Fourth National Academy of Sciences Meeting: Mountain Lion Predation, Burros, Communications & Adaptive Management

Eyewitness Report on Fourth and Final Public Meeting of NAS Wild Horse and Burro Review Committee

The National Academy of Sciences Wild Horse and Burro Review Committee met publicly for the fourth and final time on May 14, at the NAS headquarters in Washington, DC. Highlights included presentations on mountain lion research documenting predation on wild horses in much higher numbers than expected and wild ass studies that indicate the animals (from whom U.S. burros are descended) naturally regulate their population numbers in accordance with water availability.

A public comment period followed the scientific presentations. Speakers included numerous livestock industry lobbyists  -- and the recently-retired chief of the  BLM"s wild horse and burro program - who called for re-instituting the BLM's authority to sell captured wild horses and burros without restriction, a situation that would lead to mass slaughter.

Adaptive Management: Learning from Decisions to Make Better Decisions... BLM Are You Listening?

Dr. Jim Nichols of the U.S. Geological Survey spoke about decision-making processes and adaptive management for natural resources. Dr. Nichols said that adaptive management offers the opportunity to “learn and use what you learn in future decision-making….If we learn, we can apply what we learn to subsequent decisions, so we can make better and better decisions….We learn so we can do a better job in the future.

The concept of adaptive management appears to be lost on the BLM, an agency that fails to learn from the mistakes of the past as it continues the unsustainable cycle of wild horse roundups and removals, with no end in sight.

How Cultural Perspectives Influence Public Opinion on Scientific Issues

Professor Dan Kahan of Yale University discussed his research into the way that people’s cultural perspectives and outlooks influence their receptiveness to scientific information. He has found that a person is likely to disbelieve scientific information if it conflicts with his or her cultural perspective; however, he or she is more likely to believe a scientific “expert” if the expert holds a position that reflects the person’s cultural group.  

African Wild Asses: Can Survive in Harsh Conditions, Behavior & Reproduction Influenced by Water Availability

Dr. Patricia Moehlman, Chair, IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group, who works to save endangered equids in Africa, gave a presentation on the African Wild Ass, an endangered species that survives only in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Wild asses are critically endangered having lost 80 percent of their historic range. The primary threats to wild asses are human activities that cut off access to water, and livestock grazing. Dr. Moehlman described wild asses as being highly adapted to the dry desert environment.Their behavioral ecology is influence by water and forage availability and presence of predators.

Dr. Moehlman’s research has shown that wild asses regulate their population numbers in accordance with water availability. In addition to her work in Africa, Dr. Moehlman studied burros in California’s Death Valley for four years. She found their behavior to be similar to the wild asses in Africa. Interestingly, Dr. Moehlman’s research found that burros in Death Valley had a population growth rate of about 7 percent, which is significantly lower than the 20-25 percent growth rate claimed by the BLM in populations subjected to the agency’s roundup/removal management strategy.

Mountain Lion Predation on Wild Horses Significant

Alyson Andreason from the University of Nevada Reno presented the findings of her research into mountain lions and their rate of predation on wild horses. Ms. Andreason has documented much higher levels of predation on wild horses – primarily foals – than had previously been believed. Ms. Andreason has studied mountain lions in the Carson Range, Virginia Range and the Pine Nut Mountains. Her team collared 32 lions between January 2009 and 2012, including 22 adults and 10 kittens (expandable collars). They found that the lions consumed “more horses than we would have expected.” In the Virginia Range, mountain lions killed four times more horses than deer. Most of the horses killed (84 percent) were less than 12 months of age.

Ms. Andreason's excellent research is upending the prevailing notion, perpetuated by ranchers and the BLM, that wild horses have no natural predators, and therefore, the only way to manage them is to round them up and remove them. Mountain lions are hunted throughout the West, as well as removed (killed) by the USDA at the request of ranchers. If they were protected instead of persecuted, mountain lions could clearly play a role in regulating some wild horse populations.

Public Comments: The Cattlemen & Former BLM Wild Horse and Burro Chief Speak Out in Support of Slaughtering America's Wild Horses

During the public comment period that followed the speakers, lobbyists and advocates for the Cattlemen’s industry turned out in force. Leading the charge was Don Glenn (pictured at left), the immediate past division chief for the BLM wild horse and burro program. Glenn informed the panel that the “simple solution” to the wild horse and burro management problem is “unlimited sale authority.” He opined: “It makes no sense for the taxpayers to put out $75 million to take care of a bunch of old horses that nobody wants. They should be sold without limitation. If folks want to protect them because they’re afraid they’re going to go to slaughter or something, they have every right to purchase them.”

Glenn exemplifies the hypocrisy of the BLM, which consistently claims that its employees care about protecting wild horses while working behind the scenes for their eventual destruction.

Joining Glenn in calling for the unlimited sale and slaughter of America’s mustangs were lobbyists for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; the rancher-dominated National Association of “Conservation” Districts; and the Public Lands Council, a lobbying group for ranchers who enjoy taxpayer-subsidized grazing on public lands.

Also making an appearance was the well-funded Callie Hendrickson (pictured at right), who travels the country attending meetings to advocate for the slaughter of America’s wild horses and burros. AWHPC supporters will remember Hendrickson as the pro-slaughter cattlewoman who was recently appointed to represent the “general public” on the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. At the NAS meeting, Hendrickson spoke, not on behalf of the public, but rather as an official spokesperson for the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts, the rancher-dominated entities in Colorado that have been pressing for the “zeroing out” of the Douglas Creek wild horse population.

Speaking on the side of the wild horses and burros were DJ Shubert (pictured at left), wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute, who called for more transparency in the NAS panel’s process, Carolyn Schnurr from the ASPCA and Suzanne Roy, who spoke on behalf of the AWHPC. Roy stressed the importance of the NAS panel’s findings in transitioning the BLM away from its cowboy approach to wild horse management, which views wild horses as livestock to be harvested and sold at market, to a science-based approach that understands and manages wild horses as the native, reintroduced North American wildlife species that they are.

Stay tuned for video of key presentations from the meeting.