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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Our friend, Carnivore Conservation biologist Geri Vistein is back with us today with her most recent Mother Earth News Blog Post---This one an allegory about our Public Lands and the feral "wild mustangs", native Pumas and Wolves that are persecuted there versus our domestic livestock that is given a "free pass" there..............The "Mustang" controversy is a multi-faceted one and I also include a viewpoint on the subject by nature writer Ted Williams following Geri's commentary.........As the wolf is one of the few predators that preys on horses(Grizzly bears and mountain lions may also occasionally attack a horse) and with so few of these carnivores alive and occupying the same regions as our Mustangs, a very difficult wildlife scenario we now face-----denuded habitat due to livestock and Mustangs and finding the will to rewild our open spaces with Wolves, Pumas and Griz to keep the Mustang population in some type equilibrium

Geri Vistein
Carnivore Conservation Biologist
(207) 323-9959
Where Have All the Wolves, Cougars, and Wild Horses Gone?

There is an old tale that has been passed down about a frog, who was living in the bottom of a dark well. One day, a toad came and peered down at the frog. He asked, “Why do you remain down there in the darkness? If you climb out of the well, there is a whole new world out here for you to see?”
So the frog did so, and discovered what he had been missing in the darkness.* 
It keeps coming up — the tragic plight of our nation’s wild mustangs and burros.

Plight of Wild Mustangs and Keystone Predators

These icons of our nation’s history endure the ongoing cruel roundups by helicopters, forcing them out of their remote refuges and into holding pens. They are no longer free. At this time there are 45,000 of these wild animals being held by the the Bureau of Land Management. Many die along the way, small foals trampled and adults collapse in exhaustion and terror.
Why? It is the story of the frog in the well. As a society we are acting like that frog — just comfortable remaining in the darkness. Not wanting to find another way to share the land with those who were here before us, and have a right to be here for sure; preferring to grab up all the land for oneself, even the land that belongs to all Americans — public land. Our landscape is covered with a monoculture of cows, who are displacing our magnificent wildlife.

I remember when I was participating in research in the Mission Mountains of Montana, my fellow researcher and I came upon a whole herd of cows high up in these mountains, in a very remote area. There were no people around, only the cows, and it seemed so, so unnatural a situation. Even in this remote wild area of a National Forest — they were there. When one experiences this personally, there is a sense of the “unnaturalness” of this situation. There were no wildlife to be seen anywhere.
So why is this government agency rounding up our wild mustangs and burros? First of all, a trust has been broken with these wild beings. They have been pushed to remote areas far too small for them to graze environmentally. The cows have taken their land.
So does rounding them up and keeping them in pens, costing the taxpayer millions upon millions of dollars a year fix their “overpopulation” in shrunken habitats? No!
Will planning all forms of inhumane birth control efforts fix it? No!

Conservation Biology for an Informed 'Land Mechanism'

In my work as a biologist, it is my goal that I never focus on the problem, but instead move on to seek viable solutions and keep my eyes on how we want it to be, not how it is.
So now back to our frog’s story. We need to climb out of the darkness into the light. The words of Aldo Leopold are so appropriate here: “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: What good is it? If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.” 
Photo by Tambako
Photo by Ronnie MacDonald  
And that land mechanism Leopold spoke of is all about the predator-prey relationship. All these places where the wild Mustangs live, wolves are not being allowed to inhabit, and cougars are being aggressively killed.  So if you were a wild Mustang, what would you choose — living with your predators, or being violently chased into miserable holding pens, your freedom taken from you, your families destroyed, and an unknown and painful future at the hands of humans?
Let us come out of the well! Let the wolves, cougars and wild Mustangs find that balance together. Let us allow the wisdom of Nature to create the balance, but also let us share the land.

Is it really all that hard to climb out of the well?
*You can see the frog story told in the wonderful film Mao’s Last Dancer.
Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Wild, free and out of control

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston

“In my world, everyone’s a pony, and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies.” So proclaims cat-like creature Katie in the movie version of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. Sharing Katie’s world are feral-horse support groups -- whose members number in the millions -- and NBC, which regularly recycles their fantasies.
For example, on May 14, the Today Show aired fictional accounts of how the Bureau of Land Management brutalizes feral livestock incorrectly called “wild horses.” As usual, the show cherry-picked commentary from ecologically illiterate extremists who want more, not fewer, feral horses on public land, and who allege that the BLM roundups, which are mandated by law, are “offensive,” “cruel” and “unnecessary.

Never mentioning wildlife, host Lisa Myers quickly spun the issue into a simple conflict between “mustangs and powerful livestock interests who want cheap grazing on federal lands.” A revealing moment came when she asked Ginger Kathrens, one of the nation’s loudest feral-horse advocates, if she’d “rather have a wild horse starve to death and be free than live in captivity?” Kathrens answered in the affirmative.
Also never mentioned, because it would spoil NBC’s story line that everyone loves “mustangs,” is the fact the network’s CEO Steven Burke is outraged by the BLM’s plan to move 700 feral horses to a holding facility next to his Ennis, Mont., ranch. He considers it a threat to habitat and has gone to the Interior Board of Land Appeals to get it stopped.
The BLM is doing its best at an impossible job. In 1971, Congress required it to manage feral horses so as “to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.” But feral horses can’t exist anywhere in North America in “natural ecological balance” because they’re aliens here, without natural predators.

 The agency can’t catch a break. For avoiding effective lethal control of feral horses, it was eviscerated by the Government Accountability Office in 2008. But given the mindset of the American public, effective lethal control is politically impossible. So feral horses proliferate. Currently, there are about 40,000 animals loose on BLM lands and almost 50,000 more on perpetual welfare in BLM corrals at an annual cost to the public of $78 million. And that’s not counting the feral horses on private and tribal lands, national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges.
The mantra from the feral-horse lobby is that because a different and diminutive equid roamed the continent before going extinct during the Pleistocene, modern horses are “native wildlife.” That’s like saying the presence of mastodons in the Lake States 10,000 years ago makes African elephants native to the Midwest.

Horses are the only ungulates on the continent with meshing top and bottom teeth and one-piece hooves. Vegetation in most of the West did not evolve to cope with these adaptations.
“When the grass between the shrubs is gone, a cow is out of luck,” says retired BLM biologist Erick Campbell, who managed feral horses for 30 years. “But a horse will stomp that plant to death to get that one last blade. When cows run out of forage the cowboys move them, but horses are out there all year.”
In Australia, where the ecological literacy rate is far higher than in the United States, feral horses are routinely shot in what Sustainability Minister Andrew McNamara accurately describes as the most humane form of control.
“Feral horses,” he declares, “are causing serious erosion, spreading weeds, destroying freshwater springs and other water courses, damaging aboriginal cultural sites, competing with native wildlife for feed and destroying habitat.”
Between 2006 and 2011, a U.S. ban on slaughtering all horses for human consumption created a brisk export business as well as a toxic-waste problem because unwanted animals had to be euthanized with barbiturate injections. But with slaughterhouses now reopening in Oklahoma and New Mexico and probably other states, the White House is urging Congress to renew the ban.
On the Yakama Indian Reservation in southern Washington, 12,000 feral horses are nuking wildlife habitat, and tribal chair Harry Smiskin is trying to educatePresident Obama. “Certainly, the White House and the USDA have meat on their cafeteria menus,” Smiskin wrote him in March. “But for some reason, horses are considered sacrosanct. We should not manage these horses based on purely emotional arguments, storybooks or movies.”
Because I write about native ecosystems, a camera crew from the Today Showappeared at my door a few years back seeking “the wildlife side of the mustang story.” For the better part of a day, I told the reporter everything I knew and then directed her to biologists and botanists who could tell her more. When the show aired, wildlife wasn’t mentioned. Instead, America got the standard monologues about a world where the mean BLM is keeping all the happy horses from eating rainbows and pooping butterflies.
Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He writes about wildlife for national magazines and, he admits, regularly annoys people.


Anonymous said...

Would we tolerate 40,000 feral cattle running wild on BLM land? The answer is no because we don't tolerate the thousands of cattle that are managed on these lands. Would we tolerate any non-native invasive exotic that is destroying our native ecosystems? Again the answer is no. Why then would we as conservationists tolerate feral horses, a non-native exotic that is out of control on our public lands? In my mind feral horses and burros are just as destructive as wild European boars and all should be eliminated from the ecosystems that they are destroying.

Rick Meril said...

As I stated in this Post, an emotional issue...............And that is why Ted Williams article was also included to portray the challenge that feral horses bring with them as it relates to ecosystem damage............Thanks for checking in