Letters and Questions

Almost every day I get emails or letters from students or others looking for information or opinion on the issues of wild horses and burros. I try to answer the emails the best I can but I often can not get to all of the inquiries.

I am going to print my responses to one of the emails and maybe that will help clarify my opinions and “thoughts.”

Ready for a place to call home (Elyse Gardner) 6171 did find a home after this photo was released and I was sent pics of him “home.”


Just had a very busy week and not much time to write back.

Many of these questions have multiple caveats to the answers. However I will try to be as succinct as possible and if something is not clear to you feel free to write back.
I’ll answer one at a time.
copyright Laura Leigh

2/6/2011 copyright Laura Leigh

Do you think roundups are necessary?
This question actually has a two part response.
Under the law (Federal land within BLM and USFS jurisdiction) a viable population of wild horses and burros are to be managed on the land “here presently found” in 1971 as a priority user within those boundaries as “integral to the landscape.”
If all of the above criteria are met (in actuality, not opinion) then according to law animals suitable for the adoption program would be prioritized for removal from the range into the adoption program. Identification of such individuals and those too fragile (ill, old) would occur prior to the operation and removal would occur accordingly.
As the primary purpose of “management” of wh&b’s on public land is an act of protection, a standard of humane care would/should be in place and strictly enforced.
Presuming that all data was accurate and current to support a notion of removal (or a stochastic event, fire, drought), and all steps were taken to mitigate damages from other uses, then a roundup should occur.
Current management does not provide such  standards. Nor do current management practices include any standard for humane treatment and consequence for violation.
If not what other methods would you recommend to regulate the horse population?(birth control/gelding) What I meant  was do you think the BLM should be rounding up horses or do you think the horses should be left alone to let them die a natural death?
This question also has layers of law that need to be considered in any answer.
Under law animals are to be managed as “wild” and integral to the landscape. A “wild” population is defined as a population capable of reproducing itself and needs to be managed with “minimal feasible” interference.
Current use of fertility drugs demonstrate a disregard for the impact on band structure and the natural reproductive season on the range. The last couple of years we have seen an increase in foals born “out of season” placing their survival in question as well as the survival of the mares involved.
There are cyclical resources available on the range. As harsher weather approaches animals need to “store up” to survive and give birth in the spring and summer as resources are more abundant. This reduces the stress on the mare and foal.
If fertility control is to be utilized seasonal effectiveness must be a factor.
Permanent sterilization (gelding, spaying, vasectomy) is another multi-layered answer.
If the population of sterilized animals is used to decrease the number of reproductive animals below a number that can “reproduce itself” it is a violation of law. The concept of sterilized animals on the range may in itself be a violation of current law.
However within the realm of personal opinion I am not entirely against the careful and selective use of certain techniques in an effort to decrease the number of horses in holding as a temporary strategy. Yet no permanent “solution” should be implemented without comprehending the ramifications of that action.
For example at the recent Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting in Reno there was discussion about spaying mares. There were rampant comments made by members of the board that demonstrated a lack of knowledge of both the law and protocol that was staggering. Members talked about domestic horses that had been spayed without complication and a “study” done at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (Sheldon is not under the jurisdiction of the Act). First there was no “study” done at Sheldon. In that instance mares had been subjected to field spaying (in one instance through the rectum) with a high death rate from the procedure itself. The mares that survived were released with absolutely no follow up. Second the domestic horse being spayed has a hospital and then substantial follow up with observation, rest and antibiotics. Rounding up a wild horse creates a situation where the stress itself creates an unsuitable candidate for any invasive procedure. Then to knock her out have her fall on the ground and surgically remove her Uterus or ovaries and then release her… it creates an image that outrages the mind.
There is another drug called “Gonacon” (and others) that may create a non-reproductive female. The idea being that a mare over 10 could be treated and live out her life on the range without continuing to reproduce. Yet the ramifications to herd structure, where you have non-estrus mares, is not known.
So let us step back a moment and look at current protocol:
1. Animals are removed from the range in a bulk operation that fails to identify band members. (Genetic contribution of individuals is not known).
2. Any mares released are given PZP-22 that keeps them in estrus causing the band stallion (and other stallions) considerable stress on a range that supposedly has limited resource (reason for roundup).
3. The population is then “sex-ratio” skewed releasing more males than in a natural population possibly increasing the stress to the population.
4. Often the data to support the operation in the first place is conjecture and other options to mitigate the circumstances have not been explored.

Run Free (Stone Cabin, 2012) older mares released back to the range after PZP treatment

So here is my personal answer.
I do not believe that this agency is capable of utilizing any permanent sterilization as an effective and appropriate tool under law. Could it be a useful tool if done correctly? Perhaps. Is this agency that has no real data, perpetuates a “feral” livestock machine that fails to recognize the law and operates in a bubble where they control the information used in any study (NAS) capable of using this tool appropriately? Absolutely not.
If you think the horses should be left alone can you please explain why you think so since I read about what happend to the Nellis Wild Horse Range whose horse  population was left alone and the horses were just dying of starvation and dehydration  and some of the horses would just pitch over and die!
Do I believe “death on the range” is appropriate?
Yes, in the natural order of things. For example all parameters of structure have been met (appropriate range conditions, mitigated damages from other uses) and you have an older band member that dies a natural death. Yes, that is appropriate.
However if we are talking about an extreme situation where we will have a massive die off (stochastic) no. Horses by their nature have been useful companion animals and hold a special place in the hearts of Americans (why we have an act of Congress for protection). In those cases removal toward adoption is appropriate action as intended by law.
Also keep in mind that horses don’t just die off suddenly in massive numbers unless there disease, sudden restriction of resource (fence) or contamination of environment. Whenever you see these claims ask yourself why?
The “left alone” claim is a whole separate question.
I know very few people that truly feel these animals should be “left alone.” The basic nature of public land management is that they will never be “left alone” as increasing impacts to the environment occur.
The issue is appropriate management as “wild and integral,” a protected American heritage species, under the law of the land and that of common decency.
The “left alone” conversation appears to be more of a PR spin intended to discredit the validity of argument. One of the tools any debate student learns is that if your argument is weak attack the person delivering the message. If advocates can be portrayed as “meaning well but not comprehending” you have created doubt to any concern they raise.
Or if you think the wild horses should be rounded up, even if they risk inhumane treatment, please explain why. Also if you think the Wild Horse population should be managed what do you recommend should be done that the BLM is not doing such as gelding/ immunocontraception unless you think the BlM is doing a good job, minus the inhumane treatment during roundups, with the Adopt-A-Horse-Program.
I will try to finish this novel I’ve written to you.
In order to address the crisis situation we are in (and the crisis is NOT over population on the range) you need to begin by looking at the mistakes that were made initially in the implementation of law.Then you need to correct them.
Serious mistakes were made at the onset.
The original boundary lines were inaccurate. These lines were drawn in a fashion that was influenced by local politics. These lines were drawn in a manner that clearly did not comprehend the concept “wild and free roaming” and failed to take into account the fact that these animals move. Seasonal migration patterns were not taken into account creating the “off HMA” assertions that generate an inappropriate conversation about horses moving because of lack of resource. Did you know we actually have HMA’s that do not have a water source within the boundary lines? I think it is a fair assessment to say that in 19721 horses drank water.
First and foremost that serious error must be corrected and the authority to do so is currently within the discretion of the Secretary of Interior and could be accomplished.
Second the term “viability of use’ must be clearly defined.We do not know what that standard actually is in terms of genetics and habitat.
WH&B’s are a mandated primary user in the aprox. 10% of public land they occupy. They are literally being managed into bankruptcy. When we talk about genetic bankruptcy and have a conversation that addresses numbers the agency expert (Cothran) will quote a number of 120-150 animals. When further questioned about the reasoning areas will be cited that contain a small number of animals yet fail to take into account that those areas are small in size and highly managed (not vast). Further questioning reveals that “if” genetic anomaly is noted other animals can be introduced from other ranges. That concept is a “feral livestock” breeding program statement. It fails to recognize that each herd is unique to the landscape where it is found. A horse in Twin Peaks has a very different history and “look” than a horse from Paymaster or Antelope. These animals are there living symbol of the history of the American West and each population is unique to that history of the land.
So now we come to another place in the conversation.
If these first two points are “fixed” we can then begin a solution based conversation. The animals then have appropriate range and we comprehend each population with a clear standard of viability.
The fair share of that resource must be allotted within each area to sustain the viability of this user (wh&b’s) under law.
If all of these factors are met and population needs to be controlled tools such as fertility control and the adoption program would be utilized.
However the value of that animal must be demonstrated through fair use of the land and a standard for humane care during handling. If you don’t have these two basic premises clearly established management will continue to reflect the very conditions that created the need for the law, a feral resource treated as a pest.
So no, I do not believe current management is a “good job.” Many basic areas such as appropriate boundaries, viability and humane care must be addressed prior to any discussion about more tools that can be mismanaged takes place.
Do I believe “good practice” is possible? Yes. But it needs to begin with an honest conversation based of fact.

Rope around her neck. They use a horse and rider to pull on her neck. Third horse to try to squeeze through the inappropriate gate that day.

Can you respond to this quote by Guilfoyle? Joan Guilfoyle said, “. . . some accidents are inevitable in large gather operations and that the agency is developing a comprehensive animal welfare plan that will standardize procedures for managing on the range, during gathers, adoptions and transportation and in holding facilities.” 
“We do not have “some accidents.” We have constant disregard demonstrated in practice, multiple events daily. The simple concept of a care standard was not included in the vocabulary of this agency until it was forced. BLM internal investigations found infractions that include dragging, kicking animals in the head and contact by helicopters appropriate until a federal Judge stopped a roundup.The most basic premise of the Act is to protect and care for these animals. How can any action this agency takes be trusted until a standard is in place? “
I’m out of time today. I hope this helps.

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4 thoughts on “Letters and Questions

  1. jenniebarron says:

    Laura Leigh is one of the leading wild horse experts and documentary geniuses in the field of wild horses. I am learning from her. I may kick and scream all the way to the holding pen because I think that the wild horse can be managed without removals at all, unless there is a foal that has been orphaned (i.e. lightning strikes, forest fires, predator, or some other natural cause in the wild). That is the reason why I want to be careful when trying to ask for changes in BLM and it’s policies. The less that the wild horse is handled, the true term “wild” become more apparent. There are no reasons that I have read for the PZP; and the stallions being gelded is just ridiculous. Of course, BLM has to open ranges up with water and grazing for the different populations and locations of herds; and, I agree 100% with the known fact that horses migrate. As far as the population problem; from one report that I read when I was studying about the Jackson Mountain herds being rounded up; the population count by BLM was made by using a software program that was written by Dr. Stephen H. Jenkins, Dept. of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno under contract from the National Wild Horse and Burro program of the Bureau of Land Management. The purpose was it was “designed for use in comparing various management strategies for wild horses”. This software program calculates that every time a stallion breeds a mare there is a foal born; (PZP sometimes sterilizes the mare or it may cause a mare to delay pregnancy for several years). Therefore, a stallion at the age of 3 (three) (3? Most stallions don’t get to breed until they are 4 or 5 and many don’t become band stallions until they are 4 or 5 if they are lucky and strong and clever enough) until the age of 20. Having a foal with each mare in the band each year. Their calculations are always on the high end (the low end being some number made up by the computations of the software program doing fuzzy math), and the roundups are always made using the highest number of horses that the BLM says has to be removed.
    I must state for the record here that I don’t care if Dr. Jenkins is a biologist or not; I don’t care if he even has ever smelled a horse or not; but the fact that he was under contract of BLM to write this software program says plenty if you understand that anyone who goes against the philosophy of Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar which states: “There is no place on public lands for the wild horse.” and, “We will break any law to make a profit.” So, even before the software is written, the basic premise was to make sure that the number of horses permanently removed from public lands was to be a certain number every year. This can only be the conclusion if you read the facts. During 2004, The Burns Amendment to the 1971 Free Roaming and Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed. This moved the Department of Agriculture out of the way for slaughter houses to operate. From what I have read, two slaughter houses in Texas never did close, but that had to be because people like Ken Salazar had cattle ranches there and did not want the wild horses at all. (Yes, I love horses does not mean that they care about the right way to manage the wild horse, especially if it cuts into their cattle ranching space which over runs the wild horse designated area.) In the GAO Report (GAO-11-228 dated June 22, 2011) the office of BLM spent 5% of their entire budget on range management, and 1.25% on data gathering or analysis to determine horse populations. The actual title of the GAO Report is: “RANGELAND MANAGEMENT IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED IN FEDERAL WILD HORSE PROGRAM”. The conclusion of their previous study (which has not changed) are as follows: 1. Conclusion of study August, 1990: a. BLM horse removal decisions are often not based on “solid” information concerning range capacity or the impact of wild horses on range conditions.” b. BLM relied on an “Assessment Inventory and Management (AIM) report also implicated the lack of serious math and science skills giving the agency a failing grade in both data collection and the ability to assess data. 2. BLM claims 38,500 wild horses (12,000 considered “excess”) and the independent expert analysis was an average of 24,000 to 28,000 wild horses were on the public lands.
    As the report states in item (2), the number of horses that were counted as on the public range for the roundups in the fiscal year 2011 – 2012 ending in December 2012, were more than were actually on the public lands. The holding facilities (i.e. feed lots and leased farm/ranch land) held at least 57,000 wild horses during the beginning of the year 2012; add another 28,500 wild horses that are considered excess to the holding facilities and you have a grand total of 85,500 wild horses that were removed during the years 2011-2012. This does not count the foals. Foals are not counted if under a certain age; and since we have been making public the problems, there is a discrepancy in the way the foals are counted, of course. Foals can be removed at any time by the BLM with no reason given, they are not counted. If they happen to make it to the holding pen during a round up or a bait trap, they can be removed at any time because they are not counted. The age reported varies from under 5 months to under 1 year. So, this year of roundups during foal season will send a lot of foals to the kill buyer directly from the contractors who work for BLM. Each wild horse has a bounty on its head of at least $250, foals maybe more because as Sue Wallis reports her remarks on “filly fillet”, and each horse that is “processed” brings about $4 thousand dollars; (on the black market it may bring more). As in the GAO Report “At the adoption rate of 3,000/year, it would take 15 years if just 28,000 were held in holding pens.
    So far, nothing has changed. The BLM is still rounding up horses in the extreme heat and not putting out water and food hoping that this will weaken the horses and make it look like they are starving on the public lands and therefore tickle the gizzard of old Secretary of State Ken Salazar so he can say “See, they are dying and we can’t afford to help them.” Oh, brother. There are experts that can repair land by using natural methods; the horses have to migrate for food and water and to let the pasture lands renew their growth. There is no excuse for the BLM to ever refuse water as soon as possible; and certainly hay (that is what they call food) as needed. It would be much less expensive than the American tax payer paying the bounty for each horse that we do not want to be slaughtered; each foal that we cringe at the thoughts of someone hurting it; and the infoal mares who are foaling in the feed lots. Well, we haven’t hit upon the injured foals, man, that one makes you want to slap someone real hard and ask: “Have I got your attention yet?”
    From the children who are trying their best I learn courage; they have the innate ability to see the light in any situation. Thank God for the little children who care about the fate of all horses, not just the wild horses. They are the one bright spot on our world, the one thing that has yet to be touched by a politician to hurt them. Yes, it makes me mad that they can listen to a child like Declan Gregg and not actually do what they tell him they are going to do; or just placate. Yes, then the screaming at the politicians in my house really do begin. And, yes, I scream at the politicians because I refuse to hear their rhetoric. I refuse to listen to them repeat the numbers they just received from the BLM telephone call and they wrote it down in a nice little note to give to me over the phone. I scream at the politicians because they are the ones that got us into this mess. Why? Money. It’s not the cattlemen in the whole, it’s not the Ruby Oil Pipeline (like the Alaskan Pipeline it is also owned by British Petroleum); it was the politician who wrote the laws so that they could receive subsidy payments, favors, and invest in the prospect of horse slaughter even though 80% of us told them no. Well, I guess they told us, didn’t they? They told us that they will get what they want when they want it, no matter what we say; even though we pay their salaries and they work for us. So, the next time you think of the lobbyist, remember this, the politician can say no to the lobbyist – it really brings a bad word to my mind and it doesn’t do any good to say it, all the grownups know what a person is who sells themselves are called. Well, that’s what I have learned so far. I am sure I can get the information about the hazardous drugs in here, but you can see that posted on WILD HORSE HUB CENTRAL on facebook, reference is from a group of veterinarians who are against horse slaughter, their post is on WHHC also.Until next time, Happy Trails To You Until We Meet Again….~Jennie Barron

  2. Lisa Griffith says:

    I was only able to listen to the last day/hour of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting in April, but what I heard chilled me to the bone. I think it was Bolstad who said Kane “had perfected” the surgery and casually threw out the comment that there was no followup because the horses had been released after 24 hours. No one questioned that lack of data on the experiment with the Sheldon mares and only one board member seemed opposed. To discuss such a drastic measure as spaying these mares (when they have been stopped by public opinion on this issue before) is extremely alarming. It was referred for further study.

  3. hoofhugs says:

    Thank you, Laura. Given that the BLM grew out of the “stock” man concept, we should not be surprised that historically this agency has tried to manage our wild horses as if they are feral livestock. That is exactly what most of them still think they are, and who knows what has happened to some of the herds that exist in areas near ranchers who did not appreciate what the horses represent.

  4. Lisa Griffith says:

    I received an interesting reply from Dr. Jenkins, (mentioned in the first response to this blog) part of which is below: I also have to add that the USGS decides the protocol for estimating populations in the field and while we all have problems with those estimates, I do believe that aerial survey is supposed to provide the basis for estimates in population, not a computer model. If the BLM is deviating from this protocol, which I don’t know at this point, they are breaking their own “rules.” (I wince as I write that.)

    From Steven Jenkins, UNR:
    “√There is no way to use the program to estimate the size of a population in the field, i.e., it cannot be used as a substitute for a head count. If there is a current estimate of population size from an aerial survey or some other field research, the program projects what the population might be in the short-term future.”

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