeans and that they “are terrible for the West.”.
Perhaps Lepszyk and Rubinoff wrote so fiercely, choosing biting wording, because they were annoyed by the Arizona Salt River wildlife refuge situation. Wild horse defenders will readily remember the outcry from the public when the U.S. Forest Service planned the removal of the wild horse herd from those lands. A Change.org petition from throughout North America delivered a loud and clear message that people wanted the horses to remain.
The authorss consider the public’s outcry as not much more than “romanticizing” the horse, and thus creating a serious environmental challenge. They liken the wild horses as human introductions to be considered no more native to the North American continent than Norway rats. Again they state that the Europeans brought the horses over just a few hundred years ago, and that they have been here for a “blink of an eye” in biological terms. They go on to state that the native flora and fauna cannot adapt in such a short amount of time based on such destruction.
Let’s face it – both writers believe that the biotic crusts, consisting of “loose soil held together by tiny cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, and green algae” cannot tolerate horses since they “pulverize” that crust. Furthermore, they state that the grasslands are vanishing, crushed by horse hooves. Yes – perhaps they believe in the Obama Administration’s dogma of climate warming too.
Seriously, however, they also blame horses for denying sustenance to native species. Cattle are only mentioned as a sideline in parenthesis. It is horses that threaten the western lands not cattle – well, it’s easy to figure this one out – horses endanger every living thing in the West when you read the writers’ writing. By their count of wild horses, there are 47,000 of them “thundering across 31.6 million acres of public land. Everyone knows that this count is way out of line per current statistics.
Based on these writers, since Americans value horses, the animals are “protected and get reprieves from culling.” Since the U.S. Forest Service has trashed its plans to remove the Salt River herd, we can now expect further degrading of the delicate land with no end in sight. And here is the kicker in direct quote:
The protesters, unsatisfied visiting the 9.2 million domestic horses across the United States, insisted that retaining this wild herd at full strength in a wildlife refuge was ethically and aesthetically justified, simply based on their love of horses, despite the environmental costs.
Simply amazing! Today we will visit this barn and then we’ll go next week to see this barn. Those domestic horses and their owners will have open houses for us and everyone at any time. Is that the writers’ proposal? Is that the same as running unfettered and free? On our public lands?
And, as expected, the issue of the almighty dollar enters into this fray. Of course it is expensive to keep that many horses and mismanage them, too. The taxpayer has to shell out mucho buckos. Why just to keep forty-odd czars in the White House, or to go into trillions in debt, or to secretly buy up massive rounds of ammunition, or to fly the First Lady on an unmentionably expensive vacation with friends to the tune of several lifetime salaries, costs “ginormous heaps” of taxpayer money. What are measly millions to keep the horses I ask. But then who IS watching those that manage the affairs of the lands and the horses and the grazing cattle and our public lands. In Rancher Davis’ hotfooting around with BLM’s time, our own then-Secretary of the Interior had some kind of an unholy alliance going on, isn’t that what I heard? I’m too steamed up about the mess our country is in to comment further in this editorial. All I know is that if I ran a company in the way the government manages my taxpayer money, I’d lose my company, my home, and I’d be living in a tree. Give me a break! Do not start in on taxpayer money unless you take precise stock in what is happening to it in the first place AND how it got this bad!
The issue is not imagery or about the romance of horses either. And science is not losing out because of wild horses thundering away over the lands. It is more like increasingly-overgrazing cattle herds. You know the ones that are kept for steaks to profit the rich ranchers? After all, they’ve had their ranches for eons and the horses are the interlopers. No longer needed to herd cattle and ride the range due to modern conveniences, they are worthless to the ranchers. Extraneous. Nuisances, looked upon as competition to grazing rights. Hey ranchers, I own that land you are grazing and so do my neighbors. How about all of New England brings animals to graze on public lands?
Then there is the issue of hooves destroying the delicate crust. I suppose the heavy cattle fly or hover as they graze and move around. Don’t they go into water to drink and defecate in the water, too? It’s OK since they give steaks. But then, the ranchers and others like these writers, would probably love slaughtering horses and finding a market for the meat. That means they would have to permit horse grazing, too. Right? No, that’s not really it either – they simply want them gone.
The writers submit that today’s wild horses have no bearing on the prehistoric species of horse. They cite that horses shared “Beringian steppe grassland with mammoths, steppe bison, and a diverse megafauna that is all sadly gone, likely due to overhunting courtesy of our species.” Interesting! So humans were the likely cause and now we repeat by forcibly removing whatever we deemed the lesser animals. Note that this happens everywhere, to all species, in megadoses. One only needs to think about the mess with the Desert Tortoises a few years ago, and pigeons and Canadian geese and wolves, and any unfortunate creatures that enter our crosshairs for whatever reason. And aren’t people chopping down the rain forests and so forth? No doubt there are too many people in the world. What’s the solution for that?
I can’t help but think about the history of the buffalo. Read this quote from the onearmbandit.com:
In the 1860’s they [buffalo] were 60 million strong, dominating the landscape. It was often said ‘Buffalo were so plentiful that a man could walk horizon to horizon on their backs and never touch the ground.’ Herds could be 100 miles across, taking days to pass.
Guess what Messrs. Lepszyk and Rubinoff, those buffalo stampeded on the same earth crusts and forage, and those gigantic herds were prolific and reproduced in the millions. The common denominator in their eventual loss was the greed and horrendous interference by humans.
Most interesting is that the ranchers take hold of the best grasslands and the dirt, sand and rocks are generally left for the horses. In addition, quite often they are fenced out of water. In my personal estimation, that should be deemed animal cruelty. Take note on this grand scale of horse abuse. The treatment of the wild horses in some locations in the West is plain and simple, animal cruelty and total mismanagement.
Lastly, both writers leave us with the guilt factor to drive home the uselessness of those Norway rats – excuse me, wild horses. To wit, “By shunning our responsibility to control feral horse herds like those found in the Salt River, we are delaying the inevitable, passing the difficult decisions down to the next generation, who will have to do the dirty work we refused, and without the chance to save the native species we abandoned.”
Wow. To those who care to leave opinions or suggestions, please do so in the comments section below. All I know, is that horses are catching hell everywhere or so it seems. It’s just that most of us are too complacent while the opposition, numbering far less by headcount, works behind the scenes and screams the loudest.