By Craig Downer
SOLUTIONS TO PRESENT IMPASSE DRIVING WILD HORSE AND BURRO ELIMINATION
Today we face an imperative challenge to save the very life of our precious home – the Planet Earth! (deHaan et al. 2006; Kunzig 2008; Lovelock 1987; Wuerthner & Matteson 2002). And the entire collection of species known as the horse family Equidae is today imperiled (Duncan 1992; Downer 2014 a & b). And this is in large part due to the fact that ‘in the wild the vigor of the species is preserved’. Life’s future depends on us humans. Progressive changes are crucial & begin with our individual values & priorities in & for the lives we each & all experience & carry forth. Positive, nature-attuned changes in how we live are not only possible, but very, very necessary! The spotlight is clearly on us to do what is right & to make sacrifice of disharmonious, destructive habits & lifestyles. We must stop acting so selfishly, as though only our human-kind mattered & the Rest of Life were here merely to be used & abused according to the blind dictates of unquestioned customs, appetites & immediate conveniences. Believe me, this thoughtlessness is no right and decent attitude! We can & must change! We must answer life’s higher calling by transcending our mere addictions for custom-bound ways of and excesses in eating, mating, and social one-upmanship. These often involve the acquisition of all sorts of things, from houses to clothes, automobiles to televisions, computers to cell phones, etc. A more enlightened relation with our fellow creatures is possible if we make this a foremost goal in our lives. We must!
The WFHBA clearly stated that: “(a) wild horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; (b) they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the nation and enrich the lives of the American people; (c) wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, brand-ing, harassment or death; and (d) they are to be considered in the area where presently found [1971 as year-round habitat] as an integral part of the natural system of public lands.” (Downer 2014 a, p. xi).
As a wildlife ecologist with working experience in both North and South America, as well as globally, I propose a true solution to our predicament: Reserve Design. This brilliant strategy meets our enlightened objectives and is a branch of Conservation Biology (Peck 1998). Here are the concrete steps we can take to restore the wild horses and burros.
Critical steps for realizing Reserve Design in various wild horse & wild burro habitats (see Downer 2014 b, Downer 2010, & www.gofundme.com/mstngreservedesign, Reserve Design for Wild Horses):
 Properly identify the long-term survival requirements for viable population levels of the principal equine species to be accommodated in each reserve. Our chief focus will be to promote a wild horse/burro-containing ecosystem, where all species are allowed to adapt naturally over the generations. Please note that 2,500 reproductively intact individuals is the recommended viability level for an equid population in the wild according to the IUCN Species Survival Commission Equid Specialist Group (Duncan 1992).
 Conscientiously identify appropriate geographical areas suitable for the implementation of wild horse/burro-containing reserves. This will involve travel to, on-ground inspection of, and flights over, a wide variety of places throughout the West.
 Wherever possible, wisely incorporate natural equid predators (such as puma, wolf & bear) that will both limit and tone/strengthen wild horse and burro populations.
 Wherever possible, wisely incorporate natural barriers that will limit the ingress and/or the egress of certain species, including the wild horses and burros. This will avoid conflicts and set up conditions for the natural self-regulation of populations.
 Identify where buffer zones, artificial barriers, or other means of impeding movements in and out of a reserve should be established in order to keep the species in question from coming into conflict with humans. Possibly involving non-injurious means of “adverse conditioning,” buffer zones could be employed. These could also involve “positive reinforcement” that encourages the wild equids to stay within their reserve. Also, “semi-permeable barriers” that do not restrict most species but do prevent equids from passing out of a reserve may be used. These means would be described in practical detail as tailored to each particular and unique region.
 Identify the presence and abundance of necessary food, water, shelter, mineral procurement sites, elevation gradients for seasonal migrations, etc., that will accommodate the long-term habitat needs of viable wild equid populations and allow the natural rest-rotation of grazing and foraging between the natural subdivisions of the reserve. Fences within the reserve that impede the free-roaming lifestyle of the wild equids will be located and their removal planned. This will also involve determining the intrinsic Carrying Capacity (K) of the land in question. K is based on the annual productivity of forage and should be adequate to a viable population of wild horses/burros found in an area. It takes into account a complete array of survival factors including, in addition to the above, breeding and nurturing habitat and ways of countering existing threats to the wild equids.
 Identify geographical regions whose human inhabitants are benignly disposed toward the creation and long-term implementation of extensive, ecologically balanced wild horse/burro-containing reserves. This will involve traveling and setting up meetings with pertinent individuals, town and government officials, etc.
 Identify ways of and benefits from implementing Reserve Design that result in win-win relationships centered on the presence of wild horses and burros. Ecotourism is one major possibility here. Restoring native ecosystems, including soils and native species enhanced by wild equids, will be another major benefit. The reduction of flammable vegetation through equid grazing and the restoration of hydrographic basins through enrichment of soils constitute additional major, positive equid contributions. Indeed, the restoration of the “equid element” in North America is crucial to combating life-disrupting Global Warming itself.
 Identify how best to educate the public concerning the many ways that horses and burros, as ecological “climax” species, have of self-limiting their own populations once their respective ecological niches are filled. This knowledge is key to our realizing a truly humane relationship with wild horses and burros in America, one that does justice to these magnificent animals and allows them to fulfill their important role within the life community. Talks and films, radio and TV interviews, field tours and courses are in order.
SOME HIGHER THOUGHTS (see Chapter VII of Downer 2014 a)
Though wounded by civilization’s so-called “progress,” the nature-attuned, life-sensitive psyche recomposes itself by seeking God’s help and illumination and the greater overview of Life. In so doing, we remain intact and on an even keel. Our vision of a greater tomorrow keeps us moving toward a shining goal. Presently, many of us sense the dawning of a Golden Age in which true Reverence for Life shall be consciously realized & conscientiously practiced. Upon us now, this age is for the true freedom of all living individuals and kinds. In the near future, we will gracefully live upon and within the lands, waters, and airs of Gaia Earth, because we will have “come clean” by humbling ourselves & leaving behind dark, backwardly clinging habits and lifestyles that are parasitic to the shared life home. This Golden Age will have us rising up and striding forth with honor and integrity to change what we must change for the sake, not just of humans, but All of Life! This will be a time when greater blessings shall shower the Earth like the very rain from Heaven, a time when we shall recognize the special purpose of each kind of living creature in relationship to all fellow kinds. And in so doing, we shall more fully realize our own noble purpose as humans living on this planet. We shall conscientiously walk the holistic talk by benignly relating to All of God’s Great Family. And our way of life shall become a grand harmonization with fellow conscious beings, first and foremost—a rising above all differences of form and niche because we will honor the Godly essence in each living creature. And a greater glorification of God on Earth than ever before, since the Fall, shall be known!
… Sharing the land and freedom with truly viable wild horse and wild burro herds is not a whim but a burning vision that demands fulfillment. This vision gives energy – wind that fills our sails – and with its lighting our way, we know where we are bound.
Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist, Andean Tapir Fund/Wild Horse and Burro Fund
P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423-0456 USA. T. 775-267-3484. Cell. 775-901-2094
firstname.lastname@example.org. Websites: www.thewildhorseconspiracy.org, www.andeantapirfund.com
Link to book The Wild Horse Conspiracy: www.amazon.com/dp/1461068983
Link to Reserve Design for Wild Horses project public support appeal: www.gofundme.com/mre6gyv7
Animal Welfare Institute. 2007. Managing for Extinction: Shortcomings of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program. Washington, DC: Animal Welfare Institute.
Bell, R.H.V. 1970. The use of the herb layer by grazing ungulates in the Serengeti. In: Animal Populations in Relation to their Food Source. British Ecological Society Symposium. Ed. Adam Watson. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science Publications.
Berger, Joel. 1986. Wild Horses of the Great Basin: Social Competition and Population Size. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Borenstein, S. & M. Ritter. AP. 2013 (6/27). Breaking the time barrier: 700,000-year-old horse fossil oldest ever found from DNA-mapped animal. news.nationalpost.com/news/breaking-the-time-barrier-
Clutton-Brock, J. 1981. Domesticated Animals from Early Times. Austin: University of Texas Press.
deHaan, C. et al. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Donlow, J. et al. 2005. Rewilding North America. Nature 436 (7053): 913-914.
Downer, C.C. 2005. Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros of North America: Factual and Sensitive Statement – How They Help the Ecosystem. Natural Horse (December) 7(3): 10-11.
Downer, C.C. 2010. Proposal for Wild Horse/Burro Reserve Design as a Solution to Present Crisis. Natural Horse, 2010, Vol. 12 (Sept.-Oct.), Issue 5, pages 26-27.
Downer, C.C. 2014 a. The Wild Horse Conspiracy. www.amazon.com/dp/1461068983 or for signed copy: www.thewildhorseconspiracy.org or contact the author of this article. 313 pages, photo-illus, index, bibl
Downer, C.C. 2014 b. The horse and burro as positively contributing returned natives in North America. American Journal of Life Sciences. 2014; 2(1): 5-23. Available online (http://www.sciencepublishinggroup.com/j/ajls) doi: 10.11648/j.ajls.20140201.12. Peer reviewed.
Downer, C.C. 2015. Pine Nut Mountain Ecological Report, with particular Focus on Wild Horses. Submitted to Bureau of Land Management, Carson City District, NV in July 2015. Available from author.
Duncan, Patrick. 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: An Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Equid Specialist Group. Gland Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Forsten, Ann. 1992. Mitochondrial-DNA timetable and the evolution of Equus: comparison of molecular and paleontological evidence. Ann. Zool. Fennici 28: 301-309.
Fuller, Alexandra. 2009 (Feb.). Spirit of the Shrinking West: Mustangs. National Geographic. Pp. 100-117.
Haile, J. et al. 2009. Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth and horse in interior Alaska. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 29) Vol. 106, no. 52. Pages 22352 to 22357. See also http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0912510106
Harbury, Martin. 1989. The Last of the Wild Horses. Arrowood Press. N.Y., NY. 192 pp. Color photo illust.
Hudak, M. 2007. Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching. Binghamton, NY: Biome Bks.
Illinois State Museum. 2004. FaunMap. Springfield, Illinois. (Contact author for copy.)
Janis, C.M. 1976. The evolutionary strategy of the Equidae and the origins of rumen and cecal digestion. Evolution 30: 757-74.
Jenkins, S.H. and M.C. Ashley. 2003. Wild Horse, Equus caballus and Allies. Ch. 53 In: Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management and Conservation. 2nd Ed. Eds. G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson, & J.A. Chapman. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins Univ. Press. See pages 1148 to 1163.
Jones, Steven E. Ph.D. 2012. Were There Horses in the Americas before Columbus? Ancient American. 16 (95): 2-3. June.
Joseph, Frank. 1999. Giants of the California Desert. Ancient American 4(27): 11-13. April-May.
Kirkpatrick, J.F. and P.M. Fazio. 2008. Ecce Equus. Natural History. May. Page 30.
Klingel, Hans, Ph.D. 1979. A Comparison of the Social Organization of the Equids. In: Symposium of the Ecology & Behavior of Wild and Feral Equids. Proceedings: Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie. Sept. 6-8, 1979.
Kuchinsky, Yuri. 2005. Frank Gilbert Roe on Very Early Indian Horses. http://www.globalserve.net/~yuku/tran/9h0.htm
Kunzig, Robert. 2008. Drying of the West. National Geographic. February. Pages 90-113.
Lindsay, E.H. et al. 1980. Pliocene dispersal of the horse Equus and late Cenozoic mammalian dispersal events. Nature 287: 135-138.
Lovelock, J.E. 1987. Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
MacFadden, Bruce J. 1992. Fossil horses: systematics, paleobiology, and evolution of the family Equidae. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
MacPhee, Ross, Ph.D. 2013. The Wild Horse is Native to North America. http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/reading-room-faq-s-article/wh-ret
Martin, P.S. 2005. Twilight of the mammoths: ice age extinctions and the rewilding of America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Meeker, Jo O. 1979. “Interactions between Pronghorn Antelope and Feral Horses in Northwestern Nevada.” Master’s of Science Degree, Wildlife Management thesis. University of Nevada-Reno.
Mitchell, Jim. 1986 (7/6). “Nature may be limiting wild horse population.” Reno Gazette Journal, p. 34.
Mullen, F.X., Jr. 2010 (3/21). Wild horses: Managed wisely or to extinction? Reno Gazette Journal, p. 1 ff.
Odadi, W. and D. I. Rubenstein. 2011 (August). Facilitation between Bovids and Equids on an African Savanna. Evolutionary Ecology Research.
Peck, Sheila. 1998. Chapter 5: Reserve Design. In: Planning for Biodiversity: Issues and Examples. Washington, DC: Island Press. Pages 89-114.
Pelligrini, Steven W. 1971. “Home range, territoriality and movement patterns of wild horses in the Wassuk Range of Western Nevada.” Master’s of Science Thesis, University of Nevada-Reno.
Quammen, D. 2014. People of the Horse. National Geographic, March: 104-107. See “Return of a Native” map with dates.
Rogovin, K.A. and M.P. Moshkin. 2007. [Autoregulation in mammalian population and stress: an old theme revisited]. Zhurnal obshchei biologii 2007; 68(4): 244-267. (In Russian)
Sheets et al. 1984, cited in en-wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution-of-the-horse. Accessed 2/12/2016.
Stillman, D. 2008. Mustang: the Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Wuerthner, G & M. Matteson, eds. 2002. Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Zimov, S.A. 2005. Pleistocene park: return of the mammoths’ ecosystem. Science 308: 796-798.