Don’t treat horses in the wild like noxious weeds
June 19, 2013
This is in response to the guest editorials by Andrew Gulliford, "Wild horses: too much of a good thing" (April 17-19, 2013), and Ted Williams, "Feral horses: wild, free and out of control" (June 15-18, 2013). Both editorials start from the premise that the "feral" horse population is out of control and damaging the environment, and both propose the slaughterhouse as an answer. "We need laws," writes Mr. Gulliford, "that allow wild horses to be "recycled into food products."
Mr. Williams notes that these are "feral livestock incorrectly called wild horses" and Mr. Gulliford comments that "wild horses aren’t really wild. They are feral perhaps a few rare specimens represent the genetics of Moorish ponies brought over from Spain but most of today’s wild horses were simply abandoned."
The word "feral" brings to mind an unwanted, unnatural blight on the environment. Whether these horses are abandoned or were brought over from Spain centuries ago means little to me. These are not noxious and exotic weeds we are talking about; they are living, breathing creatures with grace, strength and intelligence. Yet these editorialists see them as less than second-class citizens, not worthy of life and not deserving a decent, natural death.
The reality is no one really knows where these horses came from or how many there are in the wild. Estimates of their numbers vary significantly depending on whether the source is a horse lover who wants to protect these animals or a livestock industry proponent who wants to get rid of them. We do know this: There are far more cattle and sheep than wild horses grazing on public lands and yet we hear nothing about the cost and negative environmental impact of these animals from Mr. Gulliford and Mr. Williams, both of whom claim to be environmentalists.
Mr. Gulliford notes the cost to taxpayers of wild horses being warehoused in unpleasant government pastures because of all us soft-hearted horse lovers — not because of the livestock industry wanting these horses off public grazing lands. He also states that "by default, we now practice equine birth control." Why "by default?" Because no one profits from this humane option? My friends and I like to photograph the amazing behavior of these horses in Utah’s West Desert. Recently, while observing a group of about 150 horses, we spotted only five to seven foals. I hope contraceptive darting, a program funded by several agencies, is going to replace traumatic helicopter roundups.
Gus Warr is the Utah Wild Horse and Burro Lead for the BLM, and we are lucky to have him in this position. He believes it’s a matter of finding a proper balance in wild horse population — not eradication. When asked in a recent interview about the future of horses in the wild, he said, "I could almost tell anybody that I can guarantee that wild horses have a place on public lands, and they’re going to be there."