The Wild Horse Conspiracy

Proposal for Ecological Evaluation: Salt River Wild Horse Herd, Arizona

Proposal for Ecological Evaluation: Salt River Wild Horse Herd, Arizona

For Respect for Horses, Simone Netherlands, President, P.O. Box 6150, Chino Valley, AZ 86323.

By Craig C. Downer, Wildlife Ecologist, P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423

At the request of Respect for Horses. I propose to do an ecological evaluation of the Salt River wild horse population and habitat. I would begin with a literature review followed by a field inspection of the herd and the riverine corridor it occupies, taking notes, photographs, and GPS readings that I will later analyze and, coupled with further readings and interviews, polish up into a report with recommendations.

Particular questions I will seek to answer are:
(a) What is a close estimate of census numbers for the herd and their geographical distribution and how has this fluctuated during the past decade and before?
(b) What are the historical origins of the herd and how long has it been here? I understand this herd dates from early Spanish-American times, so my working hypothesis is that it has become well-established here and managed to fill its ecological niche, at least to some considerable degree, and that the other plants and animals with which it lives have come to mutually benefit from its presence. This is expected also because of the vast evolutionary past history of horses in North America, including this part of the world, and because as a monogastric, or post-gastric, digester, it complements the other – nearly all ruminant – mammalian species of grazers and browsers of vegetation here. And there are many other reasons for this mutually beneficial complementarity.
(c) What are the chief disruptive factors present in the Salt River ecosystem and how do they affect this wild-horse-containing ecosystem? Also, how might the wild horses be used as scapegoats for damages these other factors are, in fact, causing? These would include livestock and their degree of overgrazing, predators and their degree of elimination by predator control programs, pollution of water from erosion and human-associated chemicals, including agricultural, in the air, soil, water, and in the very tissues of plants and animals;
(d) What is the degree of Off-Road-Vehicles impact on the ecosystem, including gully erosion, wind-blown air pollution, destruction of vegetation and topsoils, etc.? And what are the impacts of other forms of recreation in the ecosystem?
(e) What is the degree of wild horse persecution, including illegal capture and killings by humans, and how is this rooted in the attitudes of local people as well as local, state and federal bureaucracies?
(f) Are government programs and policies at all levels: local, state and federal, aimed at overly reducing or eliminating wild horses from the wild?
(g) What are the major species of flora and fauna in the herd’s ecosystem? Which are rarest and most threatened? How does the wild horse herd affect these and how do these affect the wild horses? Here I would need a set of excellent and current field guides for the major taxa of plants & animals, perhaps from a library.
(h) What are the laws and ordinances that apply to the Salt River herd and how might these be working for or against the wild horses? For example, to what degree should the Salt River herd be protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971? Are they found on federal lands, especially BLM or US Forest Service, or close by to such, and were they here in 1971? Could WFHBA’s Section 6 concerning “cooperative agreements” be applied to protect the herd and its natural ecosystem? Could these agreements be formed with other land-controlling entities, including private? Also could CFR 4710.5 & .6 be applied to reduce livestock in this herd’s habitat, or could such be reduced through cooperative agreements that substitute other less ecologically damaging ways of life?
(i) How could Reserve Design, described in my book The Wild Horse Conspiracy, be applied to the Salt River wild horses, so as to achieve both a long-term viable and a naturally self-stabilizing population? And what steps should be defined for this implementation? Included here would be proposals for buffer zones, possibly involving human discouragement in certain areas through various forms of harmless “adverse conditioning,” the identification of possible natural barriers, the wisdom of whether or not to erect semi-permeable, artificial barriers, etc. By allowing the horses to fill their niche within an adequate area for a long-term viable population, as a “climax” species, they should limit their own numbers through social, physiological and other means, while proving themselves an enrichment to the ecosystem as a whole.
(j) Related to this would be a factually derived estimate of the “carrying capacity” for wild horses within their occupied Salt River ecosystem. This would allow for long-term planning. For this I would need to estimate the annual productivity of edible vegetation and with what proportion this is shared among the herbivorous species present. This would enable our team to estimate to what extent the wild horses are filling their niche in this area, and my working hypothesis is that they are far from doing so.

At the end of my report, I would present a factual assessment of the Salt River herd and its present ecological situation. This would be followed by my recommendations, including various alternatives, to provide for a healthy and promising future for these remarkable animals, to whose kind mankind owes an enormous debt of gratitude. What better way to repay them than by allowing them to live free and natural lives in as complete and intact an ecosystem as possible in today’s world?

Normally I would ask $2,500 to perform such an ecological evaluation and would appreciate any payment for my professional service as close to this as could be mustered. This could be tax-deductible and made out to the non-profit organization for which I work: the Andean Tapir Fund, a 501 c 3. This organization is now dedicated to saving and restoring all odd-toed ungulate grazers, including all members of the tapir, horse and rhinoceros families (see

I estimate that this evaluation would take between two weeks and a month, with several days spent observing the Salt River herd and the ecosystem these wild horses inhabit.

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