Room to roam: House votes to rescue wild horses

Wild Horses in Nevada © Ken Cole

Wild Horses in Nevada © Ken Cole

Rep. Nick Rahall, Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, has a soft spot for wild horses.  That’s good, it’s a national disgrace the way these animals are treated.  His bill just passed the house:

Room to roam: House votes to rescue wild horsesAP

WASHINGTON — Galloping to the aid of the nation’s wild horses and burros, the House voted Friday to rescue them from the possibility of a government-sponsored slaughter and give them millions more acres to roam.

A great point by Rep. Rahall:

“How in the world can a federal agency be considering the massive slaughter of animals the law says they are supposed to be protecting?”

Welcome to the West Rep. Rahall, our good ol’ boys back here got a whole portfolio of lots of different animals that fit that description.

24 Responses to “Room to roam: House votes to rescue wild horses”

  1. Brian Ertz Says:

    one of the problems some conservationists might identify with the bill is that grass (forage) & water on public lands is a zero-sum resource. That is to say it’s finite, if one thing eats and drinks, other animals have that much less for themselves – and when both use too small a supply, the land gets overgrazed, ecologically denuded like we see with so many public landscapes today. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the bill provides for more horses but gives no mechanism or direction to proportionately reduce the appropriated use of the existing public lands for other animals – domestic livestock are already allotted more grasses than the land can handle. Given that there’s already too many public land cattle where horses should have room to roam as it is, shouldn’t we be doing something about the reality of the overgrazed public landscapes while we make such a stride for horses ?

    Unfortunately, the bill aggravates the issue by pretending this glaring ecological problem doesn’t exist. This is where some animal rights folk & conservationists have split on a bill they could have – should have – otherwise championed together.

  2. ProWolf in WY Says:

    Brian, you are right that the issue of livestock grazing on public lands is being ignored.

  3. kt Says:

    If Nick Rahall can understand the absurdity of BLM’s mis-management of the wild horse program, why can’t he see and expose what is at the root of it?

    I mean, of course, the culture of BLM tying itself into knots lying for livestock. And doing everything possible to get rid of anything welfare ranchers don’t like.

  4. Ryan Says:

    The bigger question is why are they even being protected? Oh wait thats because their horses and there supposedly “cute”. This “feel good” animal management, which includes feral cat colonies etc will be the bane of our wild lands.

  5. JB Says:

    “This “feel good” animal management, which includes feral cat colonies etc will be the bane of our wild lands.”

    Actually, I think “feel good” NR management is all we’ve ever known. You and I might not like the ecological effects of dams, but the farmer who now has a reliable source of water certainly feels good about them; predator eradication arose because it felt good for the ranchers who supposedly benefited from predator-free public lands; for that matter, wildlife refuges are largely the result of “feel good” management that benefited waterfowl hunter.

    My point: in natural resource management you will always find some group who collectively feels good about the decision being made. Why should wild horses be any different?

  6. Ryan Says:

    JB,

    Just playing the devils Advocate here, but the dams provide water and power for cities, affordable crops for the masses, and river travel. Wildlife refuges help to mitigate habitat losses, reduce crop predation by geese(atleast in my local area, only 2 out of 6 allow any waterfowl hunting), and offer limited public land hunting opportunities. The predator reduction programs benefit ranchers, hunters, and certain ESA listed species. (i know its the weakest one of the bunch) What do feral horses protections provide, limited viewing opportunities at the detriment to the natural ecosystem.

    I get to it before you, yes public lands ranching causes habitat and ecosystem damage too, but there will still be horses when there is no Cattle or sheep on public lands.

  7. JB Says:

    “What do feral horses protections provide, limited viewing opportunities at the detriment to the natural ecosystem.”

    Viewing opportunities to the detriment to SOME native species; other species (native or otherwise) will adapt or go (locally) extinct. However, that isn’t really relevant to my point, which is: for every “how should we manage X” decision you will find some group(s) that perceive benefits and some group(s) who think they’re being robbed.

    I happen to think the DNR(s) should spend less on stocking pheasants and more on restoring native prairie; I think we shouldn’t be in the business of killing predators just to appease livestock interests and some disgruntled “hunters”; and I think we should use public lands for wildlife as opposed to domestic species.

    So what?! Just because I think something is right doesn’t make it so. The world won’t come to an end if livestock continues to dominate western public lands, or if Alaska kills all its wolves. Nor will it come to an end if wild horses, bison, bears and wolves are allowed to roam unmolested. Ecosystems don’t care. They simply change. The only difference is which group perceives benefits.

    P.S. I could give two sh|ts about wild horses. I only used them to illustrate my point.

  8. Ryan Says:

    I’ve always been of the theory, illlogical people will be pissed no matter what happens. It seems that edcuation on a subject goes a long ways towards logical decisions. Unfortunately most senators are slightly more edcuated about issues than your average Tween girl.

  9. skippy Says:

    Wild horses as a matter of habit go from one place to the next to graze. As Elk do also horses do. Overgrazing happens when the animals are confined to a certain place. If all of you are so concerned then truck in 100 pound sacks of native grass seed, then broadcast it. I would like to see anyone of you get off your rear ends and help those animals.

  10. JimT Says:

    JB,

    First, ecosystems have always changed, and when allowed to do so at their own pace and in their own way..meaning without man…they do just fine; millions of years of science show us the truth of that. It is the pace and scope of the change being forced on the ecosystems by man that screw things up royally for the native inhabitants, if you will.

    And as far as which group perceives a benefit, THAT, in a nutshell, is one of the main problems. Man perceives nature these days ONLY in ways that first benefit man and his/her pursuits, and usually the natural systems and inhabitants come out losers each and every time.

    And I am sure the wild horses feel the same way about humans…~S~along with wolves, grouse, grizz, lions, salmon…

    There is a line in the remake of the Day the Earth Stood Still that roughly says..
    If nature dies, humans die. If humans die, nature lives…
    Simplistic, but sums it up nicely, I think.

  11. JB Says:

    “It is the pace and scope of the change being forced on the ecosystems by man that screw things up royally for the native inhabitants, if you will.”

    JimT,

    “Nature” is capable of forcing change much more quickly and brutally than human beings (think volcanoes, tidal waves, and asteroids; think near instantaneous mass extinction on a global scale). Ecosystems don’t care–they change; they adapt, with or without human meddling.

    “Man perceives nature these days ONLY in ways that first benefit man and his/her pursuits…”

    This does not differentiate man today from man at any other time. We have always modified the environments to suit our needs/wants; there are just more of us now and we are equipped with much more efficient tools.

    “…and usually the natural systems and inhabitants come out losers each and every time.”

    Certain species lose; others win. One could argue that the modifications made to North America by Homo sapiens have greatly benefited numerous native species (e.g. coyotes, white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossum, to name just a few) as well as a host of exotic species. Do natural systems “lose” in these scenarios, or are they simply modified? What the hell is a “natural system” anyway?

    The ecosystems-are-perfect-without-human-beings argument is tired, unrealistic, and false. Human modifications of the environment are neither “good” nor “bad” for ecosystems; they are good and bad for humans. If we were to wipe out all other mammals on the planet, ecosystems won’t care; the Earth won’t care. The result could be catastrophic, but not for the planet–for us!

    On another post Brian mentioned the perverse “self-hatred” of environmentalists; I couldn’t agree with this view more. This self-hatred is manifested in environmentalists’ utter disdain for the so-called “anthropocentric” view of nature. In its place they substitute the belief that they are altruistically “helping the environment”. Hogwash! People take environmental, because (a) it makes them feel good, (b) they receive positive feedback from peers, or because (c) they directly benefit from their actions. If we rely on altruistic intent/behavior to save the environment then we are sunk. People will protect things they see as valuable…period. The challenge is in articulating the value.

  12. JB Says:

    “If nature dies, humans die. If humans die, nature lives…”

    Yes! And what a wonderful example of why the anthropocentric view is so important to the success of the environmental movement. We don’t protect species/ecosystems for their sakes, but for ours.

  13. Ralph Maughan Says:

    All organisms alter their environment. Some do so irreversibly and doing so may alter those favorable conditions that allowed them to exist.

    Humans may be the only species that has the ability to do this or withhold from doing it on a planned basis, but the evolution of our social institutions is probably too primitive to save us — we won’t be able to get it together to save ourselves as an important species.

    I have to wonder if this is a generic problem of intelligent life — they get smart faster than they gain the ability to positively cooperate.

    Maybe this is why we see no evidence of intelligent life outside the Earth despite what appears to be more and more evidence of places where life ought to be able to begin and thrive.

  14. Brian Ertz Says:

    JB says,

    Yes! And what a wonderful example of why the anthropocentric view is so important to the success of the environmental movement. We don’t protect species/ecosystems for their sakes, but for ours.

    there is no way to convince someone that this is not always the case, especially when framed this way – one could say that even the altruistic endeavor of alleviating a landscape from the human impact is of benefit to some people for purely subjective motives. however, i do not believe the infinite regression prompted by this way of looking at the thing ought be confused with a vindication of the inevitability of anthropocentrism.

    we are not held in bondage to the utilitarian paradigm. we can exercise humility – just as we can enfranchise a more general and inclusive living community and extend selfless compassion. the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, NEPA, and respective Organic Acts each represent the best examples of that, and though one may argue that each of these contain provisions catering to long-sighted self-interest, I also believe that the language and intent also exemplifies remarkable humility and reverence for the natural world – for the natural world, not just ourselves.

    somehow we summoned that wisdom and foresight before, and it’s true – now we are on a backslide, seemingly lost in ourselves. but if we let the natural world inspire us, if we make it the standard of focus – we can get there again.

    JB, personally, this is why i rant and rave against things like quid pro quoW“ilderness and other very cynical conservation exercises that totally strip that level of inspiration & aspiration out of the conversation. we need to aim high, let the places and wildlife inspire, let our decisions & approaches articulate the integrity of the subject of our pursuit (rather than illustrate the inevitability of extractive interests’ pursuit) – to keep our head in the clouds while our feet remain firmly planted on the ground. we need people like you to believe that there’s something worth fighting for more than ourselves.

  15. JB Says:

    Brian,

    The subject of utilitarianism and the connection to altruistic/self-interested motives deserves more attention than I have time–at least at the moment. However, I can be brief…

    I would never attempt to hinder the aspirations of those who seek to conserve wilderness and wildlife; nor would I question their motives. However, I have too often seen preservationists adopt the self-righteous “I’m being altruistic” attitude when advocating for wildlife and especially when condemning the motives of others they see as self-interested. I say, “bullsh|t”. Everyone here has a vested interest in wildlife and–at least in that respect–we are all utilitarians; we are all motivated by self-interest. The altruism claim simply serves to divide old-time “traditional” conservationists with the new generation of preservationists.

    I believe I’m on the right side of the issue. I continue to be inspired by wildlife and wild places which I fervently hope can be preserved for future generations. But I am also realistic about my motivations; I don’t chose to preserve wildlife and wild places for their benefit, but for ours. I do so because I’d like to share the inspiration and gratification that these animals and places bring me with others. Because I believe the salvation of humans lies in the conservation of our natural resources. If this makes me a Pinchot utilitarian; if it makes me unworthy from the perspective of the new preservationists, well so be it.

  16. Rick Says:

    JB, Though I sometimes disagree with you, I think you bring up many good points in these posts. Your comment about “feel good” management made me think about how wildlife management decisions are made.

    How much of wildlife management is really based on science? Ballot initiatives have been used to ban the use of leghold traps in several states, and have been used for other decisions related to natural resources. NASA, for example, does not use ballot initiatives from a public with a limited knowledge of physics to make their decisions about the space program, but the same public with varying degrees of knowledge about biology/forestry/geology etc. can make decisions related to those topics. In these cases, their decisions have to based on how they personally feel.

  17. thelizklein Says:

    Thanks, Rick. I enjoy the discussions on this blog immensely; especially when we can debate ideas in a respectful manner.

    I believe most people think “science-based” management entails the use of science to derive the “right” action. The problem is, science can’t tell us if an action is right or wrong–it can’t be used to answer moral questions. For example, science can’t tell us whether we SHOULD hunt wolves in Idaho. The problem is, science CAN tell us that if we hunt wolves the population will be reduced by a certain amount X and so long as that amount does not exceed Y the “harvest” will not likely threaten the population. So in essence, if you accept the idea that wolves should be hunted for sport (moral decision), then you can use science to determine how many wolves can die in a hunt without a threat to the population (science-based decision).

    I think we spend a lot of time arguing past one another because the wildlife managers are focused on the science-based decision regarding a particular management action while many wildlife advocates can’t get passed the moral decision that is required for us to even consider a particular action.

  18. JB Says:

    Thanks, Rick. I enjoy the discussions on this blog immensely; especially when we can debate ideas in a respectful manner.

    I believe most people think “science-based” management entails the use of science to derive the “right” action. The problem is, science can’t tell us if an action is right or wrong–it can’t be used to answer moral questions. For example, science can’t tell us whether we SHOULD hunt wolves in Idaho. The problem is, science CAN tell us that if we hunt wolves the population will be reduced by a certain amount X and so long as that amount does not exceed Y the “harvest” will not likely threaten the population. So in essence, if you accept the idea that wolves should be hunted for sport (moral decision), then you can use science to determine how many wolves can die in a hunt without a threat to the population (science-based decision).

    I think we spend a lot of time arguing past one another because the wildlife managers are focused on the science-based decision regarding a particular management action while many wildlife advocates can’t get passed the moral decision that is required for us to even consider a particular action.

  19. Jon Way Says:

    JB,
    I agree 100% with your comments. When a state is funded so dominantly by hunters, all I can think of science based mgmt is how many animals to kill without greatly reducing the pop, giving no thought to the animal’s social organization and how hunting might affect them (esp. predators). Morals really should be added to the equation…

  20. Ralph Maughan Says:

    thelizklein,

    Thank you for bringing up the value-fact distinction in science. It is critical and yet almost never mentioned in public discussion (even serious policy debate).

  21. JB Says:

    Thanks, Jon.

    Sorry for the double post; I didn’t realize that my wife was logged in!

  22. rick Says:

    JB,

    I realize this is off the topic of wild horses, but I have been reading this website for quite awhile and have only recently started to post in the comment section. I think you do a good job of keeping things in perspective. After reading several of “JB’s” posts I finally realized who you are and realized I now you from USU. We actually had some classes together. I think it is interesting how your perspective changes when there is more than an impersonal relationship of writing posts back and forth. For example, I have trapped, grazed cattle on public lands, hunted, and chased lions with hounds. While you may be largely opposed to most of these activities, I would say we still got along well while at USU. Anyway, I totally agree that science cannot be used to answer moral questions but only what the results of your decisions may or may not be. Where the problem lies is that the morals of one person often conflict with the morals of another person.

  23. JB Says:

    Rick: The world is too small–at least for those of us interested in wildlife! I suppose my opinions about trapping, hunting with hounds or bait, and a lot of other practices have changed over the years. I like to think that change is a function of acquired knowledge, personal experience and thoughtful reflection. One thing I have learned: for me wildlife issues are never black and white, and NEVER personal; so I’d like to think we’d still get on just fine today.

    P.S. I find many of the people I respect the most on this blog are those that I disagree with from time to time.

  24. Bonnie Says:

    Ryan: It’s obvious from your posts how you feel about wild horses, and I can respect your opinion. I may not understand it, but since I know nothing about you (beyond what I read here) I can’t condemn it. On the other hand, I think most people here enjoy observing wildlife. Even the hunters agree that most of the hunt is devoted to observing wild animals. I think everyone has their favorites; some like elk, others prefer to watch bison. I have a friend that goes nuts everytime she spots a bear. Why then can’t you accept that there are people who just love watching wild horses?

    Granted, the wild horses we have today are not the same as the ones who roamed North America in prehistoric times, but genetically, some of them are decendents of the horses brought over by the Spaniards in the 1500s. Maybe I’m off base, but after 500 years, it seems to me, we should be able to make a bit of room for them.


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