Save All Our Public Lands for Wild Horses and Burros?
September 1, 2015
As an advocate for all wildlife, I found the recent furor over the horse situation in the Salt River Recreation area to be tremendously sad because of the lack of education of the general public. From State legislator Kelly Townsend to all of the horse lovers of America, the very idea of removing SOME of the horses from the Salt River area was akin to mass murder. The reality of the situation is that horses do some things very well and that is where the problem arises. They eat, they poop and the breed. Breeding is where the problem comes in. Left to their own devices, a herd can and does double in size every four years. (That tidbit comes from the BLM) While a beautiful animal, they have no real predators and if left without any removal they can and do become a huge problem.
There are very few items that I can agree with the Sierra club on, but when horses are the topic we are in lock step with our thoughts. The wild lands are for ALL animals, not just horses. Some people see cattle and point to them and say “Hey look at all those cattle out there”. In reality, the cattle are managed, are moved from pasture to pasture and then removed for human consumption. Deer, one of the other ungulates that consume the same type of food, have their numbers controlled each year through hunts, set by the Arizona Game & Fish Department. In Heber and Show Low areas the catastrophic fires of the last decade have brought huge numbers of horses from the White Mountain Apache Reservation onto forest lands. They compete with elk, deer, javelina and cattle for the same foods. All but the horses are controlled by hunts or cattle management. Do people want to see ONLY horses in the future? I really don’t think so. Aside from the emotional heart wrenching scenes that most of the television talking heads seem to dwell on there are some facts that everyone should have to make an informed decision.
Horses are not native to Arizona. They were brought here centuries ago and as man has utilized them, some were turned loose for any number of reasons. Burros have the same history. They were brought to Arizona as a tool to use for miners and as a farm animal. A quick trip to Lake Pleasant and then heading northwest will show that the areas are inundated with wild / feral burros. As a once in a while scene, they are cute to see. Unfortunately they have grown in herd size to the point that they are dramatically overpopulated. The Bureau of Land Management has statistics about how many animals SHOULD be in any area. They then figure out how many ACTUALLY are out there. It is called “Carrying Capacity”. Currently the wild / feral burro population in Arizona is at 400% of carrying capacity. That means there are 4 times too many burros as the land can hold. What is the solution?
Each year there are roundups of these wild animals. Many protesters watch and document how the animals are captured and in some rare instances animals will suffer through the process. Fortunately, most are handled well and then brought to various areas across the Midwest in holding facilities. Those holding facilities are the place where people can go for adoptions and then have a horse / burro that they can call their own. Sadly, the number of adoptions is far outweighed by the number of animals that are brought into the holding facilities. There are over 40,000 animals that are waiting to be adopted. How is all of this work paid for? Your tax dollars my friends. Last year the cost for handling all of the animals covered under the Wild Horse & Burro Act totaled over $70 million dollars. Each year the costs have gone up for maintaining all of these animals and the end is nowhere in sight. The Salt River horses are starting to become similar to the burros. The can and do destroy vegetation. They have a profound impact on the vegetation and the riparian areas. They are also 900 pound animals that do not understand roads, right of way and danger to human beings. Arizona, through the efforts of the Endangered Species Act and the Center for Biological Diversity, has more “Endangered” animals/ plants than any other state. Probably half of those endangered species can be found in the Salt River area. I must admit that I am surprised that the Center for Biological Diversity has not filed lawsuits to remove the horses because of the danger that they represent to the animals / plants that are in the area and under the ESA. They have made vast fortunes by filing lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act. (We’ll visit that group at another time).
So, as we get down to the end of the trail here, we have thousands of horses and burros that cannot be left on public lands because they have outgrown / eaten their house and home. Are there any solutions? As repugnant as it is to Americans, the nation of China consumes over 1,700,000 horses each year as food. It is a staple of their diet in some regions. Horsemeat has been table fare for as long as horses have been around. Some European countries offer horsemeat at restaurants and even in Canada you can find restaurants in Quebec that offer horsemeat on their menus. The meat is tasty and low in calories (Not from personal experience here but from what I have heard and read). I am open to any other discussions regarding a solution, but inevitably as the bottom line gets higher and higher, more animals are going to be removed from the land in order that those remaining may have a better quality of life. With really no natural predators, the wild horses are consuming food that many other creatures could use to survive. Water is one key and forage is another. We simply do not have enough for ALL wildlife. As president of the Arizona Deer Association we have helped placed waters all across Arizona. I have never seen the Horse Lovers place a single water catchment anywhere in Arizona (They cost around $40,000 to build and establish). I understand the passion and love of an animal. I have it for horses as well, but I also love deer, elk and all wildlife. I will let the readers come to their own conclusions as to a solution, I just know there are options. JK