by Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist,
      President: Andean Tapir Fund (501 c 3, tax-deductible fiscal sponsor) 

P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423 USA


January 8, 2019

Unless urgent action is taken, wild horses and burros in today’s America face a bleak future.

Though the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971 (WFHBA) originally set aside around 88 million acres for their preservation in the wild, the rights of these animals and of their public supporters have been undermined and denied by the very officials charged with protecting them.

Current policies toward these national heritage species are thinly disguised plans for either bringing them down to cripplingly low, non-viable population levels that cannot adequately reproduce or for totally eliminating them from their legal areas. Even if some 40,000 wild horses and burros may remain on the public lands, this figure is in no way commeasurable with the amount of ecologically appropriate habitat in which they have the legal right to live. The small number of horses and burros our government intends to leave on each of the 179 remaining. BLM-designated areas will result – indeed, has already resulted – in an over fragmentation of populations that jeopardizes their long-term survival and the preservation of their true vigor in the wild.

Our government’s current goal of drastically reducing already tiny and genetically vulnerable wild herds includes the partial sterilization of mares, through PZP injection,   and the unnatural skewing of sex ratios to establish excess males in this naturally harem type of horse society. And even more invasive measures are being planned, including painful and often lethal castration of stallions, ovariectomies of mares, and emotionally/mentally deranging and socially disruptive sterilization drugs. Today, our nation’s last remaining wild horses and burros find themselves in a very critical situation.  They are actually more imperiled than they were in 1971, for their chief enemies reside within the very agencies charged with their protection!

To remedy this intolerable situation, Americans must immediately and audaciously respond with a well-conceived plan for change.  As a wildlife ecologist and fourth-generation Nevadan personally familiar with the wild horses and burros of the West, I have come up with such a plan – a way to restore these animals, proven to be returned-native species, to viable natural herds throughout the West.  My plan entails ending the cruel, disruptive roundups and reproductive manipulations – practices that make a mockery of the 1971 Act and, of principal concern, cause untold suffering and death to these freedom-loving creatures, and compromise their long-term survival in the wild.

Wildlife, wilderness, and conservation professionals call this strategy Reserve Design.  Reserve Design combines ecological, biological, social, and political considerations in order to achieve desired results. Basically, wild horse/burro Reserve Design involves the setting aside of areas of wild-equid-containing, year-round habitat where human intervention is buffered against and/or strictly controlled, and where natural processes are allowed to reestablish natural checks and balances. In this way, a significant degree of internal harmony is achieved for all diverse, yet interrelated, species living in the area’s ecosystem.

Critical steps for realizing Reserve Design in various wild horse & wild burro habitats in the project:

[1] 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 would be to promote a wild horse/burro-containing ecosystem, where all species are allowed to adapt naturally over the generations.

[2] Conscientiously identify appropriate geographical areas suitable for the implementation of wild horse/burro-containing reserves. This would involve travel to, on-ground inspection of, and flights over, a wide variety of places throughout the West in collaboration with the Light Hawk conservation organization.

[3] Wherever possible, wisely incorporate natural equid predators (such as puma and wolf) that would both limit and tone/strengthen, wild horse and burro populations.

[4] Wherever possible, wisely incorporate natural barriers that would limit the ingress and/or the egress of certain species, including the wild horses and burros.  This would avoid conflicts and set up conditions for the natural self-regulation of populations.

 [5] 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. Buffer zones possibly involving non-injurious means of “adverse conditioning” could be employed as well as “positive reinforcement” means of encouraging the wild equids to stay within the reserve.  Also, “semi-permeable barriers” that do not restrict most species but do prevent equids from passing out of the reserve may be used. These means would be described in practical detail.

[6] 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 would be located and their removal planned. This would also involve determining the intrinsic Carrying Capacity of the land in question that would be based on the Productivity of forage adequate to a viable population of wild horses/burros found in this region and taking into account other survival factors such as water, shelter, breeding and nurturing habitat, seasonal migrations, mineral, and existing threats to the wild equids.

[7] 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 would involve my travelling and setting up meetings with pertinent individuals, town and government officials, etc.

[8] Identify ways of and benefits from implementing Reserve Design that would 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, would be another major benefit. The reduction of flammable vegetation through equid grazing and the restoration of hydrographic basins through enrichment of soils would be other major, positive contributions of the wild horses and burros. Indeed, the restoration of the “equid element” in North America is crucial to combating life-disrupting Global Warming itself. 

[9] 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.

This list does not exhaust all the considerations for soundly establishing Reserve Design that would be included in my professionally researched report with proposed areas and their associated herds throughout the West. . If provided the financial resources, I would further elaborate upon this important and timely plan. 

Basic steps for a professional Reserve Design, with associated costs and durations:

Visit the 23 potential Reserve Design areas identified in my scientific article: “The horse and burro as positively contributing returned natives in North America” (pages 19-20; link:  doi: 10.11648/j.ajls.20140201.12) Also listed below.

Itinerary for Assessing 23 potential Reserve Design areas, to be achieved over a two-year period and lasting approximately one month for each area and to start immediately upon receipt of funding.

Month #1: Steens Mountains, Alvord Desert, and interconnecting adjacent wild horse herds of southern and southeastern Oregon, including the Kiger mustangs. I have visited this area on ground twice and been given a tour by former BLM wild horse & burro state lead official Josh Warburton of Forest Glenn.

Month #2: Northwestern Nevada including Calico and High Rock Complex with primarily wild horse but some wild burro herd areas. I am very familiar with this area, having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments as well as over-flight surveys.

Month #3: Northeastern California including Twin Peaks, Coppersmith, New Ravendale, and Buckhorn herd areas. I am very familiar with these areas having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments as well as over-flight surveys.

Month #4: Northern Nevada and the Owyhee & Little Owyhee Desert Complex of wild horse herd areas (BLM) & territories (USFS). I am very familiar with this area having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments as well as over-flight surveys.

Month #5: North Central Nevada including the Clan Alpine wild horse herd area and adjacent herd areas such as Desatoya, New Pass, and Mount Airy. I am very familiar with these areas, having visited these herds and their habitats for many years.

Month #6: Eastern Nevada including the Triple B Complex of wild horse herd areas and territories. I am very familiar with this area having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments as well as over-flight surveys.

Month #7: Southeastern Nevada including the Caliente Complex of wild horse and burro herd areas. I am very familiar with this area having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments.

Month #8: Southwestern Nevada and adjacent parts of eastern California including Montgomery Pass wild horse territory, Monte Cristo & Silver Peaks wild horse herd areas, & Marietta Wild Burro Range (BLM), including the Excelsior Mountains & areas around Benton, CA. I am very familiar with these areas having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments.

Month #9: Central southern Nevada centered on the National Wild Horse Range (Nellis Air Force Base). I am familiar with this area and have been guided through the range by officials.

Month #10: Panamint-Centennial-Slate Range wild burro herd areas complex, southeastern California.

Month #11: Southeastern California wild burro herd areas, including Clark Mountain.

Month #12: Southern California wild horse & burro herd areas including Coyote Canyon famed for its historically significant Spanish mustang herds.

Month #13: Southern Nevada wild horse & burro herd areas and territories including Spring Mountain. I am very familiar with this area having made frequent on-ground visits and assessments as well as over-flight surveys.

Month #14: Western Arizona wild burro & wild horse herd areas and territories including Lake Mead burros & Cibola-Trigo & Cerbat wild horse herds, with pure remnants of Spanish mustangs.

Month #15: Southwestern corner of Arizona & adjacent areas of southeastern California for wild burros.

Month #16: Southwestern Utah bordering on Nevada including Sulphur wild horse herd, with pure remnants of Spanish mustangs.

Month #17: Western Utah wild horse herd area south of Great Salt Lake and the town of Tooele. Possible connections to eastern border of Nevada south of Wendover where there is a striking herd with Spanish mustang characteristics that I have visited on several different occasions over the years and of whom I have taken photographs.

Month #18: Southern Wyoming complex of wild horse herd areas, including Adobe Town-Salt Wells Creek Complex and White Mountain & Red Desert herds. I have visited these wild horses and inspected their habitat on several different occasions over a period of decades.

Month #19: North central Wyoming & southern Montana including Pryor Mountain wild horse Sanctuary/Range & McCullough Peak wild horse herd area on National Parks Service land. I have visited these areas, inspected their herds & habitats, & taken photographs. These are historically significant herds and some possess significant Spanish mustang heritage.

Month #20: Northwestern Colorado including Sand Wash Basin wild horse herd area, including West and East Douglas wild horse herd areas. I am very familiar with the Sand Wash Basin herd and habitat and have observed them on two separate occasions during the past few years. I have given talks to locals on the value of wild horses in Craig as well as in Steamboat Springs, Colorado (2012-2013).

Month #21: New Mexico wild horse & burro herd areas and territories, including Jicarillo, Bordo Atrevesado, & Carracas Mesa herds. I visited some of these horses in New Mexico in Spring, 2012.

Month #22: Central Idaho wild horse herd areas and territories. I have visited this area with my brother.

Month #23: Restorable Montana wild horse herd areas & territories in southwestern Montana.

Month #24: This month would cover additional days that would probably be required for the completion of the 23-area project. Remaining days of this period would be spent compiling all of the above reports to fashion a single report with analysis, overview and recommendations for the future of America’s wild horses and burros.

More Details of Modus Operandi:

After each visit, a summary report would be issued together with recommendations based on my findings. This professional report would be used to expedite important conservation measures whose aim would be to restore each wild horse or wild burro population at a long-term-viable population level following the principles of Reserve Design. I would seek local as well as other wild-horse/burro- interested people, including biologists and students, to assist me in each monthly visit. I already count on many contacts throughout the above areas, including those who have promised such support.

The above 23 and additional important regions should be carefully examined as concerns the major requirements of Reserve Design with a mind to its practical implementation. This should happen immediately in order to prevent the further demise of America’s last wild horse and burro herds. This project seeks to restore the herds to naturally and ecologically integrated, genuinely viable population levels. In conjunction with this, other private and public lands would become involved, as is consistent with Sections 4 and 6 of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, among other legal mandates, e.g., the Multiple Use and Sustainability Act, the National Historical Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, FLPMA & PRIA. Wild equine herds occurring in other states not on BLM and US Forest Service lands, such as the Lakota wild-horse-occupied areas in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, will also be included in this program.

Remnant lineages of wild horses and burros that are being maintained on private sanctuaries would be called upon to restore zeroed-out herd areas and territories wherever possible.

Finally, the United States government could and should collaborate with its neighboring nations of Canada and Mexico in restoring wild horses and burros at viable population levels where appropriate in these neighboring countries.

Month 25 through 36 (3rd Year):

This time period would be employed in perfecting and promoting the Reserve Design plan for the various wild horse and wild burro areas that have been found suitable for its implementation. This would involve return visits to each of the 23 areas discussed above, and similar visits to the herds and consultations with locals and officials, etc., as previously indicated. The transcendent goal will be to positively change and transform the current anti-wild-horse and anti-wild-burro policies and programs in America, especially those of BLM-USDI and US Forest Service-USDA into positive wild horse and burro respecting and restoring policies and programs. In this regard, it is very important and a goal of this proposed project to foment cooperative agreements with both private, NGO, and local, state, and federal agencies for the protection and restoration of long-term-viable wild horse and wild burro herds and their corresponding, adequate and appropriate, viable habitats. This will be achieved by taking advantage of both Sections 4 and 6 of the WFHBA of 1971, sections that the BLM and USFS have principally used against the wild horse and wild burros in the past, though these were and still are intended to be used for preserving and protecting viable populations of wild horses and wild burros by Congress and by those who genuinely appreciate the place of these animals in the world of nature. The additional adjacent lands and their habitats thus added to the home ranges of the wild horse and wild burro bands and herds would allow for the establishment of more complete, long-term-viable habitats for each equid population in question. One of the major reasons this possibility has not been employed in such a benign manner in the past is because the positive will to do so has been lacking on the part of officials in charge. But these benighted attitudes and this lack of positive vision will not continue forever.

Each monthly project would include: (a) literature review pertaining to each herd and its ecosystem; (b) consultation with local, government, and academic cognoscente and authorities concerning each herd and its area; and (c) the gathering, organizing, and analysis of maps and documents concerning BLM and USFS, as well as appropriate adjoining lands where wild horses and wild burros are presently found or could reasonably be established as per Sections 4 & 6 of the WFHBA. At the end of the project, I would compose an overall report on my findings, achievements, and future recommendations for the wild horses and wild burros and their respective habitats. This would provide a template for the practical emulation of wild horse/burro Reserve Design programs throughout North America and the world.

Budget and Duration for Reserve Design Project:

Duration of Project: 36 months (3 years). To commence upon reception of funding and to be administered through a wild horse and wild burro dedicated non-profit organization 501 c 3.

Each month’s expenses for initial, 2-year field phase include:

Travel expenses such as gas, vehicle maintenance, camping, food, and lodging only when necessary due to weather or when camping not possible: $500
Maps, field guides, and other documents required: $100
Consulting services re: information about the herds and their ecosystem, volunteer assistance expenses: $200

Office-related, photographic, printing, internet services, computer services, etc.: $200
Miscellaneous expenses, including First Aid: $100
Total Expenses per month visiting 23 areas + 1 additional month to cover extra days required: $1,100

Salary for Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist and Principal Investigator (PI), (see accompanying Curriculum Vitae). This would also cover many incidental project expenses: $5,000 per month

4WD Vehicle with Insurance:
The project would also require a light-weight 4WD/All Wheel vehicle with Insurance in order to access the various wild horse and wild burro herd areas/territories that are being professionally evaluated for Reserve Design. This vehicle would have sufficient clearance and lugging power to visit remote, rugged, steep areas along dirt roads, but should get fairly high miles-per-gallon. This vehicle is already in possession of Wildlife Ecologist Craig C. Downer and has proven itself  very reliable. It has a long range travel capacity, given the remoteness of many of the areas and is a sturdy vehicle capable of rough roads and would permit the principle investigator to stretch out in the back to sleep if necessary. It can carry up to five people including the driver for touring the areas.
Estimated cost of All Wheel Drive vehicle: Contribution from Principle Investigator
Estimated cost of annual insurance: $700 x 3 years: $2,100

Additional complementary and complemental assets for project:
Equipment, etc., for the project would be provided by the Principal Investigator (PI) including digital camera as well as digital camcorder, GPS receiver (Magellan Navigator), binoculars, spotting scope, field guides, camping equipment, outdoor clothing and boots, etc., health insurance in case of accident, etc., provision of flights to oversee the areas to be arranged with Light Hawk NGO with which PI has a working relationship dating back several years. Consultation with other professionals will be facilitated through PI’s membership in professional organizations such as IUCN Species Survival Commission, American Society of Mammalogists, and the Alumni associations of UCB, UNR, and U Durham-UK.

Total Budget Submitted for Consideration of Potential Funders:
In field expenses for initial 24-month inspection of areas for Reserve Design: 24 x $1,100: $26,400
Monthly salary for Principal Investigator for 36-months: 36 x $5,000: $180,000
Vehicle insurance for 3 years @ $700: $2,100

Grande Total for Project: $208,500

Tax-deductible contributions to this project can be made through this Go Fund Me appeal under the fiscal support of the 501 (c) 3 Andean Tapir Fund.

Happy Holidays and Bright New Year 2019!

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Craig Downer
Minden, NV

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