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Protect our wild horses


By Craig C. Downer

Wildlife Ecologist, Author of The Wild Horse Conspiracy © 2011,

Member: IUCN Species Survival Commission, Board member: The Cloud Foundation, President: Andean Tapir Fund (

Contact: P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423. T 775.901.2094.


October 24, 2012

Unless urgent action is taken, wild horses and burros in today’s America face a bleak future.

Though the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRHBA) originally set aside around 88 million acres for their preservation in the wild, the rights of these animals and of their public supporters have been undermined and denied by the very officials charged with protecting them.

Current policies toward these national heritage species are thinly disguised plans for either bringing them down to cripplingly low, non-viable population levels or for totally eliminating them from their legal areas. Even if some 30,000 wild horses and burros remain on the public lands, this figure is in no way commeasurable with the amount of ecologically appropriate habitat in which they have the legal right to live. The small number of horses and burros our government intends to leave on each of the 200-or-so remaining designated areas will result – indeed, has already begun to result – in an over fragmentation of populations that jeopardizes their long-term survival.

Our government’s current goal of drastically reducing already tiny and genetically vulnerable wild herds includes the partial sterilization of mares, through PZP injection,   and the unnatural skewing of sex ratios to establish excess males in this naturally harem- type horse society. Today, our nation’s last remaining wild horses and burros find themselves in a very critical situation.  They are actually more imperiled than they were in 1971, for their chief enemies reside within the very agencies charged with their protection!

To remedy this intolerable situation, Americans must immediately and audaciously respond with a well-conceived plan for change.  As a wildlife ecologist and fourth-generation Nevadan personally familiar with the wild horses and burros of the West, I have come up with such a plan – a way to restore these animals, known as returned-native species, to viable natural herds throughout the West.  My plan entails ending the cruel, disruptive roundups and reproductive manipulations – practices that make a mockery of the 1971 Act and, of principal concern, cause untold suffering and death to these freedom-loving creatures.

Wildlife, wilderness and conservation professionals call this strategy Reserve Design.  Reserve Design combines ecological, social, and political considerations in order to achieve desired results. Basically, wild horse/burro Reserve Design involves the setting aside of areas of wild-equid-containing, year-round habitat where human intervention is buffered against and strictly controlled, and where natural processes are allowed to reestablish natural checks and balances. In this way, a significant degree of internal harmony is achieved for all diverse yet interrelated species living in the area’s ecosystem.

Critical steps for realizing Reserve Design to be described in the project are:

  1. Properly identify the short-term and long-term survival requirements of the principal species to be accommodated in the reserve.  Our chief focus would be to promote a wild horse/burro-containing ecosystem, where all species are allowed to adapt naturally over the generations.
  2. Conscientiously identify appropriate geographical areas suitable for the implementation of wild horse/burro-containing reserves. This would involve travel to a wide variety of places throughout the West.
  3. [3] Wisely incorporate natural equid predators, such as puma and wolf, that would both limit and tone, or strengthen, wild horse and burro populations.
  4. Wisely incorporate natural barriers that would limit the ingress and/or the egress of certain species, including the wild horses and burros.  This would avoid conflicts and set up conditions for the natural self-regulation of populations.
  5. Identify where buffer zones, artificial barriers, or other means of impeding movements in and out of a reserve should be established in order to keep the species in question from coming into conflict with humans. Buffer zones possibly involving non-injurious means of adverse conditioning could be employed.  Also, “semi-permeable barriers” that do not restrict most species but do prevent equids from passing out of the reserve may be used.
  6. Identify the presence and abundance of necessary food, water, shelter, mineral procurement sites, elevational gradients for seasonal migrations, etc., that will accommodate the long-term needs of viable wild equid populations and allow the natural rest-rotation of grazing and foraging between the natural subdivisions of the reserve.
  7. Identify geographical regions whose human inhabitants are benignly disposed toward the creation and long-term implementation of extensive, ecologically balanced wild horse/burro-containing reserves.  This would involve travel and town meetings.
  8. Identify ways of and benefits from implementing Reserve Design that would result in win-win relationships centered around the presence of wild horses and burros. Ecotourism is one major possibility here. Restoring native ecosystems, including soils and native species, would be another major benefit. The reduction of flammable vegetation through equid grazing and the restoration of hydrographic basins through enrichment of soils would be other positive contributions. Indeed, the restoration of the “equid element” in North America is crucial to combating life-disrupting global warming itself.
  9. Identify how best to educate the public concerning the many ways that horses/ burros, as ecological “climax” species, have of self-limiting their own populations once their respective ecological niches are filled. This knowledge is key to our realizing a truly humane relationship with wild horses and burros in America.

This list does not exhaust all the considerations for soundly establishing the Reserve Design that I would include in my professionally researched report with proposal. If provided the financial resources (requested at the end of this initial proposal), I would further elaborate upon this important and timely plan.

Basic steps for a professional reserve design, with associated costs and durations:

  1. Review literature on Reserve Design. Consult government, private and non-profit organizations. Research university, government, and public libraries as well as the internet.
  2. Consult authorities on Reserve Design and consult official implementers of nature reserves. Visit government and university offices and conduct interviews, particularly of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS). Universities to be visited: University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University, Colorado State University-Ft. Collins, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Nevada-Reno. (Note: I received my A.B. from UC-Berkeley and my M.S. from UN-Reno, and am a lifetime alumni at both.) Visit United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) offices, particularly national wildlife refuges (NWR) containing or involving wild horses, especially Sheldon-Hart NWR in northern Nevada and southern Oregon and Malheur NWR in southeastern Oregon. My visit to the Malheur would be in combination with a visit to the Steen Mountain National Conservation Area. This is home to the famous Kiger mustang herd that spills east into the Alvord Desert. I would visit the Montgomery Pass wild horse herd on the Nevada-California border near Bishop, the Cibola-Trigo and Cerbat wild horse herds in Arizona, and Utah’s Sulphur wild horse herd. The first two herds are believed by many to be naturally self-stabilizing. National Parks offices and the parks themselves that have a history or actual presence of wild horses and burros would also be visited. These would include Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and eastern California portions of the Mojave Desert and the National Conservation Area here. Also included would be Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, for its authentic old Indian pony herd. Various non-profit groups would be consulted, especially the International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs & Burros in Lantry, South Dakota, in combination with my trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, The Cloud Foundation of Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Wyoming and Montana.
  3. Intensive survey of maps and documents concerning BLM and US Forest lands as well as other appropriate – especially adjoining – land where wild horses and burros are presently found or could reasonably be established per Section 6 of the WFHB Act. This phase will identify those regional centers of actual or potential wild horse/burro presence that would be most appropriate for Reserve Design. I would consult with those most familiar with regions being considered as appropriate for Reserve Design.
  4. Duration for Phases 1, 2 & 3: Two months.

  5. Final composition of Reserve Design proposal. This would subsequently be presented to the public and to government as well as private entities. I would give presentations to legislative and executive branches of both state and national governments as well as to the BLM and the USFS, the two agencies charged with carrying out the mandate of the WFRHB Act. I would also address counties and cities.

Duration for Phase 4: One month.

Total Time Required: Three months.

The robust aim of Reserve Design is to restore wild horses and burros where they belong throughout America and to secure their long-term future. This would, in effect, restore the true and original intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Total Budget: 3 months x $3,333 per month = $9,999 (includes all expenses involved with travel, lodging, communications, information retrieval, map, copying, etc.)

Terms: One half of sum, or $4,999.50, due to Craig C. Downer upon initiation of project.  One half of sum, or $4,999.50, due to Craig C. Downer upon completion of project.  Unless otherwise indicated, full acknowledgement of supporter(s) will be in the proposal.

Craig’s book The Wild Horse Conspiracy may be ordered in hard copy at as an eBook in color or b & w at Chapter IV explains how Reserve Design can work to produce naturally self-stabilizing, long-term viable, and ecologically well-adapted populations of wild horses and burros.

June 27, 2009

John F. Ruhs, District Manager

Ely District Office, Bureau of Land Management

HC33 Box 33500, Ely, NV 89301-9408

Re: 8560(NVL0000) May 29, 2009. Notice of Proposed Action: ‘Elimination of all wild horses from 11 Herd Areas’.  Attn. also: Ruth Thompson, wh & b spec. T. 775-289-1826 (Seaman & White River HAs). Ruth_thompson(at)blm(dotted)gov; Ben Noyes, wh & b spec. T. 775.289.1836 .  (Caliente wild horse HAs Complex) Benjamin_noyes(at)blm(dotted)gov.

Dear Mr. Ruhs:

I have received your letter of May 29th announcing the zeroing out of 11 wild horse herd areas (HAs) in your district.  I have reviewed your justification for this drastic action and find it to be deceptive and untrue.  You and your team, as public servants, are supposed to fairly represent diverse public interests on public lands, not just livestock, big game, mining and other extractive activities.  What you are proposing and your justification for such constitute an abandonment of duty.  You intentionally target wild horses for elimination in order to clear the way for other more politically pushy interests.

I have noted that in the Seaman and White River HAs, according to the figures you have provided, there are 475,100 legal acres and a presently censused population of 350 remaining wild horses.  Don’t you realize that this works out to the enormous area of 1,357.43 legal acres per remaining wild horse!  This is hardly the “overpopulation” you claim!  Rather “under population” more accurately describes this small remnant within this vast region.  Your claim is arbitrary and designed to secure the land and its resources for other interests, e.g. livestock, big game, oil and gas leases, etc.  Your final terse statements purporting to justify the wholesale elimination of the two herds slant to lay the blame on the horses for environmental damage while ignoring livestock present, past history and other factors.  For example, you make no mention of the role that unwisely located fences — including those that deprive horses of access to water — are playing in unnaturally constricting the movements of the horses, contrary to the true intention of the Wild Horse Act within their legal HAs!  — In short, I simply do not believe you here; and your track record demonstrates an extreme prejudice against wild horses in the wild.

Your injustice toward the wild horses in the nine legal herd areas of the Caliente Wild Horse Complex (Meadow Valley Mountain, Blue Nose Peak, Delamar Mountain, Clover Mountains, Clove Creek, Applewhite, Mormon Mountain, Little Mountain and Miller Flat HAs) is even more egregious!  I’m sure you realize that with only 270 wild horses in this vast legal wild horse domain summing to 911,892 acres, there are 3,377.38 legal acres for every remaining wild horse!  It is extremely hard to believe that this small number of wild horses are overpopulated in such a vast area, yet this is what you are asking.  Also, it is remarkable that you overlook the substantial role that wild horses play in reducing fire hazard by consuming large quantities of dry flammable vegetation over the vast areas where they roam (home range).  Yet you tersely list “drought conditions, fire and nuisance animals” as your sole justifications for removing all of the wild horses from this vast complex of legal herd areas.  You are not telling the whole story here – not anywhere near!   How many allotment drift fences interfere with wild horse movements that naturally moderate grazing pressure throughout these HAs and are themselves contrary to the Wild Horse Act?  And for that matter, how many livestock graze in these legal wild horse HAs, where by law the wild horses are supposed to be given priority, i.e. “principal” status (since overall their legal HAs represent only a small fraction of the public lands).  This would truly be “multiple use,” not the over-magnification of wild horse presence/impact in which over the years BLM/USFS, has repeatedly engaged!

I am keenly disillusioned with your decision to eliminate all wild horses from these vast and legal HAs in my home state of Nevada.  How can you preserve the true spirit of the West without wild horses in the wild?  Seems you are bent on killing this spirit rather than preserving or, better yet, restoring it, as you should be doing.

Summing all of the 11 wild horse HAs planned for zeroing out yields 1,386,992 acres; and summing all of the presently remaining wild horses in these 11 herd areas yields 620 wild horses.  This signifies 2,237.08 legal acres per remaining wild horse.  Yet you still mean to tell me that in these vast areas wild horses are overpopulated and destroying the ecosystem?!  I find this extremely hard to believe, especially given my knowledge of wild horse behavior and ecology as well as public lands politics (See Western Turf Wars by Mike Hudak, 2008, Biome Books).  It is farcical that such a vast region cannot support a modest population of 620 wild horses.  I believe the root cause for their planned elimination is the hostile attitude toward them by certain humans, especially vested interests blinded by their possessions and the uncaring or uncourageous public officials that go along with them!

A couple years ago, I protested this outrageous plan and am again vigorously protesting this travesty.  This is directed at the wild horses, a restored native species in North America with so much that is truly positive to contribute to the Western ecosystem and  ambiance; and it is also directed at the substantial majority of Nevadan and citizens throughout America who enthusiastically support wild horses in the wild and have repeatedly expressed their strong desire to see them fairly treated and represented upon the public lands – no more nor less than what the Wild Horse Act requires.  This is your job as public servants; and I strongly request the cancellation of your decision to zero out these 11 remnant herds.  They represent many generations of natural selection to their specific eco-regions, a benign process that establishes harmony with the many sympatric species of plants and animals they, in fact, live with, and not against.  Clearly it is we people who need to change, not the wild horses.  These powerful and beautiful animals are returning to the land of their evolutionary origin and to that ecological way of life and fitting that is their inheritance from millions of years upon this Earth, and herein upon the North American continent.


Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist
Author: Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom
P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423.  ccdowner(at)aol(dotted)com
P.S. I have personally visited several of the herds you are planning to zero out – especially memorable was the Delamar herd amid the Joshua trees – and it would be a tragic personal loss were you to follow through on these ill-conceived plans to eliminate the horses from this life-nurturing place of freedom and biodiversity.