Blame the Wild Horse, wolf, mountain lion, raven, etc.

The lowlands on the range are bashed to dust, blame the wild horse. The Greater Sage Grouse is in rapid decline, blame the raven. Hunting tags are down, blame the mountain lion or wolf. On and on this “blame game” goes, again and again and again.

We present this article to discuss one of the key factors that threatens the survival of wild horses and burros: habitat loss and fragmentation.

What are we doing? we have been dealing with a mountain of work to push back. Two fast examples:

One of our legal actions with WildLands Defense has halted two grazing permits, with eight more to go, as we continue to fight an conglomerate decision by the BLM that will forever change the Eagle/Chokecherry/Silver King HMAs. (more here) 

We joined a coalition to stop a mine expansion that would further degrade the water available to wild horses in the Antelope Complex. This fight will rear again. (more here) 

You can help in the big fight. As wild horse and burro advocates we really have no voice in management, just removal. We need your help to educate Congress and land managers. We want management, not backdoor deals. (take action here)

What is behind Wyoming removals? habitat loss and fragmentation and minimization of the wild horse.

Habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat is where the real blame lies. Habitat loss and fragmentation is caused by: water table draw down and roads for mines, domestic livestock that cluster in the lowlands, destroy natural spring sources causing agencies to approve pipelines for troughs that replace natural sources, highways, millions of miles of barbed wore fencing, etc. In most places on public lands there is not a single source of habitat loss, there are multiple sources.

It is not unusual to see wild horses having to tangle with the miles and miles of barbed wire as gates are repeatedly closed keeping them from moving to get forage and water.

Barbed wire is an obvious visual example of habitat fragmentation. 

The Wildlife Society published a study (Harrington & Conover, 2006) of mule deer and elk mortality along an 600 miles of road that had barbed wire  fencing  in Utah and Colorado. When you break down the math: one dead antelope every year per 5.6 miles, one dead mule deer every year per 7.8 miles, one dead elk every year per 10.3 miles of fenceline. They noted the animals tangled and dead, but also those that died next to the fence; a dead animal tangled every 2.5 miles of fence, as well as a dead animal next to a fence every 1.2 miles (90% were fawns).

“In Utah, at least 36 sage-grouse were killed the first winter after a barbed wire fence was installed at a winter habitat site. Similarly, installation of a two-mile length of fence in Wyoming resulted in the deaths of 21 sage-grouse. A study conducted on the Deseret Ranch in Utah concluded the second highest cause of death there for sage-grouse involved fence collisions.” ~ USDA website.

How many wild horses or burros die each year from barbed wire? there are no statistics. Barbed wire keeps wild horses from access to water, again and again. How many die of dehydration? no official statistics to site. How many die because they can not access all of the grazing land in an HMA because of barbed wire? no official statistics.

As deer tag availability for hunters declined “blame the coyote, wolf and mountain lion” cries from the hunting community increased the strength of public land livestock producers to kill predator species.

Using the state of Nevada as an example, this great article by Don Molde, M.D. is a must read.  The article breaks down the history of the predator killing system (blame the coyote and mountain lion) and the “zero sum” benefit to mule deer populations. Habitat fragmentation and loss is key.

Ravens are blamed for the decline in Greater Sage Grouse and endangered Desert Tortoise populations. The blame does not sit on the shoulders of the habitat denuded by domestic livestock creating greater opportunity for predation, it lies on the back of the predator. One of the methods involves placing chicken eggs laced with a slow acting poison in areas the birds are known to feed. The real cause is habitat degradation.

For wild horses, once their habitat is fragmented or lost entirely, federal land managers rely on the “remove, stockpile and find ways to clear pens (even if it leads to subsidized slaughter)” method. In this twisted “blame game” a lack of predation, not over abundant predation present in the mule deer situation, is used as a root soundbite. A root cause is really habitat loss and fragmentation.

Instead of actually addressing the root cause in each instance we continue the “blame game” of kill and remove and add a bit of a “green wash” that barely changes the outcome. Mark a fence to stop sage grouse collisions. Remove a top wire to stop mule deer deaths. Use fertility control to reduce wild horse populations.  Yes, marking a fence for sage grouse and removing a wire to stop some of the deaths of mule deer, will show a minor improvement. Slamming wild horse populations down to absurdly low numbers and keeping them there by using fertility control, will eventually slow the numbers of wild horses coming off the range.

However, at the same time we are increasing habitat loss and fragmentation at a mind bending speed. New fences, mining roads, agencies allowing waters to be shut off to “rest the range” leaving wildlife without water, killing more trees (yes, they even blame the trees that are trying to recover after being decimated by settlement), more mines drawing down water tables, and more and more every single day.

Will a bit of green washing by a corporate front group that says “mark the fence to save Sage Grouse” help? It is like a band aide for a severed artery. It might make a “feel good” moment in an ad campaign, create a momentary relief in select areas, but things will continue to get worse until the real problems are addressed. The same for mule deer, mountain lions, wild horses, etc. 

Our wild things do not need soundbites and band aides that keep corporate exploitation happy, they need real reform.

Learn more:

Article with a fast “click and send” option: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/02/03/the-report-2022-funding-debate-and-a-request-for-hearing/

We now have a chance to use a directive to return to science to get the old plan ditched and one based on science put in place:  https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/03/02/lets-talk-nas-reviewblm-report/

Deep reform, will it carry wild horses?  https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/03/08/will-momentum-for-reform-carry-wild-horses/

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Categories: Lead