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Ray Callis Hatton III

Are Wild Horses Native To Us? Blm View Challenged

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Are wild horses native to US? BLM view challenged

American history textbooks teach generation after generation that the wild horses roaming the Western plains originated as a result of the European explorers and settlers who first ventured across the ocean and into the frontier.

But that theory is being challenged more strongly than ever before at archaeological digs, university labs and federal courtrooms as horse protection advocates battle the U.S. government over roundups of thousands of mustangs they say have not only a legal right but a native claim to the rangeland.

The group In Defense of Animals and others are pressing a case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that maintains wild horses roamed the West about 1.5 million years ago and didn't disappear until as recently as 7,600 years ago. More importantly, they say, a growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that today's horses are genetically linked to those ancient ancestors.

The new way of thinking could carry significant ramifications across hundreds millions of acres in the West where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management divides up livestock grazing allotments based partly on the belief the horses are no more native to those lands than are the cattle brought to North America centuries ago.

Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told a three-judge appellate panel in San Francisco earlier this year that the horses are "an integral part of the environment."

"As much as the BLM would like to see them as not, they are actually a native species. They are tied to this land," she said. "There would not be a horse but for North America. Every single evolutionary iteration of the horse is found here and only here."

Judge Mary Schroeder, former chief of the circuit, asked: "Just like polar bears?"

"Yes," Fazio answered, "they belong there."

The lawsuit cites researchers who say the most recent science backs her up and that the concept is widely accepted by most of the scientific community, with the most notable exception being the BLM itself.

"It's significant because BLM treats the wild horses like they are an invasive species that is not supposed to be out there," Fazio said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

A reversal of that long-held belief could have the effect of moving the native horses to the front of the line when divvying up the precious water and forage in the arid West.

BLM maintains the horse advocates are perpetuating a myth and many ranchers claim it's part of a ploy to push livestock off public lands.

"There are plenty of horses out in the Nevada desert," said Tom Collins, a Clark County commissioner who has a ranch outside of Las Vegas and has run cattle on U.S. lands in Arizona, Idaho and Utah.

"Most of these folks, maybe their father slapped them or their mother didn't love them, so now they are in love with these wild horses that aren't really wild," he said

BLM devotes "Myth No. 11" on its Web site to the "false claim" that wild horses are native to the United States.

"American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were imported from Europe and were released or escaped captivity in modern times," it says.

"The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today's wild horses cannot be considered `native' in any meaningful historical sense," BLM explains. It acknowledges the horses have adapted successfully to the Western range, but biologically they did not evolve on the North American continent

Jay F. Kirkpatrick, a leader in horse reproduction research who directs ZooMontana's Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont., is among those who say BLM's view is outdated.

"On the face of the science, it is just absolutely incorrect," said Kirkpatrick, who has studied reproductive physiology for decades since earning his degree at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

"It wasn't the predominant horse on the continent but it was here. It is native to North America," he told AP.

Kirkpatrick, who actually supports roundups as a necessary tool to control herd populations, said the key to determining if an animal is native is where it originated and whether or not it co-evolved with its habitat.

The mustangs "did both, here in North America," he said, beginning about 1.4 million years ago. He said they eventually crossed the Siberian land bridge into Asia before going extinct locally as recently as 7,600 years ago.

"This isn't about history, it's about biology,' Kirkpatrick said. "The Spanish were bringing them home."

Ross MacPhee, curator of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, agrees. He said the mustangs are classified as Equus caballus, which "evolved from more primitive forebears" in North America.

"There is therefore no question that it is `native' within any reasonable meaning of that word _ much more so than bison, for example, whose immediate ancestry is Asian," MacPhee said. "Yes, it disappeared from our shores for a few thousand years, but that has no bearing scientifically on whether it is historically `native."

BLM officials said they can't comment on pending litigation, but referred AP to their Web site descriptions and a leading scientist who agrees the agency's version is closer to the truth.

"Horses did evolve in North America but they went extinct 10,000 years ago," said Michael Hutchins, executive director of the Wildlife Society, a nonprofit scientific and educational association in Bethesda, Md.

Today's mustangs are "a domesticated, feral version that had gone through many, many generations of selective breeding to use as beasts of burden and were brought back to North America," he told AP. "They are a mishmash of domestic horses. They are not native. They are not wild horses."

If they are native, then so too are camels, cheetahs and lions that roamed the continent before extinction about the same time, Hutchins said. But they are not, he said, partly because the same ecological conditions no longer exist, the climate changed and most big predators gone.

Kirkpatrick said Europe's domestication of the horse over about 6,000 years may have changed the nuclear makeup of some genes but "it remains the same species and retains the same social organization and social behaviors that evolved over 1.4 million years."

"It matters not a Tinker's Damn if the ecology has changed," he said. "E. Caballus is the same species that disappeared."

The case pending in the 9th Circuit could go a long way toward determining future management of the animals and has the potential to send BLM back to the scientific drawing board before it can resume seasonal roundups of thousands of mustangs it says are damaging the environment.

The case already has cleared an unprecedented legal hurdle in that the appellate court is entertaining arguments about the merits of the law at all.

In previous similar challenges, courts have denied requests for emergency injunctions to block pending roundups based on conclusions plaintiffs failed to prove significant harm was imminent and/or they were likely to ultimately succeed in proving the government broke the law.

Then in a sort of "Catch-22," by the time a non-emergency hearing arrives, the BLM already has completed the roundup and persuades the judge the case is moot, any damage already done.

But that may be changing.

David Schildton, a Justice Department lawyer representing BLM, was following that script when he told the Ninth Circuit panel in January that "a live controversy" would have to exist for the court to act.

"And since the gather has already occurred and approximately seven horses were humanely destroyed because of pre-existing conditions, I don't know that there is effective relief," he said.

Not necessarily, said Judge Johnnie Rawlinson.

"The remainder of the horses could be returned," she said. "The overall claim for relief is these horses were being taken from their native habitat. If the horses are being housed at a long-term or short-term facility, they could be reinstated to their native habitat."

The 9th Circuit ruling is still pending. But the judge in Sacramento who denied the original bid in September to block a 1,700-horse roundup in the Twin Peaks area along the California-Nevada line adopted a similar position in April when he refused BLM's request to dismiss the case.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. ruled it could go forward because "effective relief can still be granted" if plaintiffs prove BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act or the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

"This court could conceivably provide relief in the form of an order returning all animals in ... holding facilities to either Twin Peaks or the West until all requirements of NEPA are met," he said.

BLM agrees Congress wants the horses treated as part of the environment, Schildton said, but the focus should be on protecting the land itself not affording the horses special treatment.

"They are not an endangered species," Schildton said. "The effect on the horses themselves would be part of the environmental study... but the ultimate question is, `Does this proposal bring about a significant environmental impact?'"

Fazio said BLM misinterprets the law.

"The whole purpose of this act is to protect the wild horses from capture, harassment, branding and death," she said. "Multiple use if fine, but where lands are designated for horses _ this icon of the West, this embodiment of freedom _ you have to make a priority out of protecting them."

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Most of these folks, maybe their father slapped them or their mother didn't love them
My gosh, this is an intelligent response.....rolleyes.gif

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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What missing link? As I read the article, all sides agree that the American horse became extinct some 10,000 years ago. Nobody is saying they did not go extinct in the Americas. The debate seems to be whether an American horse can still be considered American if it lived abroad for a while. And that's where the lawyers come in and the scientists leave.

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What missing link? As I read the article, all sides agree that the American horse became extinct some 10,000 years ago. Nobody is saying they did not go extinct in the Americas. The debate seems to be whether an American horse can still be considered American if it lived abroad for a while. And that's where the lawyers come in and the scientists leave.

The growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that wild horses that roamed 7,600 years ago are genetically linked to today's American Mustangs. The modern or caballine horse, E. caballus, is a genetic equivalent to E. lambei, which is a horse in the 7,600 fossil record, that merely represents the most recent Equus fossils found in North America. Not only is E. caballus genetically equivalent to E. lambei, but no evidence exists for the origin of E. caballus anywhere except North America.

You telling me that is not important to the theory that the American horse never went extinct at all? If the horse never went extinct, this is exactly what we expect to find.

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The growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that wild horses that roamed 7,600 years ago are genetically linked to today's American Mustangs. The modern or caballine horse, E. caballus, is a genetic equivalent to E. lambei, which is a horse in the 7,600 fossil record, that merely represents the most recent Equus fossils found in North America. Not only is E. caballus genetically equivalent to E. lambei, but no evidence exists for the origin of E. caballus anywhere except North America.

You telling me that is not important to the theory that the American horse never went extinct at all? If the horse never went extinct, this is exactly what we expect to find.

Well, maybe I'm too dense for this DNA stuff, but if the horse originally evolved in the Americas, moved to Asia, then to Europe and then back to America (where, in the mean time, they had become extinct), isn't it kind of a given that they are genetically related? I understand what you are claiming, I just don't find support for that claim in the article you posted.

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ZooMontana lost it's accreditation this year. I have no idea if that should affect the validity of Kirkpatrick or not, but maybe it's worth noting.

Living in a place where there are many wild horses roaming around, and where the BLM tries to take very good care of them because they are a tourist attraction and make them money, i don't have much of an opinion on the article either way. I can see both sides.

Not a big fan of cattle on public land, however. They are so incredibly destructive and disgusting. Less of those would be a very good thing.

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Not a big fan of cattle on public land, however. They are so incredibly destructive and disgusting. Less of those would be a very good thing.

If you eat beef at all, and do not want to see the price rise dramatically (like 50~200%), then cattle on leased public lands is a necessity. That is, of couse, unless the federal government gives back all the lands it acquired simply by saying, "Oh, we'll take that, and that, and that," in return for statehood.

There's simply not enough private land available now to raise the quantities of meat we demand. Take public lands out of the equation, and your Big Mac would cost $10.

Lehi

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If you eat beef at all, and do not want to see the price rise dramatically (like 50~200%), then cattle on leased public lands is a necessity. That is, of couse, unless the federal government gives back all the lands it acquired simply by saying, "Oh, we'll take that, and that, and that," in return for statehood.

There's simply not enough private land available now to raise the quantities of meat we demand. Take public lands out of the equation, and your Big Mac would cost $10.

Lehi

I'd be surprised if McDonald's get's its beef from the US, but who knows i guess.

Still, i live in cattle country, and am surrounded by public lands. They DESTROY the land, there is no other way to put it, and i'm not even someone who would be called an environmentalist-not even close. And i'm not talking about ugly land that no one would care about, i'm talking about land in national forests where people like to hike, fish, and camp.

I have no doubt that the prices would rise-and i'm not saying that no public leasing to cattle is the answer-but there needs to be more oversight and better, fairer management of lands that belong to the public, and not just to the ranchers.

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I'd be surprised if McDonald's get's its beef from the US, but who knows i guess.

Whether McD buys US beef or not doesn't matter: beef is fungible—one pound is like any other pound. (I know this isn't strictly true, but is is a useful shortcut.)

Still, i live in cattle country, and am surrounded by public lands. They DESTROY the land, there is no other way to put it, and i'm not even someone who would be called an environmentalist-not even close. And i'm not talking about ugly land that no one would care about, i'm talking about land in national forests where people like to hike, fish, and camp.

So?!?

Cattle are part of the ecosystem, as much as people are. If it weren't cattle, it'd be bison: they pooped, too you know, and left deep hoof prints in the streambeds.

I have no doubt that the prices would rise-and i'm not saying that no public leasing to cattle is the answer-but there needs to be more oversight and better, fairer management of lands that belong to the public, and not just to the ranchers.

The question is, at least partially, whether the "public" should own any land at all.

I believe there is no legitimate government interest in owning land except for "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings". The Founders didn't, either, and it is unconstitutional for the federal government to do so because there is no provision in the Constitution for it.

Lehi

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Whether McD buys US beef or not doesn't matter: beef is fungible—one pound is like any other pound. (I know this isn't strictly true, but is is a useful shortcut.)

So?!?

Cattle are part of the ecosystem, as much as people are. If it weren't cattle, it'd be bison: they pooped, too you know, and left deep hoof prints in the streambeds.

I live next to yellowstone, where buffalo herds are plentiful. What they do to the land and what cattle do to the land isn't comparable. Buffalo are not forced to congregate around water tanks put in by ranchers-they are free to roam over larger areas of land and therefore have less impact on any given area. The same with food. Buffalo do not strip the land down until it's barren the way cattle will because buffalo are not managed the same way that cattle are.

The question is, at least partially, whether the "public" should own any land at all.

I believe there is no legitimate government interest in owning land except for "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings". The Founders didn't, either, and it is unconstitutional for the federal government to do so because there is no provision in the Constitution for it.

Lehi

Good luck with that. :D

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I live next to yellowstone, where buffalo herds are plentiful. What they do to the land and what cattle do to the land isn't comparable. Buffalo are not forced to congregate around water tanks put in by ranchers-they are free to roam over larger areas of land and therefore have less impact on any given area. The same with food. Buffalo do not strip the land down until it's barren the way cattle will because buffalo are not managed the same way that cattle are.

You're right, there is a difference in management. But it's not inherent in cattle and bison. They are, for all practical purposes, the same.

Lehi

P.S.: Just because Teddy Roosevelt (and all presidents since, and many before) ignored the Constitution is no reason to continue breaking the law. LS

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You're right, there is a difference in management. But it's not inherent in cattle and bison. They are, for all practical purposes, the same.

When it comes to cattle, you can't take out the human equation.

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At least they're not closely related to tapirs or dogs.

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During the era of homesteading, Western public rangelands were often overgrazed because of policies designed to promote the settlement of the West and a lack of understanding of these arid ecosystems. In response to requests from Western ranchers, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (named after Rep. Edward Taylor of Colorado), which led to the creation of grazing districts in which grazing use was apportioned and regulated. Under the Taylor Grazing Act, the first grazing district to be established was Wyoming Grazing District Number 1 on March 23, 1935. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes created a Division of Grazing within the Department to administer the grazing districts; this division later became the U.S. Grazing Service and was headquartered in Salt Lake City. In 1946, as a result of a government reorganization by the Truman Administration, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to become the Bureau of Land Management.

Sheep grazing near Worland, Wyoming, in 1940.

The unregulated grazing that took place before enactment of the Taylor Grazing Act caused unintended damage to soil, plants, streams, and springs. As a result, grazing management was initially designed to increase productivity and reduce soil erosion by controlling grazing through both fencing and water projects and by conducting forage surveys to balance forage demands with the land’s productivity (“carrying capacity”).

These initial improvements in livestock management, which arrested the degradation of public rangelands while improving watersheds, were appropriate for the times. But by the 1960s and 1970s, public appreciation for public lands and expectations for their management rose to a new level, as made clear by congressional passage of such laws as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Consequently, the BLM moved from managing grazing in general to better management or protection of specific rangeland resources, such as riparian areas, threatened and endangered species, sensitive plant species, and cultural or historical objects. Consistent with this enhanced role, the Bureau developed or modified the terms and conditions of grazing permits and leases and implemented new range improvement projects to address these specific resource issues, promoting continued improvement of public rangeland conditions.

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During the era of homesteading, Western public rangelands were often overgrazed because of policies designed to promote the settlement of the West and a lack of understanding of these arid ecosystems. In response to requests from Western ranchers, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (named after Rep. Edward Taylor of Colorado), which led to the creation of grazing districts in which grazing use was apportioned and regulated. Under the Taylor Grazing Act, the first grazing district to be established was Wyoming Grazing District Number 1 on March 23, 1935. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes created a Division of Grazing within the Department to administer the grazing districts; this division later became the U.S. Grazing Service and was headquartered in Salt Lake City. In 1946, as a result of a government reorganization by the Truman Administration, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to become the Bureau of Land Management.

Sheep grazing near Worland, Wyoming, in 1940.

The unregulated grazing that took place before enactment of the Taylor Grazing Act caused unintended damage to soil, plants, streams, and springs. As a result, grazing management was initially designed to increase productivity and reduce soil erosion by controlling grazing through both fencing and water projects and by conducting forage surveys to balance forage demands with the land’s productivity (“carrying capacity”).

These initial improvements in livestock management, which arrested the degradation of public rangelands while improving watersheds, were appropriate for the times. But by the 1960s and 1970s, public appreciation for public lands and expectations for their management rose to a new level, as made clear by congressional passage of such laws as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Consequently, the BLM moved from managing grazing in general to better management or protection of specific rangeland resources, such as riparian areas, threatened and endangered species, sensitive plant species, and cultural or historical objects. Consistent with this enhanced role, the Bureau developed or modified the terms and conditions of grazing permits and leases and implemented new range improvement projects to address these specific resource issues, promoting continued improvement of public rangeland conditions.

It has definitely gotten better. I'm just saying that there is still a ways to go. Most people who do not hike or recreate in areas where grazing on public land is allowed are blissfully unaware of the results, and those who make a living through ranching are, for the most part, just fine with the results. Ranching has a lot of pull in these areas and so what is best is not always what is done.

A little more balance could only help.

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A little more balance could only help.

What would actually help, and completely solve the problem, would be for the federal government (and all governments) to sell the land to people who would care about it.

The tragedy of the commons has haunted public lands since the first one, wherever it was. Only private property rights guarantee that the land* will be used for its highest and best purpose, and will not be abused or squandered.

* This applies to any resource.

Lehi

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BLM lands have never belonged to the states.

No, the feds confiscated them as part of the "agreement" that permitted statehood.

That is not the issue, anyway.

Lehi

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What would actually help, and completely solve the problem, would be for the federal government (and all governments) to sell the land to people who would care about it.

The tragedy of the commons has haunted public lands since the first one, wherever it was. Only private property rights guarantee that the land* will be used for its highest and best purpose, and will not be abused or squandered.

* This applies to any resource.

Lehi

This isn't actually true. Quite a lot of the grazing land around here is private property and it is even more destroyed by cattle then the public lands. It's just that the owners own so many acres that they can afford to destroy a few for a few years and then move their herds somewhere else.

Besides that, i don't believe that any solution which only benefits the extremely wealthy is much of a solution at all.

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This isn't actually true. Quite a lot of the grazing land around here is private property and it is even more destroyed by cattle then the public lands.

So, is it your opinion that these private land owners,

1) don't care about their own land and are purposely damaging it?

2) need a nanny state to keep them from hurting themselves in this manner?

It's just that the owners own so many acres that they can afford to destroy a few for a few years and then move their herds somewhere else.

How long to you think they can stay in business doing this?

Besides that, i don't believe that any solution which only benefits the extremely wealthy is much of a solution at all.

Why do you hate rich people?

Does the beef produced by "the extremely wealthy" taste worse that the rest?

How do you tell the difference?

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So, is it your opinion that these private land owners,

1) don't care about their own land and are purposely damaging it?

It is my opinion that they care more about the money they make through livestock, than they do about the health of the land.

2) need a nanny state to keep them from hurting themselves in this manner?

When did i say or imply this?

How long to you think they can stay in business doing this?

One ranch near here has been in business for close to a hundred years i believe, so it seems to work for them. They own thousands of acres and lease government land as well. The ranch is actually owned right now by a Frenchman, who doesn't live here in the US. It's my opinion that he does not care about the health of the land as much as he does about the money he is making. I say this with some knowledge about the kind of person this man is.

Why do you hate rich people?

Why do you have such bad reading comprehension?

Does the beef produced by "the extremely wealthy" taste worse that the rest?

Does reading comprehension not matter anymore?

How do you tell the difference?

How am i even supposed to take this question seriously?

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Vance:

Yes degradation of feedstock fed to livestock does have an negative effect on the health and taste of the animal when slaughtered and eaten by humans.

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This isn't actually true. Quite a lot of the grazing land around here is private property and it is even more destroyed by cattle then the public lands. It's just that the owners own so many acres that they can afford to destroy a few for a few years and then move their herds somewhere else.

They're using crop rotation? Wonderful! When the cattle are driven back to the fallow field, it's recovered first.

Just as with any other crop, it doesn't make economic sense to destroy the land. Trees take more than one year to grow to a useful state, and then the land is "destroyed" for the harvest. But the tree farmer replenishes it and then plants another crop. Cattle are no different.

Besides that, i don't believe that any solution which only benefits the extremely wealthy is much of a solution at all.

Since we all benefit from lower beef prices, it is hardly the case that this only benefits the "extremely wealthy". Moreover, to buy the land, the "extremely wealthy" would have to spend their money. They'd become less cash wealthy, and would have to pay more in property taxes (which I object to, but that's yet another story).

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