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20 • MAY 2018

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A portion of the Jicarilla wild horse herd. (Photo by Laurie Ford)

WILD HORSES • LAURIE FORD

Defining Freedom

What makes a wild horse wild in New Me

N

ew Mexico has the unique opportunity to become a leader in this country in the preservation and management of its wild horses by adhering to the law and considering the eco-tourism value of these animals. But current policies seem to be leading down a different path. The only place a wild horse can be legally wild in New Mexico, without a fight, is on the 180,000 acres of federal land that affords them protection under the “1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act.” The moment they wander from these designated areas their wildness is up for debate, especially if they find themselves on private land. Only horses that have been captured are marked with the freeze brand that identifies them as being federally protected. The intent of the 1971 Act was to protect all “unbranded and unclaimed wild horses and burros on public lands” from capture and death. After the act was signed, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) assessed public lands to inventory herd areas where the horses and burros to be protected under the new law “were presently found.” Herd areas were eventually established on 53.8 million acres of public land but were later reduced to 26.9 million acres of smaller subsets (HMAs) that the BLM determined could sustain the animals over the long term. Despite the law stating that the HMAs are to be “devoted principally” to the welfare of the horses and burros, and that the BLM can close the same areas to livestock grazing to provide habitat for the horses and burros (GAO -09-77), the majority of HMAs still include grazing allotments for livestock. New Mexico argued against the new law, asserting that all wild animals belonged to the state, not the federal government, and this included the wild horses and burros. In the same breath, they also laid claim to those very same wild horses and burros under New Mexico estray (stray domestic animal of unknown ownership) laws that only apply to domesticated animals.

Wild Horse Mesa dwellers Maddie and Midnight are lucky they have a sanctuary, Spirit of the Wild Horse, to protect them. (Photo Courtesy Judy Barns Photography)

CONTACT You can contact your representatives in Congress, and the involved government agencies, to voice your concerns. And, you can stay informed by visiting:

• americanwildhorse campaign.org • returntofreedom.org • www.blm.gov/programs/ wild-horse-and-burro The state persisted in its defiance by not acknowledging the federal protection of the horses and burros and treating them as estrays. In 1974, 19 protected wild burros were removed from BLM land by the New Mexico Livestock Board, and disposed of, after a grazing permittee complained that they were interfering with his cattle. Today, despite the notable presence of the burro in New Mexico history, folklore and art, there is not a single protected burro in the entire state. In 1971, an estimated 6,000 wild horses and burros “were presently found” on federal lands in New Mexico. Today, an estimated 600 horses remain and are being further reduced to the desired appropriate management level of between 110 and 235. Out of the 22 million acres of BLM and United States Forest Service land in the state, these horses are restricted to four protected areas, totaling 180,000 acres, that they share with livestock. The only area solely managed by the BLM, Bordo Atravesado (19,605 acres) is located 41 miles from the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge. In 1980 the appropriate management level of 32 horses was achieved, but the dangerously low number affected the genetic variation of the herd making it necessary to introduce 13 new horses in 1992 and 2 stallions in 1997 and

1998. According to Gus Cothran, a leader in the field of equine population genetics, a population of 50 to 150 is needed to maintain a viable breeding herd, and that herds like the Bordo Atravesado, with a population of 63, are at critical levels endangering future genetic viability. And, while BLM continues to study the potential impact the use of the PZP fertility control might have on herd genetics, another aspect of history seems to be overlooked – that herd genetics have already been affected by low herd numbers and the reintroduction of outside horses diluting the unique characteristics and bloodlines of the original herd. North of where the Placitas horses once roamed, is the Jarita Mesa Wild Horse Territory (55,000 acres), managed by the USFS, where both the estimated 100 horses and local grazing permittees lay claim to the land; the horses through their Spanish heritage and the 1971 Act, and the permittees on the grounds of historical grazing rights. Like the Bordo Atravasado herd, this herd has also experienced low populations that resulted in inbreeding and genetic problems such as blindness. Two remaining designated areas, the Jicarilla Wild Horse Territory located in the Carson National Forest, and the adjoining Carracas Mesa Herd Management area (total 107,000 acres) are jointly managed by the BLM and Forest Service. The current combined population of 500 horses share the land with oil and gas developers and

livestock. If the appropriate management level of 73 to 128 horses is achieved, it would not only mean the demise of the one viable breeding herd in the state, but there would be more active oil wells than horses on the land. Once gathered, the horses are transported to the Bloomfield holding facility where the USFS handles their own adoptions. The horses are offered for adoption, at a cost of $125, through three rounds of consecutive advertising, each lasting three to four weeks. Because the adoptee will not receive title to the horse for one year, many people wait for them to become a sale authority horse, or “three-striker;” a horse that has not been adopted after three attempts and is then sold for $25 with an immediate bill of sale. This can be a one-way ticket to slaughter and was for thousands of horses and burros throughout the country, bought by the truckload for $10 each, before sales restrictions were enforced in 2013. On the other hand, many sale authority horses find good homes with the border patrol, rescues, trainers and other decent people where an immediate bill of sale is desired. All the horses processed at the Bloomfield facility are placed – approximately 50 percent through adoption, and 50 percent sold as sale authority horses. The key to wild horses finding good homes, with owners who are not overwhelmed by their wildness, is some initial gentling – currently a possibility at the

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Desert Exposure - May 2018  
Desert Exposure - May 2018