By Simone Netherlands, President of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group
Wild horses and burros have value
The position we witness regularly, that wild horses and burros have no value, is quite outdated and rather offensive to the majority of the American public who do see value in wild horses and burros. Please let us explain.
While it is certainly to the detriment of wild horses and burros that they are not putting any money immediately into anyone's pockets (if they did, their story would certainly be much different) this does not mean that wild horses have no value or even would "devaluate" our public lands.
Wild horses and burros hold not only great recreational, aesthetic, ecological, emotional, historic, cultural, educational, genetic and scientific value, but indeed they hold real economic and financial value to the areas where they exist as well as to our Country as a whole.
Recreational and tourism value
A wide variety of recreational visitors frequent areas where wild horses exist for that specific reason, to experience wild horses in their natural habitat. The wildlife viewing industry is growing; $65.7 billion was spent nationally for trips and equipment by over 71 million people (published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Eco- tourism of America’s wild herds is a new economic resource with huge beneficial economic implications. The opportunity to view wild horses is unique to America and brings with it the feeling of connection with the old Wild West. It does not only draw visitors to the specific wild horse areas from all states, it also draws tourism from abroad to our country. Just like elephants and giraffes are now an economic asset to Africa, increasingly, so are wild horses and burros to America.
Wild horse tourism of course translates directly into additional revenue for the areas where they exist, but it also translates into positive economic value for many artists who sell their art and photographs of the wild horses as their means of living.
In addition, Real Estate brokers assess that wild horses increase property values for real estate in the area, which means real dollars in people’s pockets.
“The river in itself is beautiful, but without the wild horses, it would just be another river.”- Statement from a California tourist on the Salt River Wild Horses.
As a test, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group asked 100 people to look at two pictures and pick which one they liked better. One picture is of the Salt River with the mountains in the background and one is the same picture but now with the Salt River Wild Horses on the banks of the river. The picture of the river plus the horses was preferred by 98 out of the 100 people. In some more arid regions of the desert and mountains, wild horses or burros may be the only interesting animal one can detect. Wild horses and burros add to the aesthetic value of the natural scenery.
Locals are extremely attached to their local wild horses that they grew up with. The outpouring of letters and calls attest to the value that the wild Horses and burros represent not only to local residents, but to thousands of Arizonans and American citizens as well. There is a deep meaning, connection and value that wild horses foster in Americans. People find solace and peace in spending time with them.
While some legislators may dismiss emotional value as a negative, undoubtedly no progress or history ever made, would have been possible without emotion.
The value that the local and statewide community places on the Salt River Wild Horses is a micro-example of the same value that the majority of Americans see in all of the wild horses of America. The outpouring on a national scale in just the last year of letters, emails, phone calls, news coverage, documentaries, rallies, lawsuits, as well as a letter from over 54 Congressmen demonstrates America’s will to fight for and preserve their rightful heritage, the icons of the American Wild West.
Some science exists to support that wild horses have many beneficial impacts on their environments and other science supports that wild horses have negative impacts on their environments. Depending on who you talk to, wild horses are either amazing for the environment or they are detrimental to it.
Likely, wild horses have both positive and negative impacts, just like any other species and nature balances it all out in the end. However, since they have lived there for centuries, it is unlikely that detrimental changes will suddenly occur in their habitats.
The stretch of the lower Salt River inhabited by the wild horses is one of the most biologically rich areas along the entire 200-mile river, in spite of the human caused challenges it faces. Photo-documentation accumulated by members of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group supports this observation with evidence over long periods of time. That evidence shows healthy and growing trees, seedlings sprouting from horse manure, abundant plants and flourishing wildlife diversity in the very area on the river where the horses have roamed for hundreds of years. Is this a coincidence or is it is possible that it could be due to beneficial impacts of wild horses?
1.Horse manure is important in reseeding trees and plants. The large mesquite trees rely mostly on horse manure for distribution and sprouting of the seedlings. These shade trees are important to all wildlife.
2.Horse manure improves overall fertility of the soil which promotes all growth in the area.
3.Overabundant eelgrass in the river can become a problem in the summer months when it clogs the river. The wild horses are the only species reducing the river eelgrass, in doing so they keep the river from becoming stagnant.
4.Wild horses provide a diet for predators and scavengers; such has mountain lions and bob cats as well as coyotes, foxes and vultures.
5.Wild horses significantly reduce the fire hazard by keeping dry flammable grasses and underbrush down.
6.Wild horse hooves may help the fungi and improve aeration of the humus.
Historic and cultural value
History reports that Spanish explorers brought over Spanish horses between 1519 and 1600. The Western plains in the 1800’s once were home to millions of wild horses as well as millions of buffalo. When our ancestors arrived in wagons to settle in America, they found wild horses were part of the scenery. On August 14, 1805, Meriwether Lewis commented on the Shoshones' herds: "Most of them are fine horses. Indeed many of them would make a figure on the South side of James River or the land of fine horses”. In 1834 George Catlin painted “wild horses at play”, and wrote an account of thousands of wild horses on the plains that were as tricky to capture as wild deer.
But by the 1850’s much like the buffalo, the slaughter of wild horses began. The US Government helped the ranchers and settlers as well as the Indians get rid of the wild horses. In two centuries of heavy persecution wild horse numbers dwindled from millions to fewer than 30,000 in 1971, which is when Congress passed the WFRHBA (the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act) in order to declare them an integral part of the American landscape and preserve them for future generations.
Wild horses are an important living remnant of days long gone. We settled this country on the back of horses, they plowed our fields and they fought our battles. They have been part of both Native American as well as early American culture for centuries. But unlike the buffalo, we still have the opportunity to preserve this living piece of our American history, for generations to come.
Teachers can teach their students from history books about wild horses roaming the American plains hundreds of years ago. Then, after classroom time, the teachers can take their students out on the Salt River where they can still witness wild horses for themselves.
Art students and teachers often come to the river to teach and learn techniques for painting horses. Many students at the local high schools have written essays on the Salt River Wild Horses. Educational seminars are taught about the wild horses. Wild horses are sought after subjects for education.
Genetic and Scientific Value
Less research is currently available about wild horses and burros than about wild zebras in Africa. More research is needed in regards to the adaptations, health, hoof strength, as well parasitic resistance in wild horses. Such research can benefit veterinary solutions for the entire horse industry. In addition more studies about behavior and family structures and also birth rates and death rates is needed. Wild horse DNA and genetics could also prove of utmost importance in wild horse research. Many things may never be discovered unless we have the opportunity to study them.
Wild horses and burros still exist in only 10 states and in some of those states the population is low like in Arizona, where only 500 wild horses remain on public lands. While in some areas in Nevada they may be abundant, wild horses and burros are scarse in the rest of America. On a national scale we may have less than 50,000 left in the wild, and less than 9,000 burros, however no unbiased count is currently available. In comparison, we have 36 million deer in America and 1 million elk and 670,000 pronghorn antelope, who are also grazers and also compete with cattle grazing.
In the federal Endangered Species Act the term species of concern is not defined, but many agencies and organizations maintain lists of at-risk species. Usually a species with less than 50,000 specimens constitutes a species of concern.
Very similar to the protected Saguaro cactus, of which we have many in Arizona, there can be many wild horses in some locations but none in others. Wild horses are local treasures and valuable because of their scarsety.
The value of compassion.
While we are placing material and emotional value on these horses and burros from many different points of view, we should not fail to see that the true value of any living being is not dependent on the opinion we may have of it.
The true value of each individual life and the quality of it needs to be considered. The value of compassion should not be underestimated. - Simone Netherlands.
The notion that animals have no rights and our treatment of them bears no significance is a perfect example of the crudity and barbarity of western society. - Albert Einstein.