The Wild Horse Conspiracy



October 12, 2022

Regarding: DECISION RECORD FOR THE MARIETTA BURRO GATHER EA (DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2022-0017-EA) by Carson City NV District Bureau of Land Management, signed by Stillwater Field Manager Jake Vialpando. Letter of September 16, 2022, received on September 20 by plaintiff.

Plaintiff: Craig C Downer, Andean Tapir Fund / Wild Horse and Burro Fund, P.O. Box 456, Minden, NV 89423.Cell. 775-901-2094. Email:

As an interested citizen and wildlife ecologist with a long history of visiting and giving input concerning the Marietta Wild Burro Range (MWBR) wild burros as well as wild horses, I now take this opportunity to appeal the EA, FONSI and Decision Record for the Marietta Burro Gather EA (DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2022-0017-EA) that was recently issued on September 16, 2022 by Mr. Jake Vialpando, Stillwater Field Manager, Carson City BLM District, Nevada.

I have given input for these wild burros dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, including input prior to and concerning the creation of the Marietta Wild Burro Range when I was employed as Director of Research Services for the Animal Protection Institute of America. I have also collaborated extensively with Velma Bronn Johnston and her organization, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB), our nation’s oldest wild horse and burro non-profit group, on which I presently serve as a board member.

While I was pleased with the creation of the Marietta Wild Burro Range and was invited by BLM to attend its on-site dedication ceremony, I declined this invitation in protest of the inadequate size of both the legal habitat and the designated Appropriate Management Level. I simply could not give approval to such a small wild burro nature reserve of only ca. 68,000 acres and to a population allowance of only 78 low to 104 high burros, which is nowhere near an objective and scientifically determined, genetically viable population number. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Equid Specialist Group (ESG), composed of the world’s leading equine biologists, recommends that for a wild, naturally living population of equids, including burros, there should be at least 2,500 reproductively intact and connected individuals in order to assure a viable population (see A population of 2,500 would be one that possesses sufficient genetic diversity to be able to withstand the vicissitudes of nature over time, depending, of course, on the actual heterogeneity of the extant burro population being considered. Even for a population that is on the brink of extinction and all of whose members and occupied habitat are being stringently protected, this Equid Specialist Group recommended there be present at least 500 intact
individuals for a minimum viable population (op. cit. above). The extremely low AML assigned for the wild burros of the MWBR puts them at extreme risk of inbreeding depression and genetic drift (see Ch. 9 of Marchetti, M.P. and P.B. Moyle. 2010. Protecting Life on Earth: An Introduction to the Science of Conservation. Univ. Calif. Press. Pp. 137-8).

According to BLM’s current wild burro census, there are around 500 wild burros in the MWBR and close vicinity and the burros are practicing natural rest rotation movements to distribute their foraging pressure according to their age-old survival instincts. BLM should be setting up cooperative agreements to allow these natural rest rotation movements, rather than using these natural seasonal movements as an excuse to extremely reduce the herd. BLM’s planned extreme reduction to the low AML of 78 burros would counteract the natural limitation to reproduction that comes with the mature social structures that the burros themselves have established over the generations. This proposed herd reduction would also set back the Marietta burros’ harmonious adaptation to their ecosystem, including many of the positive contributions they make to this ecosystem. The latter includes the enrichment of soils through
humus derived from their droppings. This soil enrichment enables increased water retention and increased soil nutrients that benefit both plants and animals. Burros also facilitate an increased dispersal of intact seeds of a great variety of plant species, which likewise contributes to greater animal, as well as plant, biodiversity and, consequently, the greater resilience of the ecosystem. The latter is greatly needed today due to Global Climate Change/Warming. Additionally, the wild burros – and wild horses too – also greatly reduce what is called the “fuel load,” or dry tinder, whether grass or shrubbery, which is very important for the mitigation and prevention of catastrophic wildfires.

Given the mean value of 91 burros resulting from the assigned AML of 78 to 104, the BLM is implying that 68,000 divided by 91, or 747 acres / 1.2 square miles per individual wild burro is “appropriate”. But this would be practically a “wild-burro-empty” ecosystem that falls far short from achieving the true intent of the WFHBA as “land devoted principally to the welfare and benefit” of the wild burros, as especially a wild burro “range” should establish according to current BLM regulations. Even in this arid habitat, the burros – who are a very arid-adapted species – would be very much below their carrying capacity, or k, at this extremely stingy Appropriate Management Level. In other words, BLM is not defending the true rights for a thriving, viable population level and the space, forage, water and other habitat requirements that are required for such. And this is not happening for the Marietta wild burros even in their established range that is designated principally for them and where they should enjoy a truly “thriving” population, be allowed to fill their ecological niche and become well-integrated into the natural life community of the public lands and including adjacent private lands where necessary, as can be arranged through Sections 4 and 6 of the WFHBA. The true spirit and intent of the WFHBA is being ignored and this diminishes all Americans’ quality of life. If necessary, authorities to expand the MWBR on BLM lands or, to repeat, under Sections 4 and 6 of the WFHBA, should be exercised in order to achieve an adequate, commensurate habitat for a truly long-term-viable population of wild burros.

The vehicular damage to this desert ecosystem is another disturbing aspect of MWBR I have repeatedly noticed during my numerous visits here over many years. The mining trucks (Alford Drilling signs were present on 10/27/2022 – see photos) that pass through the MWBR stir up much particulate pollution that is harmful to the burros and other wildlife species as well as to visitors; the strong desert winds that frequently blow also greatly stir this particulate pollution into the air. The heavily corduroyed roads were also disturbing and even dangerous to drive on. And I am also concerned about the enormous amounts of water that are probably being used in the nearby mining operations and how this affects the water table and provision of surface water sources for the wild burros and other wildlife.

Furthermore, during nearly every visit to the MWBR, including when I recently visited on 9/27/2022, I was disturbed, as were the burros, by violent explosions coming from the adjacent Excelsior Mountains. These explosions loosen the mineral-bearing rock formations to produce ore that can be pulverized and cyanide heap leached to extract valuable metals. The loud noise and the trembling of the earth disturb the natural tranquility of what is supposed to be a wild-burro-containing nature reserve — the MWBR.

My observation of the forage generally indicated sufficient food for the burros and the few horses present. As a matter of fact, I noticed how these equids were having a positive effect on the vegetation and also pruning away dry flammable grasses, thus reducing the possibility of wildfires that could scorch the MWBR and vicinity. The recent cloudburst, whose aftermath I abundantly documented on 9/27/2022, had produced extensive flash flooding on the western side of the MWBR; no doubt, this helped replenish aquifers, including in the Teels Marsh section of the MWBR, where I observed ca. 20 wild burros. (See photos.)

For proofs concerning the major benefits that the wild burros contribute to desert ecosystems such as the Mojave Desert, which MWBR is very related to, check out this YouTube: Burros: Ecosystem Engineers – Wild Burro Research. June, 2021. The link is . I have observed these substantial benefits throughout my life and they apply also to the wild horses.

Also overlooked by the BLM is the fact that the rare lineages of America’s wild horses and wild burros should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A federal appeals court ruled on May 17, 2021, that the rare Pryor Mountain wild horse herd qualified for consideration for protection under the ESA, representing a unique population that had been in the Pryor Mountains for many generations and, additionally, preserved rare Spanish Colonial genetic characteristics (see In this regard, I observed rare Nubian donkey characteristics during my recent visit to the Marietta Wild Burro Range on September, 27, 2022, as on earlier dates, and took pictures to document these, including of the pronounced shoulder stripes (see
photos). The wild burros of America are preserving subspecies and races of the burro species, Equus asinus, that include this rare Nubian wild ass. These subspecies and races are disappearing and are classified as endangered or even critically endangered by the IUCN SSC Equid Specialist Group (see ). And these burros are restoring themselves in the very lands of their evolutionary origin and long-standing evolution (see MacFadden, B.J. 1992. Fossil horses: systematics, paleobiology, and evolution of the family Equidae. Cambridge Univ. Press, England; Martin, P.S. and H.E. Wright. 1967. Pleistocene Extinctions. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT). MacFadden (1992 op cit.) indicates that the ass branch of Equidae evolved in North America throughout the Hemphillian, Blancan, and Pleistocene geological periods. Though the modern burro (Equus asinus) is considered by some as having originated from so-called African wild asses (Eguus africanus) and can and does produce fertile offspring with such (Duncan, P. 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: An Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids, page 15 link:, it is most probably not significantly different from its North American ancestors.

And one respected paleontologist believes that the African wild ass originally arose in North America (see KIingel, H. 1979. A Comparison of the Social Organization of the Equids. IN: Symposium on the Ecology and Behavior of Wild and Feral Equids. Proc: U. Wyoming, Laramie. Sept. 6-8. 1979). Until recently both the modern burro and the African wild ass were considered the same species, Equus asinus, and still are in many circles. As with the wild horses, when returned to North America, the burro readily adapts to an ecological niche that its not-so-distant ancestors filled for millions of years, including in what is today western and southwestern USA and south into Mexico, among other regions. The distinction between E. asinus and E. africanus seems more a political one than a sound biological one. Furthermore, it is widely recognized that North America became species poor, or depauperate, in large mammals after the massive Pleistocene extinction that affected many other mammals. In light of the foregoing, the return of the burro (as well as the horse) should be viewed as a restoration of the North American ecosystem, a resuming of an age-old continuum, and a repair in the anciently evolved web of life (see also Donlow, J. et al. 2005. Rewilding North America. Nature 436 [7053]: 913-914; Martin, P.S. 2005. Twilight of the mammoths: ice age extinctions and the rewilding of America. University of California Press, Berkeley). Burros are exquisitely adapted to the hot, dry deserts of southern Nevada, where they refill an ecological niche occupied by their ancestors of a not-too-distant past, paleontologically speaking.

Concerning BLM’s reported rates of increase of the Marietta wild burros, these bear careful scrutiny and seem to be grossly exaggerated. For example, the reported increase between the census of March 1, 2018, at 193 burros and the census of March 1, 2019, at 354 burros shows an 83% increase in one year. This would require the 193 burros to have had 161 surviving foals – which is unrealistic given the normal approximate 50% female to 50% male sex ratio. The jump in population between March 1, 2020, at 425
to 548 on March 1, 2021, indicates a 29% increase and the addition of 123 burros. The jump between March, 2021, at 548 and March 1, 2022, at 688 indicate an increase of 140 burros for a 26% increase. These figures are very suspect and seem to bear out the 2013 National Academy of Science report conclusion that “[the BLM] has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population size of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals (see Nat. Acad. Of Science Research Committee. 2013 [June 5]. Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward. Available at

It also seems that BLM is overlooking the natural predation by pumas, as well as other mortality factors, in the Marietta Wild Burro Range. Exhaustive scientific studies have proven that the mountain lions prevalent throughout the West are in fact significant predators of wild equids and that to discount this predation distorts population growth projection to a large degree. For more insightful information on this subject of wild equid predation and natural equid population limitation as well as other insightful
and related topics, see Lundgren, E.J. et al. (2018. Introduced Megafauna are rewilding the Anthropocene. Ecography 41: 857-866 available at this link: and Elbein, A. (2019. Death Valley’s Park
Service Wants Them Gone — But are Wild Donkeys Really the Enemy? Officials are trying to rid Death Valley National Park of Burros. But are they [the burros] actually helping native species flourish? Link: . See also Andreasen, A.M. (2021. Prey Specialization by Cougars on Feral Horses in a Desert Environment. Journal Wildlife Management 1-17, 2021; DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.22087) as well as

Before concluding, I must strongly object to the planned administration of fertility control vaccines and drugs such as PZP, GonaCon-Equine and other newly developed vaccines upon the released female burros, or jennies, as well as to inter-uterine devices and the unnatural skewing of sex ratios to arrive at a 60% male to 40% female ratio. These invasive alterations of the burros’ natural constitution and social structure will undermine their survival fitness, social cohesion and functionality and are ways of
domesticating these burros that conflict with the true spirit and intent of the WFHBA. As a substantiation of the serious harmful impacts of PZP upon wild horses and burros, I refer you to this link:

As already mentioned, it is very important that BLM consider the very effective role as predators of both wild burros and wild horses that is played by mountain lions/pumas (Felis concolor). Mountain lion predation on both these equid species could be significant in and around the MWHR, but the Carson City BLM seems not to have taken this fairly into account. It is known that the nearby Montgomery Pass wild horse herd is majorly predated and limited in its population growth by mountain lions (see link: Title: Seasonal mountain lion predation of a feral horse population. 1992. Turner, J.W., M.L. Wolfe, and J.F. Kirkpatrick. Canadian Journal of Zoology / Revue Canadien de Zoologie; also

The following are some well substantiated scientific references that should be taken into full account concerning the Marietta Wild Burro Range and other wild-burro and wild-horse-containing ecosystems that the BLM, USFS and other government or private entities protect and manage: Lundgren, E.J. et al. 2022. A novel Trophic Cascade between cougars and feral donkeys shapes desert
wetlands. Journal of Animal Ecology 00, 1-10. Link: . Aug. 8, 2022.
Predation on burros by big cats, an echo of past era in North America at
Also, view this compelling video entitled Apex predators are Critical to healthy Ecosystems at

For further details about Reserve Design and how it works, see:

I believe the skewed 60% male to 40% female sex ratios would cause much social disruption in the wild burros of the MWBR. It would result in an increase in agonistic, or aggressive, behavior as jacks come into an unnatural degree of conflict. Although burros tend mainly to be territorial with a male jack defending a territory and the territory itself attracting females, or jennies, given unnatural numbers of males, there would occur increased challenges to established territorial jacks and this would disrupt
necessary survival activities, like foraging and watering, daily and seasonal movements and negatively affect the survival abilities of these wild burros, who must tightly cohere to survive in this desert habitat. This also involves the older burros helping the younger burros and instructing them on how to survive in the MWBR and surrounding habitat. Needed instead concerning the whole BLM plan for the Marietta wild burros and their habitat is a sound Reserve Design strategy. This would focus on restoring a truly long-term-viable population of naturally living burros in a commensurately long-term-viable habitat. By implementing the sound principles of Reserve Design and Rewilding, the BLM can achieve a truly holistic program of wild burro conservation. And the Marietta wild burros will become: (1) long-term genetically viable; (2) ecologically well adapted, for allowed to fill their important, mutually beneficial niche in and around the MWBR; and (3) naturally self-stabilizing as to their herd size, which would fluctuate over the years according to the changing carrying capacity, or k. This latter would be determined by the changing productivity of their habitat and related to climate change and impacts upon their habitat, which these burros would bolster and enhance (see above references for Reserve Design).

Along with this Appeal of the BLM’s announced decision to extremely reduce the MWBR burros, I am additionally requesting a Stay of Action to halt this wild burro roundup. My appeal and request for stay meets the four indicated standards indicated in the letter of September 16, 2022, from the Carson City BLM as follows:

1. The relative harm to the parties if this stay is denied: As a wildlife ecologist, my specialty includes the wild burros and horses and other mammalian herbivores in the Perissodactyla Order. As a long-time visitor and observer of the Marietta wild burros dating back to the 1970s, I have made professional observations of the MWBR burros and their habitat during the 1980s, 1990s, and ensuing decades. I am very concerned that the drastic reduction of these burros to a mere 78 individuals would greatly interfere with my lifelong study and enjoyment. This latter has produced a long record of photographic and field notation documentation of these burros and their intriguing and topographically quite varied habitat. I present the foregoing as proof of relative harm if the announced major herd reduction proceeds. My earlier publications, including discussions and photographs of the Marietta burros and
their desert habitat, substantiate the foregoing. Included here is my first published book (1977. Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom. Western Printers and Publishers, Sparks, Nevada) and my more recent illustrated book (2011 & 2014 2nd ed. The Wild Horse Conspiracy, available in print or as eBook at Several scientific publications and popular articles, including observations and recommendations about the burros, further substantiate my claims. For BLM to reduce this herd to the mere token, genetically substandard level of 78 and to interfere with their individual physiological and reproductive constitution as well as their generations-in-the-making social structure and long-standing ecological adaptations would greatly harm my life-long study and enjoyment of this special and unique wild burro herd. As further proof, I have guided and helped narrate
video films about the Marietta burros such as Marietta Wild Burro Range w/ Craig Downer & Tom Porter (March 30, 2015), which can be viewed at this link:

Also, over a period of decades, I have given timely input to the BLM concerning its management plans for the Marietta wild burros and their legal habitat. I have repeatedly protested the extremely low population assignment and have urged the BLM to increase this as well as to allow for a more extensive and complete habitat, as is authorized under Sections 4 and 6 of the WFHBA. And I have also stood up for the few bands of wild horses that inhabit along the mountainous margins of the MWBR – several of whom I was thrilled to see again on 9/27/2022.

In upshot, both the quality and the purpose of my life as a wild burro biological investigator and conservationist would be greatly harmed were the Carson City BLM’s announced Marietta wild burro capture and removal to proceed. I would also feel very sorry for the individual wild burros, many of whom I have come to know and recognize as individuals. And similar can be said about the planned
elimination of all the stalwart and positive wild horses of this scenic region. Most visitors who come here and see these mustangs are similarly thrilled.

2. The likelihood of the appellant’s success on the merits: I have revealed ample points of merit in what I just presented as part of this appeal and request for stay. Further merit is also derivable from the Multiple Use Act, the National Historical Preservation Act and NEPA.

3. The likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm if the stay is not granted: The draconian herd reduction of the Marietta wild burros would disrupt my professional observations of how these burros adapt to the Marietta valley and mountain ecosystem. Because the burros’ social structure and traditional knowledge of how to survive, as gained over a succession of generations, would be greatly set back, along with their ongoing ecological adaptations and mutualistic relationships with sympatric species of plants and animals, my lifelong study of the Marietta wild burros would be thrown into disarray, as would the lives of the burros subject to the proposed extreme herd reduction and invasive fertility drugs and manipulations, etc. This would constitute a quite serious immediate as well as irreparable harm to me personally.

4. Whether the public interest favors granting the stay: Substantial proof exists that the great majority of the General Public favors much more just and fair treatment of America’s wild burros, including those of the picturesque Marietta Wild Burro Range – the only designated wild burro range in our country! And remember that the WFHBA was passed unanimously. Many opinion-survey polls, articles, films, etc., have indicated that most Americans are very dissatisfied with how their wild burros, as well as wild horses, are being treated and feel that their population level assignments, or AMLs, along with their habitat, including forage, water, and niche space allocations, including AUMs, are woefully inadequate.

Most consider that these wild burros, as well as most wild horses, are being targeted and set up to become mere token, dysfunctional herds that would go into a decline and very possibly die out within a relatively few succeeding generations. As proof of this I refer you to another recent article whose link is:
This counts among a number of other articles, videos, books, webinars, public talks and PowerPoints, including in Elko, Nevada, during the Cowboy Poetry Festival, that substantiate my serious investment in seeing realized truly robust and thriving wild burro populations including the MWBR. Many members of the public, including professionals, back me in defending the Public Interest in this Quality-of-Life issue. They support my present Appeal and Request for Stay so that a much fairer plan and provision for these
wild burros can be developed. This better plan would not reduce them to a mere token, dysfunctional, semi-domesticated, and genetically non-viable herd. This latter would be very much contrary to the true and core intent of the WFHBA that was unanimously passed a little over five decades ago.

Do not hesitate in contacting me for further clarifications concerning my urgent Appeal and Request for Stay of Action.

In the Light of a Better Tomorrow,


Craig C. Downer
Wildlife Ecologist, Wild Horse and Burro Fund / Andean Tapir Fund
Member IUCN Species Survival Commission
P.O. Box 456
Minden, NV 89423-0456
Email:; Cell: (775) 901-2094

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