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Part 2: The value of a wild horse

Read part 1 here.

Each wild horse deployed into and around remote forest and wilderness areas with depleted deer populations can abate 5.5 tons of wildfire fuels (grass and brush) annually (about 30 pounds/day/horse), without adversely affecting forage for deer; horses have only a 1% grazing overlap with deer.

— Hansen, R.M., Clark, R.C., & Lawhorn, W., 1977)

As an evolved North American native species, wild horses are quite at-home in and around forests and areas that are virtually inaccessible, especially wilderness areas.

On average, deer consume about seven pounds of grass and brush per day, per animal. Many remote wilderness areas are poorly suited to commercial livestock grazing due to the extensive predation of calves and lambs, and logistics cost related to poor accessibility and very difficult terrain.

These and other factors significantly reduce profitability to livestock producers with public lands grazing permits. Losing calves and lambs is not an option of livestock production.

And at least in wilderness areas, depleting all of the apex predators is unwise, and is what has led to the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Apex predators have evolved with unique skills that allow them to quickly cull sick or genetically weak animals from the populations of large and small herbivores. Their predation is vital in preventing deer sick with chronic wasting disease from remaining among populations of healthy deer and spreading the disease. Predators quickly cull diseased deer and elk and that helps to prevent the spread of that deadly disease.

Western forests are depleted of deer due to poor wildlife management.

California and Oregon are down over two million deer over the past five decades. These now missing deer had been abating nearly three million tons of grass and brush. It will take decades to correct our depleted deer populations.

A rewilded American wild horse, which is resistant to chronic wasting disease, will abate about 5.5 tons of prodigious grass and brush annually in and around forests, which roughly equals 5-7 acres of grass and brush (varies with area), which can be maintained by wild horses year-round at nominal levels without any human intervention or the added risk of man-caused wildfires, especially during summer.

“By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape. There are even unique interactions among large herbivore populations that can influence fire regimes,” according to William J. Ripple, a professor in the Oregon State University Department of Forestry, in an article in Science Magazine.

In order to accomplish the same task of deployed wild horses in the mitigation of grass and brush levels in areas of remote and difficult wilderness terrain, it would require two men about 4-5 weeks of work using hand tools.

Motorized equipment and methods are prohibited in wilderness areas, as well as impractical due to rugged terrain.

Each human laborer requires a minimum wage of about $15/hour, which equals $120/day/laborer, or $240 per day for two men. At a minimum of four weeks (20 work days), it equals about $4,800, which is comparable to the effect of one American wild horse grazing for one year.

There are also human resource issues involved with this method, which add more costs. So, using manpower, we arrive at a per-acre-cost for grass and brush abatement of $685.71 per acre. This is based upon the greatest average efficiency ($4,800.00 divided by 7-acres treated).

An American wild horse abates excess grass and brush fuel from wildfires on the same 7-acres virtually at no cost to taxpayers.

In wilderness areas, this is important because virtually all traditional fuel treatment methods used by the Forest Service and other agencies are prohibited, with good reason.

According to the Forest Service, even in areas where their most cost-effective method fuel treatment is allowed, which is prescribed burning, the cost to taxpayers is $400 per acre or more.

The western landscape has tens-of-millions of acres that have annually recurring grass and brush wildfire fuels.

Based upon the most recent science related to the health and welfare of humans and wildlife, prescribed burning is a terrible prescription for the control of annual grass and brush wildfire fuels.

Like wildfires, prescribed burns release tons of deadly toxins into our air. Some wildlife, especially reptiles, amphibians and ground birds, are overcome and killed by the smoke and heat.

Further, some prescribed burns get out of control and become uncontrolled wildfires.

An American wild horse will live about 15-20 years in a wilderness environment and has no human resource issues; they don’t need management or paychecks; they don’t sue anyone and they don’t start fires.

Each horse deployed into a wilderness wildfire fuels maintenance role will yield about $72,000 in work value over its life.

The value of a wild horse in a wildfire fuels mitigation role is a multiple of 450-times the value of the same horse rendered as meat.

It’s clearly obtuse to even consider using wild horses for slaughter given that on top of the $72,000, there is added value to that outlined above in regard to the savings to taxpayers in firefighting costs, increased insurance costs, value of natural resources lost, increase health costs from smoke, loss of economic value in communities due to fire damage to properties leading to loss of tax role values, etc.

Furthermore, having evolved on the North American continent 55 million years ago, wild horses have documented symbiotic mutualisms with both forest and soils ecosystems that invasive species cattle and sheep do not have as ruminants.

Wild horses are monogastric digestors (single stomach) and pass both humus and viable native plant seeds back onto the soils they graze, which restores fire-damages soils and allows the evolved symbiotic re-seeding of native plants; critical to the survival of native flora, and the fauna dependent on the native flora.

Ecologically sound grazing by native species of horses sequesters carbon compounds back into soils. Wildfires and prescribed burns volatilize these compounds into our air and atmosphere, further accelerating climate change.

We have a ready-made solution via a draft outline for a legislative bill that could save American taxpayers billions of dollars annually.

Learn more about naturalist/rancher William E. Simpson II and his research at www.WHFB.us

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