Monday, December 13, 2010

New Goal: The American West

Okay.  After a 4 hour stay at the library, I have changed my research interest for winter break based on the books I could find.  It looks like I am going to be delving into both literature and issues of the American West.  There are many conflicts in this area beyond wild horses, and I feel that it is important to know them when considering horses in the mix.

So, The stack of books before me are as follows:
  1. The American West at Risk ~ Wilshire, Nielson, Hazlett
  2. Wilderness Issues in the Arid Lands of the Western United States ~ Edited by Zeveloff and McKell
  3. The Western Range Revisted: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to conserve Native Biodiversity ~ Debra L. Donahue
  4. Wild Horses and Sacred Cows ~Richard Symanski
I have already read the forward (Edward Abbey) and first chapter of Wild Horses and Sacred Cows.  I am really excited to read this book combined with The Western Range.  It will be interesting to see how these two authors portray cattle and horses in the arid west.

I will check back with my musings as I read these!

(Also, I know the picture looks out of sync with iconic "american west" images, but this one suited because imagine me huddled in the warm campus library...cold, wet snow blanketing my world while I study!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cultural Resource Wars, in brief

I do not have to see free-roaming horses galloping unbridled on the ranges to know they are important to many American people. Whether these people are loyal volunteers and adopters, photographers, viewers, activists fighting for what they feel is right for the care of horses, or any combination thereof, mustangs have a place in our hearts and souls. Horses are no longer viewed as simply a tool to get work done on farms and ranches, or a vehicle to get from point A to point B. They are a cultural resource, as important to some people as historic properties are to archaeologists, or cultural properties are to native peoples. Americans have formed a kinship with the horses that have roamed the ranges of the Great Basin since the 16th century. They are a very valuable cultural resource.

The ongoing dispute that has been roaring since Velma Bronn Johnston is how I know that horses are important to America.  If they were not, the fight to preserve them would not be so intense.  Cultural resources are important for the identity of people and they are always surrounded by extreme emotions. The horses are no different. Americans identify with them.  They are an iconic figure of what the west once was, freedom, our history.  Their existence value outweighs the value of many other rangeland values.  This is where the conflict has clashed.

Arguably, there are two, or more, cultural resource wars occurring.  The free-roaming horses and cattle are the two most disputed.  Yes, cattle are a cultural resource as well.  They define many western people of the Great Basin.  The cow.  The range.  Wide open spaces.  And then the horses.  Freedom.  The old west.  A living legend.   It is a war to decide whose resource has more value on rangelands.

The cattle ranchers depend on their cattle for their livelihood, therefore the rangelands are very important for their use.  The horse activists depend on their horses because they are central to their identity, therefore the horse's existence on the ranges is very important.  Between these two resources, angry words and clashing values collide.

I will not try to decide whose resource is more beneficial or valuable to the common American.  I am simply writing this for my own benefit in order to help myself understand both sides of the issue at the heart.  On either side is justification and the threat of identity loss.  Understanding this further will help me interact with both sides of this great debate.  We can all hope that in the future a solution will be discovered that benefits both the cattle ranchers the horse people of America.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Break Goals

With my final exam on Thursday, I am free for three weeks to do my own personal research!  By writing this post highlighting what I want to accomplish in that time period, I hope it forces me to stick with it and be productive.

Winter Break Objectives:
  1. to study the Mongolian wild horse, an endangered horse that has never successfully been domesticated. what are their natural predators?  What caused their drastic decline?  What are they doing to bring these horses back?  Will that effect their species?  What are the differences between them and domestic/feral horses that we have in the United States?
  2. to study the social changes horses went through during the 20th century.  They went from a work animal, valuable for the strength and speed they offered, to a companion animal, valued for their beauty and friendship.  They are moving from "livestock" to "pet."  What implications does this have for the horse species?  What effects might this have in the future for the horse world?
  3. to define my thesis after visiting the Burns District BLM
These are my main study goals.  If anyone wants me to look into something and produce a little paper about it, let me know!  As long as it pertains to free-roaming horses, I am all over it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My draft thesis proposal

The horses on public rangelands have many connotations. They are “wild horses,” “feral horses,” “mustangs,” “national treasures.” They are considered pests, legends, symbols of American freedom, and the old west. Some even call them a living legend, our heritage, and are viewed as a valuable cultural resource. They are a romantic vision as they gallop across a landscape on which they appear to belong, with their mane and tails flowing out behind them. However, this is not a realistic view, as stated by Tim Findley in a recent article featured in Range Magazine. Horses have only occupied areas of the Great Basin for approximately the last five hundred years. With the ranges unaccustomed to such grazing pressures, it must be considered that they have a significant influence on the arid ecosystems they inhabit (Beever 2003).

The horse family appeared 60 million years ago in North America during the Eocene. Eohippus was the size of a fox and lived after the herbivorous dinosaurs had long gone. They were the true wild horse and lived in North America when it was semi-tropical woodland and contained lush vegetation (Wyman 1945). Each genus of the horse species was larger than the previous. Modern-day Equus rose up during the Pleistocene, where they were abundant until they went extinct along with many other taxa (the saber-toothed tiger, dire world, mammoth, giant sloth, and camels, to name a few). Theories lean towards climate change and resulting vegetation shifts, but over hunting has also been a theory (Berger 1986). Therefore, once a part of the North American ecosystem, the horse was re-introduced into the southwestern United States by explorers, about 10,000 years after they disappeared (Beever 2003). Freed or abandoned by the U.S. Calvary, ranchers, farmers, and others, these horses easily adapted to North America, where they thrived (BLM 2010). By the end of the 19th century horse numbers were estimated to be between 2 and 7 million (Beever 2003). It was likely they were as numerous as the buffalo in some places (Wyman 1945). These equine pioneers were called the mustangs.

Quite literally, the term mustang, derived from the Spanish word mesteƱo, means stray livestock. In the early twentieth century, these stray horses were rounded up by pioneers and ranchers for use as general saddle horses because of their keen intelligence and quickness. Not only were they sought after for these valued traits, but also because they were free for the taking, therefore the mustang was a prize to own (Morin 2006). On the other hand, ranchers also found the wild horse to be a nuisance. They caused unwanted competition for forage and water for their profitable cattle. Free-roaming horses also enticed their saddle horses to join their bands. For these reasons, wild horses were shot, run off cliffs into the sea, or corralled and left to starve (Wyman 1945). In the years following World War II, they were rounded up for the pet food industry (Morin 2006). The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 also facilitated the removal of many free-roaming horses during the early twentieth century (Beever 2003). These roundups, as well as horse slaughter, were often done inhumanely. The horses were killed and removed from the ranges as cheaply as could be done in order to receive the most profit. As a common resource, they were exploited. However this was a form of population management that kept their geometric growth in check.

Velma Johnston, also known as “Wild Horse Annie,” devoted her life to the protection and humane treatment of wild horses after witnessing a truck load of bleeding horses en route to a sale yard. Thinking that they were cattle, she followed behind so that she could inform the driver. She was appalled when they reached their destination to find many injured horses that were only able to stand because of how tightly they were packed. This began her lifetime pursuit to humane treatment of free-roaming horses (Cruise 2010). Her efforts and pure determination led to the Wild Horse Annie act of 1959, which prohibited the use of motorized vehicles to capture horses on public rangelands. Eventually, her work further led to the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro act of 1971, which stated that feral horses were an “integral part of the natural system” and must be protected from harassment, capture, or death. With this act, the once commonly owned free-roaming horses fell into public ownership to be managed by government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and United States Forest Service (USFS). The law prohibited the commercial exploitation of these horses, which had previously managed their numbers, and so their population began to increase from approximately 24,000 in 1971 to 60,000 by 1982 (Findley 2010). This growth conflicted with the livestock industry, which demanded that something be done to control the feral horse numbers (Garrott, Siniff, & Eberhardt1991). To achieve ecological balance, management had to be based on how the feral herds used and divided the resources available to them and other ungulates. This wild horse and burro act ultimately began the study of the feral horse ecology. The research is still ongoing to find best management practices to maintain horse populations on rangelands.

The management of free-ranging horse herds has always been a controversial subject. In recent years, the horse named Cloud, brought to the public in his own documentary, and disneyesque movies giving horses human characteristics, have failed to mention horse overpopulation, drying up water holes, and harsh winters. Social media in the form of blogs, and even Facebook, have wrapped up wild horses in a romanticized image, burdening the plight of the free-roaming horse in myth and distortion (Findley 2010). The real plight of the horses running free on public rangelands is not the threat of extinction due to gathers conducted by the BLM, but a high growth rate and few predators – overpopulation. This leads to decreased forage, which threatens starvation for not only the herds, but native wildlife. Free-roaming horses have been found to decrease percent cover of vegetation, increase soil penetration resistance to water, and increase erosion (Beever, Tausch, & Brussard 2003). Horse grazed areas have more deer mice, but typically fewer populations of small mammals and reptiles (Beever & Brussard 2004). Therefore, management by the BLM strives to maintain appropriate management levels (AMLs) on the 180 herd management areas (HMAs) in 10 western states in order to achieve ecological balance (BLM 2010).

Since these herds can double their numbers in as little as four years, overpopulation is a problem. There are a few different ideas of horse management when it comes to the public. Some would prefer that the BLM do little in management -- no gathers, no fertility control, and no sex-ratios to limit population growth. Others just want more humane methods as they find the use of helicopters to gather excess horses about every four years inhumane (Findley 2010). The problem with the management of free-roaming horses is that there is much debate over their care and management by BLM. In June 2010, a government document was released: Draft Goals, Objectives and Possible Management Actions (BLM 2010). Public comment was encouraged to provide opinions, suggestions, and possible management actions to be considered by the BLM and presented in the 2010 Report to Congress (BLM 2010).

With the general idea of what these comments were, thanks to a phone conversation with William Anderson, Burns District Rangeland Specialist (November 18, 2010), I have formulated several questions. What impacts do feral horses have on rangelands? What are the current strategies to manage horse populations? What implications do these strategies have for horse herds?

The purpose of my study is to help the Oregon BLM in their management of HMAs by providing field research on herd dynamics. This information will pertain to the BLM's use of fertility control in mares, gelding stallions, and controlling sex ratios to limit high growth rates. It is hoped that contraception is the answer to solving the feral horse overpopulation dilemma humanely (Garrott et al 1991), but its potential side effects are now being scrutinized. Based on personal interactions with horse advocates, there is concern about mares continuing their heat cycles. They fear this will cause more injuries as stallions continue to fight over them and breed them. Another concern is that there are too many stallions harassing the mares as a result of skewing the sex ratios in favor of males. These were some concerns found in the comments in response to the BLM document Draft Goals, Objectives and Possible Management Strategies (2010). Due to the amount of comments pertaining to the subject of contraceptives, the Burns District Rangeland Specialist suggested a field study on herd dynamics as my thesis topic that would also benefit them (W. Anderson, personal communication, November 18, 2010).

The objective of this is to provide needed field studies in an area where knowledge of herds is lacking. The ecology of free-roaming horses is still growing. There are still many things not known to those managing them or those who love seeing them in the wild. As Beever stated (2003), it is important to enlighten concerns with ecological data. My study will provide information to the BLM and society concerning effects of fertility control, skewed sex ratios, and gelding stallions on herd dynamics.

My research will help the BLM gather field data to respond to comments they have received on Draft Goals, Objectives and Possible Management Strategies. The BLM is under scrutiny by the public, and public concern is what drives the policies of horse management (Findley 2010). Therefore, my field studies will hopefully quell public concerns by providing field data from observing the dynamics of horse herds and how fertility control might alter behavior. It will also provide information for future management decisions.

Further significance is the importance of knowing individual herd dynamics when applying fertility control to mares, gelding stallions, and controlling the sex ratio. Applying a general understanding of the dynamics to all herds could result in either increasing the growth rate, or drastically decreasing the growth rate.

I hope that my proposed research will join the collection of other data that has been gathered concerning feral horses and have importance in future management decisions.

My study area is in the Burns District, within southeastern Oregon, Washington. They have 8 herd management areas comprising of approximately 1,000 horses. Within their district are the Heath Creek/Sheephead, Palomino Buttes, South Steens, Stinkingwater, Warm Springs, Riddle Mountain, Alvord-Tule Springs, and the famous Kiger herd management areas (BLM).

Beever, Erik A. & Brussard, Peter F. Community- and landscape-level responses of reptiles and small mammals to feral horse grazing in the Great Basin. Journal of Arid Environments (59). 271-297.
Beever, Erik A., Tausch, Robin J., & Brussard, Peter F. (2003). Characterizing Grazing Disturbance in Semiarid Ecosystems across Broad Scales, Using Diverse Indices. Ecological Aplications (13)1. 119-136.
Beever, Erik. (2003). Management Implications of the Ecology of Free-Roaming Horses in Semi-Arid Ecosystems of the Western United States. Wildlife Society Bulletin (31)3. 887-895
Berger, Joel. (1986). Wild Horses of the Great Basin: Social Competition and Population Size. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Bureau of Land Management. (2010). Working Toward Sustainable Management of America’s Wild Horses and Burros: Draft Goals, Objectives, and Possible Management Actions.
Cruise, David. (2010) Wild Horse Annie: The Last of the Mustangs. New York City, New York: Scribner.
Findley, Tim. (2010). Special Report Mustang. Rangeland Magazine, Winter 2011. M1-M24.
Garrott, Robert A. & Taylor, Lynne. (1990). Dynamics of a Feral Horse Population in Montana. The Journal of Wildlife Management (54)4. 603-612.
Morin, Paula. (2006). Honest Horses: Wild horses in the Great Basin. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press.
Wyman, Walker D. (1945). The Wild Horse of the West. United States of America: Caxton Printers, Ltd.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Horses as a Native Species, Now

This morning, I have been mulling over the social pressure to designate free-roaming horses as a native species.  Many people appear to want the horses classified this way.  Their arguments are that wild horses were here over 10,000 years ago.  They evolved in North America.  Their life began here, and now they have come home.  I worry, however, about what might happen if horses, an animal domesticated for thousands of years, is given native status.

Since horses have been in the care of humans, they have essentially become livestock.  Husbandry changed them.  And then when they were brought back to North America by explorers, dispersed throughout the West by ranchers, miners, farmers, and Indians, they became wild once again.  But, something had changed to the ecosystem they once called home.  It was dry.  Forage was not as lush as it had been when they left.  Those that once preyed upon their flesh were all gone.  Life was good, if you were a horse.  Few deaths, high birth rates, and their population was ever increasing at a geometric rate. 

Their numbers were held in check, however. Although their numbers were once estimated in the millions and once  may have competed with the bison, they have always had a predator.  At the time when their numbers peaked, there were a few factors that allowed it.  The west was still wide open.  The cities and settlements of today had not taken root.  Also, horses were in demand.  These wild creatures running the ranges were used by the Indians, the ranchers, and the farmers. 

And then, when they became numerous and competed with livestock, horrible things were done to trim the herds.  They were run off cliffs.  They were shot.  They were corralled and left to die slowly.  Until recent history, their population was always controlled in some way.  Even now, frequent gathers prevent them from overpopulating.

Horses are an introduced species to this modern day North American ecosystem.  If the landscape was more lush, and the climate allowed it, the horses would be returning to familiar territory.  But things have changed in the 10,000 or so years they have been gone.  It was why they died.  It was why they migrated across the Bering Land Bridge into Eurasia.  This land could no longer sustain them.

The only way they can live in these arid ecosystems across the Great Basin is because of management.  If a species has to be extensively managed via gathers every four years, can the be qualified as native?  Native wildlife have predators.  They also have humans who hunt them.  Why is it important that these free-roaming horses be given the status of native?  They have been livestock for so many generations.  Even now, with management policies that control the population, we are still applying the concept of husbandry to their populations.  Without that control, however, the population will increase until there is nothing left for them to eat, and then it will crash.  The rangelands will be destroyed.  Sustainable populations of horses may not be able to come back.

I'm not sure under what terms a re-introduced species becomes a native one.  I think I want to do more research on this subject.  Perhaps, when I have the time, I will look at the Prezwalski horse – arguably the only true wild horse left on this planet.  Then I can make a comparison.  Initially, I can say the one difference is that one species lives on grasslands and has never been domesticated in its history, and the other has been domesticated in its past, and lives on arid rangelands...

I think my goal will be to look at this topic over winter break.  It might be beneficial to me in my research to look at a truly native wild horse...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ramblings of right and wrong

I get so tired of talking to people who feel they are so educated about the "truth" about how many horses are out there, or the "truth" behind the reason the BLM is removing them, or the "truth" in how they are being rounded up.  Then, I get so frustrated because I try to tell them what is right once you rip all the layers of fabrication away.  Then I am frustrated further when I am told to educate myself by visiting someone else's blog!  As far as I am concerned, one will not find the answer in someone else's idea of what the truth really is.

And then...after all this frustration, I wonder about my sources.  What do they mean?  What makes them better than theirs?  The science?  They say there sources are science!  Are mine just as biased?  Who really knows the truth?  What really is going on?  Why is it two people can take the same facts and still come out with a different conclusion based on how they interpret it?  With that being the case, how do we know what the truth really is?

Are the horses being removed to be replaced with cattle?  -- I do not think so as it just does not feel right, or make any sense.  Are the horses being removed to control population?  -- Yes, I certainly believe that.  That makes sense.  Based on all my knowledge about how populations grow and what horses and large mammals can do to a landscape not accustomed to grazing, it makes sense that they (the BLM) has to act as "predator" by removing some.  Do the cattle also have to be managed?  Yes - and they are, correct?  Grazing permits control the population of cattle.  Why do cattle outnumber horses?  Is it because of the time the spend on the rangelands?  The amount of forage that is available while they are there eating with horses and native wildlife?

Maybe I should do my thesis study on cow and horse utilization of the rangelands.  Maybe it would answer some of these questions that I have, and put to rest this theory that cattle are taking over horse lands.

Why do people paint the horse as this perfect animal that could not possibly do any damage to the range?  It's all cattle -- it's all the BLMs fault.  Why can't people provide assistance instead, and approach in a helpful way, rather than a "you're doing a horrible job, do it this way."  It is no wonder that the BLM may not listen to some people.  When approached like they are doing everything wrong, of course they will get defensive and not listen to what a person might have to say. 

But when I talked on the phone with the rangeland specialist the other day, he truly wanted to use me to answer some of the questions brought up in comments they received.  That, I believe, is effort on their part to do what the public wants, to make a change, to make the program better.

Why can't "activists" find a way to help the BLM, rather than hinder them?  If they really want to help, they need to volunteer, go to school in rangeland science, wildlife management, something that will make them useful to the horses.  I know there are many advocates out there that do, and the BLM appreciates them, I'm sure.  But these people who cause all the law suits, why can't they step in and provide a helpful hand?

I am very frustrated and confused tonight.  How do we  educate people about horses on public rangelands? They believe the more sensationalized version of the story because it invokes more emotion and grabs their attention.  And that makes it hard to try and convey anything that opposes what they think is right.

And then I again question...who is right?

Can I scream?

The Warm Springs Gather Wrap-Up

Here are the BLMs facts after the Warm Springs gather a couple weeks ago that resulted in the horse that broke her neck. An unfortunate event...

The goal for the future of gathers, I believe, is to eventually not have to do quite so many, or to remove as many. This method of management is expensive and unless more adopters step up, placing the majority of these animals in long term holding is certainly not sustainable. This is where gelding some of the stallions, administering PZP fertility control to some mares, and then releasing them back onto the rangelands comes in. The hope is that fewer round ups will have to be conducted at some future point. However, there is concern for what this will do for herd dynamics...again, maybe this is my thesis study???

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Phone conversation with BLM, 11-18-2010

I just got off the phone with the Burns District Rangeland Management Specialist.  Though I hoped to walk away with one great thesis idea, he gave me several that I hope to settle on over winter break.

The first that he suggested was looking at herd dynamics.  They've (BLM) has received a lot of comment (on the EIS I'm assuming) about the national policy of 60/40 stallions to mares, the use of PZP, and gelding.  It really sounded like this is where they need more research so that they can respond to those comments.  While it sounds like a great thesis topic, I'm not even sure how I would approach this topic in field research, etc.....

Another place where they could use more research is in the herds' distribution.  However, I can incorporate this into any subject of study I choose.  While studying the horses, I could look into their distance to water, roads, and also look at vegetation and slope utilization.  This would help the BLM in knowing where the horses are located.

A place where he said would be really great for research and field work is utilization.  They've received many comments about horses vs. cows.  Who does the most damage?  Because of time constraints, this has been a study that is lacking in field research.  I don't know that I would have the time for this either.

Lastly, we talked about sage grouse habitat.  In my last conversation with my adviser, we had kicked around the thought of how horses might impact sage grouse.  Since they are a declining species (in Washington, there are only two populations left), it would be an interesting topic to see how horses might influence sage grouse.

We also talked about some of the controversy going on.  He introduced me to the name: Craig Downer and that he is a wild horse ecologist, but the paper that he wrote has no scientific backing.  This paper has caused a lot of issues -- at least that's the impression Bill gave me.

I have a lot to think about.  It was a great conversation, though.  It gave me a fresh dose of excitement to start my research.  I am really trying to figure out a way to get down there to Burns, Oregon over winter break.  He said we could talk more, he could show me some of the comments they've received, and take me on a tour to some of the HMAs.  I have the time to do it, that's for sure.  The $$$ aspect of it is the challenge!!  But, it is important I think, and will help me decide what I want my research topic to be centered on.  So, someway, it must happen!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Annotation: Management Implications of the Ecology of Free-Roaming Horses in Semi-Arid Ecosystems of the Western United States

Beever, Erik A. (2003). Management Implications of the Ecology of Free-Roaming Horses in Semi-Arid Ecosystems of the Western United States. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31(2). 887-895.

In this commentary, Erik Beever, draws from his research in 9 Herd Management Areas (HMA) to highlight the influence free-roaming horses have on the landscapes of the Great Basin. He has studied many aspects of feral horse disturbances, from percent cover of plant species to small mammals.

Due to the history of feral horses, and the policies surrounding their management, they have have a unique influence on rangelands. Horses evolved in North America, but disappeared between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. The current theory for their disappearance, along with many other taxa that also went extinct, is that the climate changed, which resulted in vegetation shifts, and they were also hunted by various predators, including humans. In the 16th century, domestic horses were brought to the southwestern United States by the Spaniards. From this initial introduction, and the relationship humans had with horses, their population peaked at 2-7 million in the 19th century. Then the Taylor Grazing Act 1934 initiated persecution, capture, and removal of horses. 

Following this, their populations declined through the late 19th century and through to the mid-20th century. Their populations again began to rise after the Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed in 1971. This act began the study of the ecology of free-roaming horses.

Feral horses are more socially dominant than cattle when interacting with native wildlife. This effects native wildlife use of the area. Studies of horse and ungulate interactions have been conducted, and are improving greatly. However, interactions that horses have with non-ungulates is only beginning and such studies will be important in understanding how horses affect various components of their environment.

Horses have a unique influence on the landscape, this is important to understand for management purposes. Many compare their influences to cattle use of the rangelands, but horses are unique. They are cecal digesters, which means that they are not selective in their forage. A low-quality diet means that horses will consume 20-65% more forage than a cow of an equivalent body mass. Horses also use the landscape heterogeneously, leaving many trails that are used repeatedly and go long distances. Cows, on the other hand, use the landscape in a more uniform manner. Their trails are not as used, nor as long – as Beever observed. As a result of this, horse occupied sites have greater soil penetration resistance. Further differences between horses and cows are as follows: horses have a flexible lips and upper front incisors when compared to cattle. Such differences mean that horses can graze vegetation much more closely to the ground than cattle.  This will delay the recovery of vegetation.

Now that we know their unique influence on the landscape, they also have unique management plan when compared to cattle, and native ungulates. Horses are not as intensively managed as cattle. Cattle are managed on public ranges with fencing exclosures, rotation grazing, herding, and they are supplied with water. Horses are not fenced, and are managed with minimal strategies. Unlike with native ungulates, hunting of horses is not permitted, as they have federal protection under the Wild Horse and Burro Act, 1971.

In conclusion, Beever's purpose was to highlight the differences of horse influences when compared to cattle and native ungulates. He argues there needs to be careful monitoring for ecosystems that have had little, or infrequent, grazing over evolutionary time in order to avoid deterioration.

This was a great commentary of what Beever has researched and studied in the past. Compared to another article he wrote on characterizing the grazing disturbances of horses, he went into more detail here about soil penetration. In his former article, he never outright discussed or addressed the increased soil penetration in horse occupied sites compared to horse removed sites. As a result, I found this article to be great for my research as it explained the unique influences horses have on the landscape when compared to other ungulates, and also the unique way they are managed.

Beever was trying to reach managers, biologists, and the general public, who perceive the ecology of free-roaming horses to be comparable to cattle. His article addresses the differences that these two ungulates in fact have on the landscape, and that horses have a unique influence. This is important to understand for management purposes in deciding appropriate management levels of horse herds.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New focus

It seems that one of the Yakama Nation's own members is doing a study on their free-roaming horse problem. Since the tribe will be more likely to allow a member onto the reservation for research, versus a non-tribal member, I've opted to switch my study area.

There was the option of doing a project on any of the other northwest tribes facing horse problems, but since my base knowledge is on feral horses on public lands, it makes more sense to follow that. Also, so much of my undergraduate study was conducted on BLM horses that I'll just be building my thesis on that.  So this is a plus!  I won't have to learn the history of horses and Native Americans - just about the horse history on public lands, which I already know!

One of my professors planted the seed about doing my research with the BLM.  He was concerned that I'd never had any dealings with tribal nation's before and that they may not want to work with me.  It sounds like I probably could have done some sort of project on the other member tribes of the Northwest Tribal Horse Coalition.  However, the reason I'd settled on the Yakama horse herds was because of the close proximity to CWU.  If I'm going to have to drive anyway for my field research, I'd rather go with the for a project with the BLM.  I have, for the most part, already done a lot of research in this area.

My new proposal, for now, is to find out what conflicts or issues the Oregon BLM might be having with any of their horse herds. I'd like to learn if there is a study they haven't done, but would like to see researched.

Wish my luck in my efforts to contact people in pinpointing a research problem for my thesis!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Annotation: Opportunity Costs Related to Feral Horses: A Wyoming Case Study

Bastian, Chris T., Larry W. Van Tussell, Anne C. Cotton, Michael A. Smith. (1999). Opportunity Costs Related to Feral Horses: A Wyoming Case Study. Journal of Range Management, 52(2). 104-112.

Bastian, Van Tussell, Cotton, & Smith's paper addressed the issue of opportunity costs of foregone wildlife and grazing due to high populations of wild horses as proposed by W.F. Hyde in his 1978 paper: Wild horses and the allocation of public resources.  The authors conducted a study in Wyoming in the Whiskey Peak allotment complex in the Green Mountain Wild Horse Herd Area where the primary recreational use is hunting.  Many important habitats like the Green Mountain complex have high densities of wild horses because of rapid population growth and removal constraints (judicial actions brought on by animal rights’ activists).  Since the Public Range Improvement Act in 1978, research has been conducted on forage allocation between wild horses, big game species, and cattle. However, there is very little economic research on feral horses.  The authors hoped that this study would stimulate further research of wild horses along the lines of allocation of public rangelands.
With the Green Mountain complex being the best area in central Wyoming for hunting mule deer, elk, and antelope, Bastian found their forage amounts, as well as the forage amounts for cattle in order to calculate foregone opportunities if there were more horses.  Between 700 and 900 antelope, 300 and 830 mule deer, and a minimum of 300 elk were assumed for this analysis to be able to graze the forage.  AUMs for domestic cattle were specified between 4000 and 8427. These, along with a 50% or less utilization of forage, were the constraints to estimate the tradeoffs between wild horses, big game, and cattle.
            Opportunity costs were defined in this study as the foregone net benefits of reduced wildlife and livestock numbers associated with the benefits of wildlife hunting and livestock grazing as wild horse numbers increased.
            Five scenarios were estimated: no horses, 128 head (minimum), 184 head (median), 196 head, and 241 head (maximum).  The authors' results found that there was an increasing opportunity cost for foregone wildlife and livestock grazing as horse populations reached maximum. The increased number of horses had greater impact on wildlife than on cattle due to the assumptions Bastian et al made about the grazing season.  The assumption that was made that cattle were out grazing three summer months and one fall month.
            The authors argued that animals forced off the allotment for forage because of increased horse numbers might provide an externality for private land owners. Maximum horse numbers also put the range at high risk for deterioration. Finally, high horse numbers comes at the expense of the native wildlife in the complex, and also the forage productivity.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In talking to another graduate student today, I was told that I was a rational human being.  We were discussing the amounts of some animals that have no where to go.  In my interest of wild horses, they cannot all stay out on the rangeland.   They must be rounded up.  But what's to do with them?  Long-term holding pens?  Sanctuaries?  Horse rescue associations?  Yes, some can be adopted, and sold.  But for those not under government care, slaughter is also an option.  Not all horses can be saved, and unless someone steps to the plate to take care of these horses, there has to be an alternative.  In an article regarding the Pacific Northwest tribal horses, they spoke of the free-roaming herds as livestock, and sometimes with livestock you have to cull some to trim the herd.  Looking at it rationally, I should think that is a viable option for the horses that must be removed, but cannot be placed in a home, or rescue.

I used to believe that the mustang of the American West was a truly wild, magnificent, perfect creature. I believed that rounding them up was unnecessary. Why not let nature kill off the weak, sick, dumb? When they ran out of food or water, they would die. The strongest would survive, and the herd would go on. It was my idea of nature's perfect system of checks and balances.

That was six years ago.

During my undergraduate studies, I wrote paper after paper about wild horse management. Slowly, one by one, they took on a more rational view of the wild horse on our public rangelands. I left my emotions behind, opened my eyes to more than the wild horse, and enveloped the entire scope of things. Rangeland degradation, overgrazing, cattle, salmon, pronghorn, elk, big horn sheep. I took a step back and saw the impacts that wild horses can have all the way down to the fish that live in streams.  They share the landscape with a variety of flora and fauna, humans included.

My knowledge continues to grow with every article and book that I read. Though I read the newspaper articles, they are too skewed one way or the other for my taste. I take little from them.  Recently, however, I did read in an opinion piece that the American wild horse is managed by emotions, not science. Since reading that, I personally try to quiet my love for horses so that I can see them and understand their impacts  rationally. It will do them better in the long run.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wild Horses Escape a Roundup


Wild horses, feral horses, mustangs are viewed as pests, legends, symbols of American freedom, and the old west. They were brought here by the Spanish in the 15th century, left to fend for themselves. In a short time, they effectively repopulated the North Americas. Few of these Spanish descendents remain in isolated herds on public rangelands – the Kigers in Oregon, the Pyors in Montana, and the Sulpher herd in Utah. Most wild horses on today's rangelands, however, are descendents of ranch horses – they are draft horses and cow ponies turned loose or escaped. Wild horses may have been North American residents for a few hundred years, but in the time scheme of ecosystem adaptions, they are anything but native and must be actively managed to protect the stability of rangelands.

Though, 14,000 years ago, they were native. It is believed that a mixture of excessive hunting and climate change contributed to their extinction. And now they've returned in much larger form than their predecessors. No longer do they live peaceably on the landscape, within the ecosystem. The land evolved without them so it can no longer sustain their high numbers. Their large hooves compact the soil. Their upper incisor teeth allow them to graze the grasses until there's nothing left. Their grazing patterns, because of an inefficient digestive system, means that they eat a lot more than other ungulates. All these impacts are new to the landscape and it struggles to thrive under their ever growing populations. With few predators – cougars, wolves, bears – their population grows at as much as twenty percent each year. What natural kills do occur is not enough to naturally manage these creatures.

In order to maintain a balance between these introduced species, the native flora and fauna, and other uses of the rangelands, wild horses must be managed. My goal for the next two years is to learn, first hand, what impacts these creatures have on the landscape, what can be done to prevent further degradation, and repair overused areas. I do not do it to argue that they do not belong. I do not do it to argue that cattle have more right to the landscape than wild horses, for they do as much damage. I do it because I want to see these horses remain. Even though they are not native species, they are a piece of American history.

I want to help manage them to coexist on the landscape with native flora and fauna, cattle, and human uses.