Furthering the Movement

An Update After the International Equine Conference

While Ginger and I were only able to attend the last day of the 1st Annual International Equine Conference, it was the wild horse and burro day.  The weather outside might have been grim in Alexandria, VA, but the mood inside seemed hopeful.

And that was when the new head of BLM’s Wild horse and Burro Program stood up to give her introduction. The mood shifted, and you could cut the tension with a knife. Everyone was anxious to hear how Joan Guilfoyle, only at her new post for 5 weeks, would address a group of equine (both domestic and wild) advocates. She was joined by long-standing BLMers Dean Bolstad and Ed Roberson. 

Guilfoyle spoke of her background primarily – an introduction followed by normal BLM rhetoric. Her presence at the Conference was likely a tactical move, but I think largely appreciated by the wild horse community. She encouraged us to attend a “gather” (a benign term created by BLM to soften the roundup event) and spoke highly of BLM’s work to preserve horses and burros on the range. She also encouraged folks to adopt a mustang. But when she asked for a show of hands as to who in the room has adopted before, she seemed surprised at the high percentage of attendees whose hands were thrust into the air.

I don’t think the tension eased in the room until emcee RT Fitch (of Habitat for Horses and Wild Horse Freedom Federation) and Vicki Tobin (of Equine Welfare Alliance, who helped organize the Conference) introduced Ginger, our volunteer Executive Director at The Cloud Foundation. The room exploded with applause and a standing ovation. I don’t think there could have been anyone better to follow Joan Guilfoyle. One of the first things Ginger did was look at Guilfoyle directly and invite her to visit the Pryors with her – or any other herd for that matter – and sit on a hill quietly and watch them at peace.

Ginger went through her experiences at roundups and how they’ve changed over the years and how much worse it’s gotten. She covered how much wild horses and burros have lost since 1971, both in acreage and in numbers. One of the biggest points made was the inaccuracy of population data BLM provides. That’s when she looked back at Joan Guilfoyle and staunchly said that, in her opinion, BLM is managing our wild horses and burros to extinction.

Assisted by charts created by C.R. MacDonald and Lisa LeBlanc (updated by Carla Bowers), Ginger showed off the great disparity and inaccuracy of BLM’s own published data. Using BLM data published in 2007, accounting for removals and the 20% growth rate BLM maintains, the wild horse and burro population as of September 30, 2011 should be 17,724 – a far cry from the 38,500 BLM reports are on the range.

The biggest unveiling was Ginger’s “10 Steps to Restore America’s Wild Horses and Burros,” a points piece of ways to help preserve wild horses and burros on the range – not in holding pens – which warranted a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

10 Steps to Restore America’s Wild Horses and Burros:

  1. Raise the Animal Unit Months (AUMs)
  2. Increase Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs)
  3. Restore lost acreage
  4. Create wild horse corridors
  5. Protect predators
  6. Ground the helicopters
  7. Use only bait/water trapping
  8. Apply only 1-year dartable PZP
  9. Increase budget for accurate censusing, range monitoring & range improvements
  10. Return short-term holding horses to zeroed-out HMAs

There were some truly great presentations made throughout the day. Craig Downer, wildlife ecologist (and Cloud Foundation board member), discussed equid evolution pointing out that wild horses evolved to a finished form in the Americas although they traveled to Asia across the Land Bridge at various stages of their development. Most up-to-date science shows that the horse died out in America only 7,000 years ago – confirming that our wild horses and burros are returned native species.

Dr. Dan Rubenstein, a professor of zoology, ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, reported on the pros and cons of removals and immunocontraception. His report highlighted his research with the Shackleford Banks horses in North Carolina. It showed how the herd has shown a spike in birth rates following a removal. But with the use of PZP and a small removal system, they’ve been able to keep the population much more stable.

After James Kleinart gave a special screening of his film Wild Horses and Renegades, Caroline Betts, Ph.D., M.A., an economist at University of Southern California, gave her breakdown of the GAO report on slaughter, showing its gaping holes in research which led to baseless conclusions. She also gave her opinion of BLM’s population data rates, saying, “Either the removal data is wrong or the 20 percent population growth is wrong.” Based on BLM’s assumption that wild horse populations double every four years, that would mean there would be millions of wild horses roaming the West.

A fascinating presentation was given by Dr. Bruce Nock of Washington University’s School of Medicine on the effects of stress in captivity, specifically related to wild horses. He pointed out the amount of stress that wild horses and burros go through during a roundup which can lead to severe neurological and physical health issues. The BLM rhetoric that wild horses do not go through any undue stress during a roundup is baseless, he maintains. He also argued that BLM veterinarians lack the expertise and knowledge to assess the effects of stress on captured animals.

Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, one of the creators of the PZP drug, gave his presentation, with specific references to his research on Assateague Island, a wild horse population that is maintained solely with PZP. “If you’re born on Assateague Island you get to die on Assateague Island,” he said. I should note that Assateague, should not be confused with neighboring Chincoteague Island – famous (or infamous) for its removals of the ponies by swimming them across the channel. Dr. Kirkpatrick also stated that wild horses are an indisputably returned natives species.

HSUS’ representative, Stephanie Boyles, gave her presentation on her organization’s vision for the wild horse program, most of which centers around the use of PZP. Karen Sussman of International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros spoke on wild horse behavior; and Madeleine Pickens gave a speech and showcased her wild horse sanctuary efforts. A National Academy of Sciences representative, Kara Laney, give a brief overview of the new NAS study and its procedures.

All in all it was a very informative day, and I do wish I could have been there for the other two days. We appreciated that Joan Guilfoyle and Ed Roberson of the BLM stayed for the majority of the day’s presentations. Dean Bolstad stayed until the very end.

While the vast majority of the American public still remains unaware of the issues surrounding wild horses and burros (or even that they still exist), it is my sincerest hope that what people took away from this conference is the need to spread the word. Only through awareness and being an active voice can you really make a difference. Passiveness is our worst enemy, and these icons need a voice, a unified one at that. Wild horses and burros have a legal right to live out their lives free on the home ranges. They belong to the American public, and it should be a goal for all of us to make sure that they stay wild.



Tags: , , , , ,

12 Responses to “Furthering the Movement”

  1. Joey Scruggs Says:

    Continue the great work you’re doing!

  2. Michael J Ahles Says:

    Thank you!!!


  3. Mar Wargo Says:

    Thanks, Lauren, for writing this up. I wish I could have been there for the last day!! It is the wild horses and burros I am concerned with these days. Other issues have plenty of people working on them but the wild ones are the smallest group and they need to be given a bit more publicity from all those able to. I agree that passivity is a huge threat to the situation. People need to commit and hang in there and fight. We need all the Wild Horse Lovers we can find to come forward and make themselves heard!!! This is a year round activity. Roundups are continuing. Winter is coming. How will our captive and wild horses fare this winter? I hope there will be enough hay for all holding and domestic horses this season.

  4. Karen L. Says:

    Thank you, Lauren! It sounds as though Ginger, Craig, Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, Dr. Caroline Betts, et al were able to make many salient points! It is becoming more difficult for the BLM to continue to propagate fallacies as scientists and other advocates expose specific errors in policy. I pray that Ms. Guilfoyle actually listened to the presentations and understands the outrage felt by those of us who care about the wild ones.

    Hello, Mar! I’m still hangin’ in there, too.

    • Mar Wargo Says:

      Hi Karen! Glad to see you here at the old stomping grounds!!

      The Conference will help put the issues of all the world’s horses forward and let those know from all the many places where horses are harmed and abused like in Romania… that there are organized people who know and care and will help.

      Saving our wild ones is an Emergency and helping them now is a Recovery… as we do not want to lose them!!

  5. Jan Says:

    Is don abbey out as head of blm wild horses – maybe a woman will have more compassion on the stress that these roundups cause to the horses but suppose she has to answer to salazar who has no compassion

    i wanted to post to cloud group that if you go to the national geographic website they are having a write in campaign among school kids in america and maybe around the world on why they want the african lion saved – letters go to heads of state in africa – i remember when wild horse annie had school kids writing our govt to save the wild horses back in the 1970’s – why cant kids do that again – or email their parents’ representatives and the white house or just send letters

    • Karen L. Says:

      Jan—I think Bob Abbey is still the BLM Director, but Don Glenn retired as head of the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program and the new woman (Guilfoyle) is replacing him.

  6. Jan Says:

    one more comment – since it looks like cloud’s band is under the gun again by blm next year – was wondering if ginger could take the video she has shot of cloud over the years and make a longer movie about him – tell the story from his point of view and show all his family members and bands that have gotten rounded up and separated by the blm – maybe animal planet or pbs or even the theatres would be the place to show it – horse movies are popular – especially among young people – look at the movie about sectrariat – it was a great movie

  7. Robin Louise McCrae Says:

    Thank you for reporting the details of this meeting hopefully improving BLM insight to become better stewarts of the wild horse and burro populations. Thank you for getting there and caring this much! Roibn McCrae

  8. Laura Says:

    Excellent post, thanks for the update!

  9. Jean Civis Says:

    Great point Jan, on both comments! Getting the story out there among our young people is a great way to go. Providing information with facts, figures and the whole tragedy of what’s happening to our wild horses.

  10. thaddeushudson Says:

    Wonderful information people! MORE!!! I was talking to a large group of children and adults the other week and gave a lot of them the CLOUD BLOG site and many said they would check it out. More people than you think ARE aware of some of the things going on with our wild horses and boros and the uses of our public lands. I think more should be tought in schools directly in any form available, not just relying on the few sites on line. The children were VERY interested and some of the adults as well. I susprised myself at how much I could talk on and on about Cloud and the work Ginger and all who are associated with the good work being done for us and the animals. Keep up the great work and I look foward to your next entry on the Cloud sites. Thanks folks,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: