Monday, December 28, 2009

Feral Horses Damaging Rangelands

December 26, 2009
Ranchers, activists at odds over mustang roundup
By Frank X. Mullen Jr.

Bob Depauli, whose family has been ranching in Nevada for four generations, remembers a wild horse he saw in the Nevada desert one drought-parched year in the late 1970s.

“The herds were really poor that year, starved,” he said. “I saw (a mustang carcass) whose two hind legs had quit working and it had use of only its forelegs. It had walked in circles and dug a hole in the ground with its hindquarters.”

It dug its own grave.

Depauli runs cattle on federal allotments, including one about 30 miles north of Gerlach in the area where the federal government plans to start Monday rounding up 2,500 wild horses of the more than 3,000 in the area.

The government says the roundup is necessary to check overpopulation. Opponents say the land mangers exaggerate the number of mustangs and the damage they do to the range and that gathering horses using helicopters traumatizes, injures or kills the animals.

About 32,000 wild horses are in government holding pens waiting for adoptions that, for most, will never come. Range managers plan to remove another 10,000 from ranges in Nevada and elsewhere in the West next year.

The government, Depauli and others see the wild horse gathers as necessary to ensure the health of the rangeland, water supplies and native species. Opponents say the horses are a symbol of America and are being swept aside for the benefit of cattlemen like Depauli.

“I’m basing my position on years of experience,” said Depauli, who runs about 300 head a year.

“I’m in business to stay in business, not to overgraze. I move my cattle around. Horses stay in the same areas 24, seven, 365 days a year. Right now, we’ve got four to five times the number of wild horses that the land can support. Cattle are manageable. We need to manage the horses, too.

“Overpopulation of horses impacts everything: cows, wildlife, the horses themselves, everything. If this continues, we’ll all be in a mess.” Read More

The destruction being caused by the overpopulation of feral horses is significant to say the least. It’s interesting that they debate turns basically turns into those who are stewards of the rangeland versus those who want an unchecked population of horses. When activists do simple comparisons of the numbers of cattle versus horses and use that as their reasoning to stop the roundups, they show their ignorance of the issue. There is so much more to the issue. Ranchers spend a lifetime caring for the land, it’s unfortunate that more people don’t care as much.

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