Who Will Stand For The Cold Creek Wild Horses?

The Nevada Legislature is trying to exclude wild horses and burros from the definition of wildlife. That will allow them to also exclude wild horses and burros from water rights.

The Nevada Legislature is trying to exclude wild horses and burros from the definition of wildlife. That will allow them to also exclude wild horses and burros from water rights.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

There’s an old saying, It’s better to help a friend a week too early rather than a day too late.” There are different variations on that theme, and I’ve most often seen it used when people are trying to determine when to euthanize a beloved pet. But a few days ago I was reminded of it in the context of the Cold Creek wild horses in Nevada, where at least some of the group are starving,  including mares and foals. An ensuing debate (whether to help the horses or take no action) raises some ethical and philosophical issues about our idyllic view of nature free from human (and BLM) interference. For instance, is it acceptable to feed these wild horses on compassionate and moral grounds, or do we prefer a laissez-faire management policy that would subject horses and burros to starvation by letting Mother Nature work her will?

You can see from the pics that the worst of these horses would probably rate a 1 or a 2 on the Henneke scale.  Some wild horse advocates have proposed that the starvation death of the horses is preferable to a round-up by the BLM, which they believe may be prompted by a Cold Creek resident’s letter that has been circulating about the condition of the horses. The volunteer-based America’s Wild Horse Advocates have suggested that the original letter writer was intent on creating drama in order that the horses would be removed from Cold Creek. If you read the letter, which is included here, you may agree that the writer of the letter seems hopeful that a roundup will not occur, because the horses are too weak to survive it, and suggests a coordinated effort to help the horses on the ground where they stand. Avoiding the involvement of the BLM seems to be a motivating factor in the decision by the AWHA to wait until fall to determine what, if any action should be taken, while continuing to negotiate for PZP darting.

The original letter does not strike me as that written by someone determined to remove the horses from the area, so I would not say that AWHA has really made that case successfully. The  initial

Original email written by a resident of Cold Creek (click to embiggen)

Original email written by a resident of Cold Creek (click to embiggen)

response by the group to the letter of concern seems quite dismissive of the horses’ condition, referring to them merely as “thin” and to the initial letter writer as some sort of busybody who wants to get rid of the horses. The wild horse advocate makes several untenable claims about the condition of the horses and admonishes people who have expressed concern about the horses as “bleeding hearts.” Here are some of the claims:

“The lower bands will fill out in the fall. If they don’t, AWHA will take care of it.”

Emaciated mares with foals are being fed (at least at the time photos were taken), despite assertions that it is illegal to do so. Being fed by well-meaning people does mean that they will come down to the road for handouts, risking accidents with vehicles. Not only that, abrupt or inappropriate re-feeding can cause metabolic abnormalities leading multi-organ failure and death.

Emaciated mares with foals are being fed (at least at the time photos were taken), despite assertions that it is illegal to do so. Being fed by well-meaning people does mean that they will come down to the road for handouts, risking accidents with vehicles. Not only that, abrupt or inappropriate re-feeding can cause metabolic abnormalities leading multi-organ failure and death.

These horses need more than “filling out,” let’s be honest. I have to admit I’m gobsmacked by the suggestion that the horses are not starving, but merely “thin.”  A horse that has lost 50 percent of its body weight has a poor prognosis for survival. How will it be taken care of? If feeding is illegal, how will the situation be resolved? If they can be fed somehow in the fall, why not do it now, since they critically need it and before they decline even further? And it’s already too late for anyone to suggest that we should not interfere with nature, something we’ve done since the very 1st day when we started fencing horses off in pockets of land.  We already hold interventions for wild animals – vaccination programs against diseases such as rabies or tuberculosis have been implemented for decades, and in national parks, starving animals are sometimes provided with additional food so that they may survive.   Proposed growth suppression projects via PZP will all come too late for any horse who is a literal bone rack.

“It’s called Natural Selection” and “It’s survival of the fittest”

It’s neither “natural selection” nor “survival of the fittest,” at least not from a biological perspective. Modern society interprets “survival of the fittest” to mean that only the strong survive. We often think of evolution in terms of a winner take all competition between the weak and the strong.  The individuals that survive are not always the strongest, fastest, or smartest – the individuals who survive are those who have variations better suited to their environment and as a result, leave behind more offspring than individuals that are less well adapted. Natural selection is a process that generates or guides adaptations (traits) over evolutionary time. For a trait to be shaped by natural selection it must be genetic and heritable. Natural selection is a mechanism of evolution, and it is not about survival in the short term in a sample population of 250 animals, as longevity in the short term and adaptation over generational time (a really long period of time!) are not the same things. The effects of natural selection are barely perceptible, except over long periods of time, so the starvation of one generation of a herd of horses is not an example of natural selection.

The majority of wild animals of any species die well before they reach maximum lifespan, but horses are at a greater disadvantage than many other species.

The majority of wild animals of any species die well before they reach maximum lifespan, but horses are at a greater disadvantage than many other species.

“All in all, an honourable death…preferable to dying in captivity”

I agree that the horses should not be gathered, and probably wouldn’t survive it anyway. When the horse is removed as through helicopter roundups, or is killed off by man, it leaves a big gap that upsets the equilibrated life-support system benefiting other wild populations. Wild horses are also a climax species, helping to sustain other ecosystems through the grazing of grass, pruning of vegetation, and consequent bolstering of annual plant productivity. Since wild horses are already being lost to roundups, slaughter, and most recently to fire, why not do more than stand around watching them starve?

To sum up: there are three possible courses of action for these horses.

  1. No intervention. The horses would either somehow gain weight on their own, or they would be allowed to starve to death
  2. Euthanasia – if they cannot regain weight, or no one is prepared to supplement them, then for some of the worst cases, euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds
  3. Feeding – Is welfare better served by feeding rather than doing nothing? It is also justifiable if the horses won’t likely survive otherwise.

If we believe that appropriate action should be option #3, then intervention should take place immediately before welfare declines even further.

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

I don’t know what the solution is beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t even know how it is legally or logistically workable.  But I absolutely do not believe that starvation should be the preferred outcome here.

What is really upsetting about this is that when it comes to an animal’s suffering it seems that supposedly intelligent and highly qualified individuals cannot use their logic and experience gained over the years to show compassion to a suffering animal. How many times do we tell pro-slaughters that starvation and slaughter are not the only two options? From an ethical standpoint, I believe that it is both appropriate and even necessary to intervene to help ensure that the wild horses retain their proper place in the landscape.



Letters Explain the Group’s Rationale for their Position on PZP and Feeding:

About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic plant-based eater, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

12 responses »

  1. Heather: another eloquent, logical and compassionate yet heartbreaking piece. How can we make #3 solution a reality?

  2. Click on http://www.USA.gov and tell agencies and elected officials to intervene.

    As expected, Congress refuses to pass The SAFE Act and The Past Act under Boehner & McConnell so slaughter buyers would love any chance to have at any equine, wherever they may be and whatever condition they may be in. Abuse and killing/slaughter travel together.

    The more we tolerate the usual lies, abuses and game-playing with our native species, the more we will lose.
    We already know what is likely.

    Persist and never stop hammering Congress and The White House: we need The SAFE Act and The Past Act passed and verifiable enforcement funded so that we have a way to demonstrate a value to our own native wildlife and the consequences for crimes.

    Protections must come from the federal government since agencies and state governments have never and will never bother to protect or enforce regulations about wildlife. Until we have informed voters who show up at elections and vote according to facts, we will see our own wildlife held as disposable.

    When we see killing and death as the “solution”, we know that corruption, ignorance and bad faith holds the floor.

    These stories are always the same thing: no matter what it is, the answer for our voiceless innocent is always to abuse and kill them for the sheer convenience of the most corrupt. It is up to us to act.

    I just wrote The White House again. https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

    Post this on social media, please, with links for contacting elected officials and agencies.

  3. This is a disgrace and a crime to let these horse’s starve.
    Nevada doesnt care about these horse’s. There is no interest to help or remove them.
    There is no mining interest and no cattle in this area.
    Any other time there’s a excuse to remove horse’s because they are starving or need human intervention. Which in those cases are total lies. Also in these cases of excuses to remove horse’s and burros is due livestock ranchers wanting to increase herds and grazing. Also another excuse to remove horse’s and burros is fracting, oil drilling and mining.
    No one has no interest in this area so they don’t care.
    I live on the East Coast and many more like me are watching and fine this to be a disgrace.
    Letting horse’s to starve and no water is a crime.
    Legislatures won’t do nothing to help this horse’s but will go out of their way to help fracting and oil mining companies and livestock ranchers.
    Shame on you.

  4. I wish it were easy – so many lawsuits to prevent the BLM from rounding-up horses that should be protected over and above the interests of cattle.

    When you look at the land base and allocation of forage in comparison you see just how small the wild horse issue really is. Over 250 million acres of public land are managed for livestock grazing, while the BLM has 26.9 million acres managed for wild horses and burros in comparison. You therefore have wild horses on about 11% of BLM land. But even with equids being allocated approximately 11% of the land, the BLM still allocates most of the forage resources to privately owned livestock; management areas may consist of the equivalent of 1,000 cows and 100 horses, and when the horse population reaches 125, the BLM says the horses are overpopulating.

    The horses are seen as competitors for a resource that has been overgrazed for more than a century by cattle. Obviously, what we really have is an overpopulation of cattle and sheep on our public lands, not horses.

  5. There are things worse than dying.
    This is immoral, and shameful and unkind beyond words.
    How can anyone profess to admire these horses and allow this to continue?
    My first call tomorrow will be to the Governor.
    Join me anyone?

  6. What do those concerned have to do to get proverbial (gov) permission to supplement those horses that are currently suffering (lower ranges) during this time? Don’t each and every one of us as citizens “own” these horses thereby necessitating the responsibility to step in where needed? I am serious about conquering this problem while sustenance remains challenging in the desert. Who is with me on this?

  7. I do not understand why mustangs have been mistreated for over 100 years, why the same issues are never corrected. If the majority of Americans want to let them remain free to run on public lands, why do lobbyists for the cattle industry always seem to win to the detriment of the mustang? Why is the BLM repeatedly acting not in the interests of the horses, and top executives never seem to get in trouble for the horrific acts they allow to happen to the wild mustang? My life has been enriched because of my mustangs, but if given the choice, I wish they could have remained free, and in that freedom, safe. Allowing them to languish in holding pens and sent to slaughter is beyond horrific; there is no justification for these acts. There exists, however, a glaring void of integrity and compassion in those individuals who continue to promote these senseless and evil acts to an animal that has done nothing but enrich the lives of people for centuries. I wish my voice, my opinion, mattered more than those who have allowed this to happen to the mustangs.

    • You are correct on all counts Deborah. It boggles my mind that Tom Davis got away with trucking 1,700 horses to slaughter. As a Canadian, I’m also confused how the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which helped form a wave of unprecedented, ecologically and species respectful laws, can be so completely flouted.

      You may be interested to know that in Canada, we have a chance to protect our wild horses. Has anyone done any sort of mitochondrial DNA analysis of the wild horses in the US? It’s been shown that our wildies may have crossed the Bering Strait, which is why they show comparables to horses with Russian lineages – https://www.facebook.com/helpalbertawildies/posts/739790049494814:0

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