Managing horses so they’ll stay free
November 8, 2004
Defenders of wild horses know they have a dilemma in the endless cycle of reproduction.
The more wild horses are beloved and protected, the more their herds multiply. The greater the herds, the more horses are gathered by the state and federal government and put up for adoption or trucked to preserves to wait their fate.
As detailed in articles in Sunday’s Nevada Appeal, that means some 14,000 horses once free-roaming Western states have been relocated to preserves in Kansas and Oklahoma. The issue of what to do with all those horses is an expensive and emotional one, with the only real answer lying in contraception that will eventually slow the reproduction rates in the wild.
Horses are unique in that they are not really “wild” at all. They were released or escaped from explorers and settlers, or even en masse by the U.S. Army in days when there was plenty of unsettled room in the West. They have few natural predators, and it is unthinkable to hunt them, as one would deer or elk.
So the herds grow. At some point – there’s disagreement over the numbers – the herds become too much for the range where they live, and they compete with other wildlife and, in some places, ranchers’ cattle.
Rounding them up for adoption or relocation is costly. Neither the federal government nor the state of Nevada has the resources to do it properly. That’s why some horses from Nevada end up in the hands of people who run “sanctuaries” that are sometimes poorly operated and poorly supervised.
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Innovative programs like the adoption program at Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City are to be applauded, as are the tireless advocates in several wild-horse organizations in Northern Nevada.
Contraception, which seems to be working, is both a humane and cost-effective means of breaking the cycle. The irony of these horses is that they must be managed and controlled in order to remain wild.