20 Million acres Available on the Range
On Dec. 12, The Hartford Courant, in Hartford, CT ran an article entitled No Room on the Range for Wild Horses, by Robert M. Thorsen. The following is Ginger Kathren’s response:
Dear Dr. Thorson;
I read with interest your recent article, No Room on the Range for Wild Horses, which I suggest might be more aptly titled, No Room in Holding for Wild Horses, 20 million acres Available on the Range. That is the amount of acreage no longer containing wild horses though the land was legally designated for their use after passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act in 1971. And, assuming you were serious in saying American mustangs are less native than feral cats, I invite you to peruse our website link here. http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/reading-room-faq-s-articles/wh-returned-native. It includes a brief article by Ross MacPhee, former curator, Division of Vetebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History among others.
To summarize the facts, the solid-hooved wild horse specie, E. lambei (Yukon Horse), died out on the NA continent circa 7000-7500 ya (fairly new reassessment of the die off timeline). Previous to its likely die-off, the Yukon Horse occupied North America for at least 100,000 years. It is virtually identical to the horses re-introduced in the early 1500s by the Spanish Conquistadors with only a slight differences in dentition (molar). Once the Spanish horses went wild, they rapidly re-occupied the lands with which their ancestors had co-evolved.
The now retired biologist with the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, James Stabler, once told me that the only hooved species more native than the wild horse is the Pronghorn. Neither horses or pronghorn migrated here from Asia like the elk, deer, bison, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats and the Pronghorn did not migrate out either while the horses did. According to Sandra Olsen, Curator of Mammals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, had horses not made that journey into Asia from NA at various times there would be no horses in the world today. Hard to imagine.
Very few wild horses remain in the wild, due to excessive removals from their legally designated homes on the range with the zeroing out of 160 entire herds. The majority of the remaining herds are so small that they are in danger of losing significant genetic variability and can become inbred. According to E. Gus Cothran, the foremost equine geneticist in the U.S., even the Spanish Pryor Mustang Herd is in need of a higher population. Report by Dr. Cothran: http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/field_offices/billings/wild_horses.Par.90380.File.dat/Pryor_MNTS%202012%20Genetic%20Report.pdfCurrently the herd is around 150 adult horses and this is where Cloud, our namesake, lives. I've produced three PBS Nature programs about Cloud and written three books as well. If you are interested, all are available on our website for a donation to the Foundation. My journey with the Cloud from the day of his birth, is the only known documentation of a wild animal from birth in our hemisphere.
Here's something else I'd like you to consider this for a moment: if BLM requested that owners of privately owned livestock remove their cattle and sheep from public lands, the American taxpayer would save hundreds of millions of dollars. Only 2-3% of beef produced comes from public lands owned by the American public but dominated by private interests, predominately corporations. These private interests are issued permits to graze their livestock for $1.34 per cow/calf pair or five sheep per month. This is a fraction of what they would pay to lease private land, hence the oft-used moniker welfare ranching. And without livestock on public lands there would no need to pay additional millions of dollars to Wildlife Services yearly, who kill predators by the hundreds of thousands at the behest of the welfare ranchers. These folks could stay home and save the taxpayers even more money. And the wild horse would have predators in the form of mountain lions to keep populations in check naturally. In the meantime, we advocate for the use of reversible fertility vaccines and partner with the BLM in the Pryors, helping to dart mares so that mortality and reproduction are roughly equal over time, with the mutually agreed on goal NO removals. Most herds could be managed in this way but it will require a more enlightened and fiscally responsible approach to public land management
Since you're a geologist, I'm guessing you'd enjoy visiting the Pryor Mountains in southern Montana where Cloud lives if you haven't already. It is a journey through 400 million years of geologic history. My favorites are the red sandstone buttes of the Chugwater formation, the deep limestone canyons and of course the high mountain meadows in summer. The Pryor Mountains are a favorite destination of cavers. I've literally stepped into holes in the ground and almost fallen into these deep sinkholes in the limestone. Besides family bands of beautiful Pryor mustangs, you can see bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bears, coyotes, golden eagles, marmots and a wide variety of song birds. If this interests you, give me a call and I can try to point you in the right direction and recommend the right time of year to visit.
Thanks for your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
The Cloud Foundation