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Mother Nature Knows Best, How to Manage Wild Horses

An Interview Karen A. Sussman, President, The International Society For the Protection Of Mustangs and Burros

By JETARA SÉHART, Executive Director, Love Wild Horses®
To The Desert Independent

May 1, 2016

America’s wild horses, loved legendary dolphins of the land, are in a race to survive to be granted the right, to simply live, in peace, freedom and safety, upon America’s vast Bureau of Land Managed 245 million acres of public lands.

A win-win solution is now on the table, with exciting research happening, at The International Society for The Protection of Mustangs and Burros, located in South Dakota and home to approximately 500 rescued heritage wild horses and originally founded by “Wild Horse Annie” Velma Johnston.

Racing with the Wind, to Win

Photo ©By Robin Wadhams, Racing with the Wind, to Win

ISPMB, is now headed up, by another courageous and passionate woman, Karen A. Sussman. Karen Sussman is a good hearted, power house, working hands on, watching over, feeding and studying ISPMB’s sacred herd's social dynamics, behaviors, physical and reproductive patterns and over all well being.

ISPMB, is funded solely by donations and their work is paramount to manifest a cost effective and compassionate viable solution, to America’s present wild horse population debate, still raging and dividing public land occupying resources and wild horse advocates & wildlife conservationists, in the West.

While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been searching for solutions to “manage” America’s remaining wild horse and burro populations, The International Society For The Protection Of Mustangs and Burros, discovery in returning to ancient wisdom, is demonstrating Mother Nature Knows Best, how to Manage wild pony populations and the land they live upon, more over than man and several equine organizations and many people are gathering in support. ISPMB introduces “Natural Management”, in a win-win solution.

ISPMB's sacred Gila family herd gently grazing

Photo Above © By Wally Jarratt ISPMB's sacred Gila family herd gently grazing

The BLM, over the past several decades, has repeatedly informed the public that there is not enough space for free roaming wild horses to remain free. However, this excuse simply does not add up. Under 20,000 wild horses remain free versus six‑million cattle, sheep welfare ranchers and thousands of oil, gas, and fracking interests occupy the 245,000,000 acres of public land. Yet the BLM still unfairly claims, there are too many free roaming wild horses. Why? Because the resources need more land and the horses must go. Also, says the BLM, it is because of the 20,000 wild horses, and not the six‑million welfare cows and sheep, fracking, oil and gas occupants, who are causing damage to the range contrary to common sense and the law as well as The Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act, of 1971 created by Congress to protect wild horses and our Western range land and wild horses.

Presently, wild horses are granted approximately 12% of public land use and the wild horses share their 12% land use with welfare cattle and sheep. The BLM and welfare ranchers frequently claim the wild horses are damaging the range, but omit mention and study of Six million welfare cattle oil gas and other occupying resource largely detrimental, harmful impact, upon Western range lands and water resources. For understanding of BLM managed and our public land, assignment and allotments P.E.E.R. has created an interactive grazing map.

BLM’s wild horse and burro management is on an unsustainable track, that further threatens, America’s remaining wild horse species, survival.

Today, approximately 60,000 wild horses , await adoption and are engaged in a daily struggle to combat difficult living conditions to simply survive. These horse are not sage from sale to slaughter due to the Burns Amendment. After three failed BLM adoption attempts any horse may be sold without authority, even for slaughter.

It would seem the BLM's aim is not to protect wild horse freedom and survival, but to continue reducing the now decimated wild horse herds with risky fertility control, permanent sterilization, and more mass removals. This aim defies reason and the original good intention of WH&BFP Act, to protect wild horses and rather equates, to an unfortunate recipe for wild horse and burro extinction.

Recently, the BLM has established new partnerships with several organizations and educational institutions, at first glance this might seem to be a step in the right direction, but with a more in depth look and understanding if these partnerships produce further harm for the free roaming and captured BLM wild horses, to cause more unnecessary pain and suffering and to also threaten their freedom and ability to survive, then to whose benefit are these partnerships serving?

Case in point, is BLM's utilization of tax funding and partnering with Oregon State University to conduct barbaric inhumane chain experimentation on wild horse mares. Chain spaying, is traumatic and life threatening even for horses in a sterile environment, therefore BLM’s and OSU plans to perform chain spaying in the field, upon wild mares, would place those mares and pregnant mare’s unborn foals, in immediate harm and life threatening danger.

ISPMB’s Magic Midnight mare and foal playing

Photo Below © By Wally Jarratt ISPMB’s Magic Midnight mare and foal playing

BLM’s WH&B current contested, controversial management methods, include, but are not limited to: application of a contraceptive drug vaccination PZP (porcine zona pellucid ), sterilization, chain spaying wild horse mares, gelding of all captured wild stallions, manipulating; fertility control experimentation, skewing of herd sexual ratios, dangerous mass wild horse removals with helicopters: and warehousing of the BLM captured wild horses in BLM facilities, on private & public land, once within private facilities, the wild ponies are no longer available for the public to enjoy or monitor.

BLM’s use of PZP, a fertility control drug in the past, was thought to be a safer and perhaps a good way to go, for wild horse population management, versus slaughter or removals, however recent evidence is now surfacing, that PZP is causing permanent sterility and possible still born foals, as well as creating serious social dysfunction, out of season foaling and creating herd hierarchy instability survival challenges. The question arises, why would tax funding be used to reduce wild horse populations, especially when the 20,000 horses are already drastically outnumbered, by the six‑million welfare cattle, sheep and thousands of oil gas and fracking interests, on America’s public lands?

ISPMB and Love Wild Horses®, a Northern California based wild horse preservation, non-profit organization, with Love Wild Horses® Wildlife Ecologist and Author, Craig C. Downer and Downer’s non-profit equine protection organization, express specific concern surrounding PZP contraceptive harm and BLM’s varied unnecessary mistreatment of America’s remaining wild ponies, and they calling to increase the percentage of land share for the wild horses and return to Natural Management, for remaining free roaming wild horses to survive and thrive and to improve and to successfully simultaneously, benefit delicate Western Eco-System land and water's preservation & protection:

"Porcine Zona Pelucida, aka PZP, has serious detrimental effects on wild horses to which it is administered as a hypodermic shot either directly or by a launched dart from a rifle. It is a substance listed as a pesticide by the Food and Drug Administration, and this implies that the wild horses are pests, which is an insult and negative view of these wonderful returned native animals. This substance coats the ovaries of mares into which it is injected and prevents sperm from penetrating and so impregnating the mare. This then causes serious stress and frustration in the mare not being able to fulfill her natural drive to reproduce. She then becomes dissatisfied with certain stallions who have mated with her and seeks other stallions. This then breaks up the social units, or bands, and causes much stress and anguish to mares, stallions and the young who are dependent on them. Less effort is then given to rearing young and coaching them in survival. This general disruption then extends throughout the herd, producing a general malaise and discontent. When mares are injected after a few to several years they become totally sterile. Those that do come off and reproduce again are reported to have frequent abortions or malformed young that have difficulty surviving, and the births often occur during other seasons such as winter when both the mare and the young may suffer much and even die. All this is not at all in accord with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 which states in its section 3 a that BLM and US Forest Service must manage the wild horses adn burros "at the minimum feasible level." This is really a torture of these wonderful, highly evolved and sensitive animals and is totally opposite what the WFHBA said to do. Our government should be taking the "Reserve Design”  approach to restoring and preserving and protecting the many distinctive wild horse and burro herds throughout the West, as I describe in my proposal by this name.

An interview with ISPMB’s President, Karen A. Sussman, ISPMB’s "Natural Management” a successful solution:

J.S.: Can you please share your experience with PZP vs. Self-Regulation wild horse reproduction effect and rates?

K.S.: We have studied population growth in two of our herds, which we have had since 1999.

It became apparent to us in 2009 that these herds were extremely stable after receiving our third herd, the Sheldon horses, in 2004 whose reproductive rates were 30% in the first two years which led us to use PZP on this herd. For those years in between, we had to sort out why the third herd was different from the first two. After years of observation of these herds, we came to the conclusion that the more stable the band structures the lower the population growth of those animals. Our first two herds have grown at lower than a 9% average yearly increase unlike the BLM’s herds that grow at a 20% increase.

J.S.: How did you first learn about PZP and what is your present understanding of it’s uses for wild horses and other animals, facilities?

K.S.: ISPMB had always been a supporter of PZP in the early years of the drugs existence in the middle 80’s. The last two herds, that we had gotten had the least amount of room at our facility so we felt that we should keep their population down. We had no reason not to support PZP, at that time, as we believed the literature that was out showing, the drug was reversible until after seven years with little side effects.

As time went on, we began to hear that permanent sterility could happen at 5 years and we immediately ended the use of PZP at our facility. Our goal was conservation of rare and endangered gene pools of animals. Permanent sterility is not part of a conservation effort. The last application of PZP was in 2011. So far after 5 years of application, the Sheldon horses treated have not had a foal yet. The Virginia Range wild horses were treated for 4.5 years and 9 mares have foaled out of 36. Out of the 9 mares, seven foals died last year. This has created a red flag for us and we are now investigating the death of any foal born to a mare that had PZP. We asked for information from the researcher, Jay Kirkpatrick, but never received any study that had been done on horses foaling after coming off the drug. We received an e-mail stating they did not have any problems noted. There are still more studies to be accomplished here as we watch the Sheldon herd whose band formation was never cohesive until recently now that the younger mares are foaling. We also have noted that several original mares who have received PZP have stolen and continue to steal foals from first time mothers. This is very distressing because what it tells us is that these mares miss motherhood and want to have their own foals. The researchers have told our groups that the older mares who are treated are fatter and have a better condition score. I must question and say “But are they happy.” The last and most important part of applying birth control to wild herds is that we as human beings must make the decision who should receive contraception and who should not. This is very disconcerting because in the domestic horse industry, decisions about who should breed and who should not has created inbreeding in some of the breeds. According to Gus Cothran, leading equine geneticist, “Wild horses have more diversity compared to any particular breed of domestic horse.” How can we as human beings determine in wild horses who should breed and who should not. Nature does the best job and those that are the strongest continue the line. Those that are the weakest don’t make it. Lastly, 75% of the wild herds do not have a viable number of animals. We have half the number of horses we did in 1971. When we agree that birth control should be used on our herds, we are agreeing with the opposition that we have too many wild horses and we must do something to keep their numbers down. WE have been lulled into believing that if these herds have birth control, then they don’t have to be removed from public lands. That is not true. Removals are actually up in the past year. To give birth control on the larger herds, the horses will have to be gathered, branded, separated from their family bands, and then turned back. Disruption is what creates an increase in fertility and population growth! We will know more as out studies continue but PZP is not reversible in as few as four years. Is this what we want for our wild horses? We had a young Virginia Range mare that was accidentally given PZP. She was approximately 3 years old and to this day five years later she has never foaled. We are monitoring other herds where young animals are giving PZP finding out whether they can get pregnant again and if the foals survive or have any deformities.

J.S.: Recently the BLM has begun controversial barbaric chain spaying of wild horse mares in conjunction with Oregon State University and their plans are to next conduct chain spaying ”in the field”, upon remaining free roaming wild horse mares, can you please share your opinion?

K.S.: It is obvious that this is the natural progression that one would expect since the groups agreed that horses need PZP. In other words we are agreeing with the opposition that horses reproduce rapidly and reproduction must be halted. Of course the next logical step is permanent sterilization. PZP is very intrusive but there is no comparison to the intrusive and dangerous nature of these horrific procedures of removing ovaries from wild mares. Wild mares, if they live after these procedures, will grow to hate humankind and one can’t blame them. We have noticed how some wild horses are handled through the adoption programs and some horses have suffered traumatic handling and many never recover from human handling. The horses on public lands will no longer be truly wild in my opinion, making their own choices for reproduction and having the freedom of living together in families, never to be disturbed as our horses are here. These procedures are barbaric at the least.

J.S.: Many Americans who Love Wild Horses, feel as if they must decide between a lesser of two or three evils in regard to fertility control, or adoption vs. slaughter or complete eradication of Americas wild horses, can you please share your thoughts?

K.S.: If wild horses were left alone and not disturbed as ours have been for the past sixteen years – instilling, what I call “natural management” people would understand that population growth is less than half of what the BLM herd population growth is. Many have bought into the BLM’s figures that herds double every four years and therefore they must be removed. This mantra of the BLM has been dispelled at our Conservation Center. Under the best of care and feeding of our wild horses, they are growing at 7 and 8 percent per year. On public lands those numbers would even be less. My guess would be about 4-6% growth. We should be advocating for the remaining 170+ herd areas left in our country that wild horses/burros should be the principal use on their HMAs as the law states. Wild Horse Annie, would be abhorred to see what is happening to our wild horses and burros in our country. We must remember that one woman, Annie, changed the American West. Imagine if all the horse/burros and environmental groups were united, what change could happen. Advocating for natural management and not compromising the already genetically threatened herds in our country by lessening numbers or using any agent that stops them breeding and maintaining their genetic diversity, is a the winning solution to save America’s wild horses.

J.S.: Do you think America’s remaining free roaming wild horses and burro populations need to be controlled by the BLM and if so, what means of population control do you believe would be successful?

K.S.: There is no doubt in my mind that the least feasible management strategies should be employed to manage our wild horses and burros.

“Natural management” is the ideal management for our wild horses and burros and the HMA’s to be also principally managed for wild horses and burros.

From a N.Y. Times article regarding PZP, a BLM representative stated: “If there was a fertility control out there, we’d love to have it,” Mr. Gorey added.

This wonderful natural non-invasive, cost-effective compassionate viable and winning solution is immediately available for the BLM, to utilize, to save the wild ponies and tax payers millions of dollars annually and to stabilize and truly protect wild horse herd reproductivity and survival.

Natural Management, significantly slows wild horse reproduction rates down: by at least 17% according to ISPMB’s research. Perhaps ISPMB’s herds responses, naturally occurring are a species survival calming or survival quelling reactionary response, as noted in example of National Academy of Sciences 2013 report BLM’s excess removals were creating an inflated reproduction response for the remains free roaming wild horse herds to be abnormally high at 25% reproduction rate.

J.S.: Recently, suggestion of terminating BLM’s management of wild horses and burros and direct transfer of WH&B management, to states was made by a BLM executive: Neil Kornze, if this transfer were to suddenly take place, how do you think we might be able to protect our wild horses from direct sale to slaughter export and complete removal in entirety from our public lands, where as this transfer would mean Americas WH&B’s minimal protection that now exists under & by LAW WH&BF Act of 1971

would no longer provide any protection?

K.S.: Annie realized that if the states had control over the wild horses/burros that they would not survive.

However, under the BLM’s care, the horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. Annie was always concerned about BLM managing the animals. She wanted the Park Service to manage the horses but because wild horses were considered feral back then, the jurisdiction was given to the BLM.

BLM is the same agency that evolved from the Grazing agencies that ordered the killing of wild horses and burros in the 30’s.

Interesting now, DNA evidence shows that the reintroduced Spanish horse is the same horse that lived in the Post Pleistocene era.

Yes, wild horses are actually native to our continent and evolved here for 60 million years. Wild horses must be protected federally but the law must be enforced.

BLM is mandated to protect the habitat and for the past 100 years and they have failed miserably. The 1971 Act requires the BLM to monitor the habitat and make removals based on monitoring. BLM has not complied with this. Public lands are in static trend and much of it is not improving over the past 100 years. The reason is not from wild horses/burros that represent not more than 30,000 animals. One just has to compare the number of livestock on public lands which is 6 million and 4 million wildlife. Numbers alone could prove that wild horses/burros are not impacting their environment.

J.S.: In your opinion what will become of America’s open lands if wild horses and burros are here, no more?

K.S.: The best that I can explain is quoting Chief Seattle in 1855. Paraphrasing “when the buffalo are all slaughtered and the wild horses all tamed, it will be the end of living and the beginning of survival.” We are in the survival mode now.

J.S.: How can people support your research and efforts ?

K.S.: It is so important that everyone support our research as we are the founding and only organization that has a study of western wild horses undisturbed for now 17 years. It is quite costly to feed our wild horses and financial help is needed and much appreciated. Without these horses, our studies would be moot. If we have any hope for change on public lands for our wild horses/burros, it will be from the results of our Natural Management studies and we need everyone to get our word out to Congress, BLM , and the American people.

J.S.: What can legislatures do to support ISPMB now?

K.S.: We need to be funded to expand our studies and bring in University involvement. We have had Princeton University participating with us and we look forward to having other universities here. However, all of our funds were raised by our organization without federal help.

J.S.: Would you support a National HAY BANK to be created for America’s domestic & wild horses & burros, for sanctuary & individual owners .horses in need, as one remedy to close U.S. borders to horse slaughter exportation?

K.S.: Hay banks could work if there were one in each state otherwise, trucking costs are so expensive to get hay from one area to another. I would advocate for funding to be available for the different sanctuaries to purchase their own hay. Horse slaughter must be stopped in our country and I think we have a great chance. There needs to be a hotline where horses owners who can’t continue to care for their animals would call. The hotline could connect people in need with sanctuaries and aid. The big question is who would fund and regulate the hay banks?

Please be a voice, to save the last of the magnificent native wild horses: Most Americans, are unaware their tax dollars are being utilized to manage wild horses to extinction, yet awareness now, is rapidly growing, finding success through many different channels including film, music and social media platforms , joining the Love Wild Horses® Movement, gathering 1 Million members this year, to save the last of America’s wild horses, to increase wild horse protections and % of public land share & to close U.S. borders to horse slaughter export.

Creating awareness, empowers hope and support for these magnificent, symbols of freedom and icons of the spirit of the West, to survive and thrive.

SPMB’s sacred Gila herd new foal, running upon the soft meadow

Photo © By Wally Jarratt, ISPMB’s sacred Gila herd new foal, running upon the soft meadow

What you can do to help:

Please make a small or large donation to ISPMB important heritage horses and their groundbreaking research:

Join the Love Wild Horses® Movement by simply “liking” the Facebook page Wild Horse Protection Act© 2016 and following Daily Actions there

Add to your library for understanding and advocacy reference Craig Downer’s powerful book The Wild Horse Conspiracy and Terri Farley’s book for children of all ages Wild At Heart.

Contact your State and Federal Legislatures, the Department of Interior and the Bureau Of Land Management and request their immediate good action to join you to instill “Natural Wild Horse self Reproduction Management” (to replace BLM’s present dangerous/fertility control; and sterilization practices) and to also Increase wild horse protections, to return the 60,000 BLM captured wild horses and burros to public lands, Stop all BLM wild horse removals and to increase % of public land share for wild horses from 12% to 20% (re-populate the former wild horse 25 herd management areas, that are now entirely void of wild horses, with wild horses) and on public lands to install rainwater catches upon all herd management areas and open fencing for prime grazing area accessibility for the free roaming wild ponies, and to install street lights where needed for safe roadway crossings and to close U.S. borders to inhumane horse slaughter exports.

To Keep America’s wild and domestic horses safe join or Host an awareness gathering on July 9th.

Links of Interest and for Reference:

The opinions expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Desert Independent, LLC.

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