Horse Group says wild horses aren’t the problem, cattle are destroying the land

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By Mark Heinz, outdoor journalist
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Wild horse management in Wyoming will remain business as usual for the time being, with mustang roundups being the primary means of controlling horse numbers on Native American ranges and reservations, Wyoming lawmakers said.

However, it is cattle, not mustangs, that cause most damage to land and conflict with wildlife, says a spokeswoman for a feral horse advocacy group.

Meanwhile, both sides agree that shooting mustang mares with birth control darts might be the best solution to Wyoming’s wild horse dilemma.

Veterans armed with dart guns could dispense birth control among herds of mustangs, chairman Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, said at a Tuesday meeting of the Joint State Agriculture and Agriculture Committee. public lands and water resources of the Legislative Assembly.

“Scapegoats” for livestock damage?

Wyoming’s approach to wild horse management favors the Federal Bureau of Land Management’s policy of regularly rounding up animals to cull herds.

The consensus among many Wyoming ranchers, wildlife advocates, and policymakers is that mustangs are essentially a wild, invasive species that can damage delicate rangelands. Particularly in places such as the vast Red Desert of central Wyoming, it is claimed that mustangs can outcompete mule deer and other wildlife for forage and water.

However, cattle vastly outnumber wild horses on BLM courses, Grace Kuhn of the American Wild Horse Campaign told Cowboy State Daily in a recent interview.

BLM and state policies in Wyoming are scapegoating mustangs for land damage and competition with wildlife that is actually caused by livestock, she said.

Ranchers can lease BLM pasture plots for a fraction of prevailing market rates, while cows can put excessive pressure on arid areas such as the Red Desert, Kuhn said.

“They (mustangs) shouldn’t be seen as plagues or something to get rid of” on the millions of acres of BLM land where about 4,000 of them roam, Kuhn said.

What is the best species for the soil?

The Wild Horse campaign is also asking which species — cattle or horses — really should be considered “invasive” in drylands, Kuhn said.

“Horses actually evolved in arid areas and are adapted to that environment, Kuhn said. “Cattle and sheep evolved in moist forest areas.”

Horses are also “like lawnmowers” and eat wild grasses by cutting them with their teeth, she said.

Cattle, on the other hand, wrap their tongues around grass and tear it out by the roots, which is another reason the Wild Horse Campaign argues they are unsuitable for some of the places where mustangs live.

Mustangs are also federally protected under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, Kuhn said.

“Wild horses don’t belong in Wyoming,” she said. “They belong to the public and the public lands they roam on.”

Tribal Fund, Honor Farm

During this time, the state of Wyoming will support roundup efforts on the Wind River Reservation, Boner said during the committee meeting.

There is $500,000 available in the state budget this year for wild horse management, he said. The bulk of that sum, $400,000, will go toward rallying efforts by the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes to reduce the number of mustangs on tribal lands.

The remaining $100,000 will go to Wyoming Honor Farm near Riverton.

The Honor Farm is a reform program for convicts. Convicts selected for the program can stay on the farm and work with mustangs captured out of reach during BLM roundups. The idea is to help reform convicts by teaching them responsibility by working with horses, while training the horses, making them more likely to be adopted.

Are birth control darts the answer?

Boner said managing feral horse numbers remains a challenge in Wyoming because of the damage they can cause to wildlife habitat and rangelands. Recent BLM mustang roundups have brought their numbers down to more manageable levels, but that may not last, he said.

“My worry is that those horsepower numbers will just go up” unless there are policy changes, he said.

The Wild Horse campaign promotes the distribution of contraceptive drugs to mustang mares through darts, Kuhn said. It has already proven its effectiveness on some herds of Nevada mustangs.

Culling herds through roundups simply causes horses to respond with higher reproductive rates, exacerbating the problem rather than solving it, she said.

During the committee meeting, Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, suggested that Wyoming should consider darting mustang mares with contraceptive drugs.

Boner said there is a group of veterans who have expressed an interest in taking dart guns to courses in Wyoming to do just that.

He refereed for the Veterans For Mustangs program. Army National Guard veteran Cameron Ring spoke about the program to the Cowboy State Daily in August.

The group should be welcome to apply for some of the state’s wild horse management money, Boner said.

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