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Grazing on Public Lands vs. Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands: The Eternal Conflict

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on March 26, 2010


Grazing on Public Lands vs. Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands:

The Eternal Conflict

March 24, 2010
by Tracie Lynn Thompson

 

During my recent trip to Nevada, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Robert Depaoli Sr., his son Robert Depaoli Jr., and his son Robert Depaoli III. Well, the littlest one was asleep, but all the same, it brought up a very interesting situation. Most of the ranchers who utilize BLM grazing allotments on public lands are descendants of families who have held those permits for the better part of a century or more. The “Roberts” are just such descendants.

Robert Sr. described to me how his family had settled near Dayton, NV in the 1860’s during the Comstock Lode. He went on to describe how he and his family were “actually the ones to blame for there being wild horses in Nevada” because he says when his family settled, there were no wild horses on the range.

“My family brought horses with them when they came here. They were used to work the soil and harvest the crops. When the horses were not being used, they were turned loose on the open range next to their lands. When the next planting season came around, most of the horses were brought in and put back to work. The ones who were left on the range were used as breeding stock and it became another source of income by selling them to the US Calvary.”

Robert Sr. says that things changed with the passing of legislation. In 1934, his family had to apply for permits from the BLM to use the ranges around their farms and ranches. They had both cattle permits and horse permits. Then in 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed and the horse permits went away.

“I remember this because I was just out of high school. The BLM man came to my parent’s house and asked them if they would turn their horse permits into cattle permits because BLM didn’t want the horses on that part of the land anymore. My folks did what the man asked because they didn’t want to cause any trouble. That was their way of life; how they made their living.”

Robert Sr. says he doesn’t understand why wild horse advocates are using emotions instead of intelligence to wage their war for the horses. For him, Robert Jr. and Robert III, it just doesn’t make any sense.

“They want to put me and my family out of business and in the poor house. That boy asleep over there is the 6th generation of my family who’ll be ranching on this land. This is our heritage, our culture, and our lifestyle. We’ve lived with these horses all of our lives so we know about them. We don’t want to see them starve to death out there, but we don’t want to lose everything that we’ve worked all our lives for either. There’s got to be a better way.”

Robert Sr. says the horses are everywhere; there are too many of them. In the times before the 1971 Act, ranchers had kept up the breeding standards and managed horses in the West for a century. Now, because there are so many in long term holding, he says there is no money left in the budget to take care of the ones who are still on the range.

Their cattle are also closely managed and they only use the allotments only a few months per year.

“There have been years that I haven’t even used my AUMs because the land is overgrazed by the horse herds.” He went on to say that any rancher would be putting himself out of business if he let his cows damage the range. “Anyone who thinks that everybody does that just because of a few bad apples is wrong.”

The Depaoli family has even helped out on the allotments with improvements to water sources. When I asked about the reports of ranchers fencing off water sources from wild horses, both Sr. and Jr. became almost upset. Robert Sr. explained.

“The ones that do that are heartless, cruel people and they should be ashamed of themselves. When that horse doesn’t have anything to drink… He could die out there on that range. That is just plain wrong. I can’t stand to see any animal suffer.” He was very stern with his words at this point.

He went to say that just that morning he had reported a neighbor to the local police department for starving and chaining their dogs up to a tree without water. “It can get pretty hot out here in this country. I just couldn’t stand to see them out there like that.”

Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. fear that Robert III will not follow in their family traditions because of the movement to remove cattle grazing from the lands completely. Robert Jr. looked over his shoulder towards where Robert III with a sadness in his eyes.

“I’ve grown up working with my dad all of my life. It’s a hard life, don’t get me wrong. I just hope that my son can say the same when he’s my age.”

The Depaoli family remains steadfast that the current situation cannot continue. They argue that there is no tax return on the wild horses for the traditional cattle rancher, and therefore they have to pay from their own pockets in tax dollars to care and feed the horses being held in long term holding.

“Back then, the ranchers could at least recoup some of their money by selling the horses to the US Calvary. Later, they could recoup some of their money by using the horses for labor on the farms and ranches. Now, we don’t get anything in return. Are the wild horse advocates going to come and pay my family’s bills?”

The Depaoli family and the Wild Horse Advocates have more in common than they realize. Neither wants to see the wild horses and burros completely removed from the Western ranges. Neither thinks the current system is working. But mostly, neither wants to give up on the dreams of their heritage and seeing their children and grand-children have the opportunity to enjoy the Western lands as they have.

 

The West—the very words go straight to that place of the heart where Americans feel the spirit of pride in their western heritage—the triumph of personal courage over any obstacle, whether nature or man. — John Wayne 

Copied from BLM.gov – Grazing

  • The BLM manages 253 million acres of public land, with 160 million acres authorized for livestock grazing. Mustangs and cattle share about 31 million acres.
  • The Bureau does not make an annual national “count” of the livestock that graze on BLM-managed lands because the actual number of livestock grazing on public lands on any single day varies throughout the year and livestock are often moved from one grazing allotment to another.
  • Authorized (as distinguished from actual) grazing use on public lands has declined from about 22 million AUMs in 1941 to 12.5 million AUMs authorized in 2008.
  • In 2008, the number of AUMs actually used on BLM-managed land was 8.6 million.

The Role of Livestock Grazing on Public Lands Today

Grazing, which was one of the earliest uses of public lands when the West was settled, continues to be an important use of those same lands today. Livestock grazing now competes with more uses than it did in the past, as other industries and the general public look to the public lands as sources of both conventional and renewable energy and as places for outdoor recreational opportunities, including off-highway vehicle use. Among the key issues that face public land managers today are global climate change, severe wildfires, invasive plant species, and dramatic population increases, including the associated rural residential development that is occurring throughout the West. 

Livestock grazing can result in impacts on public land resources, but well-managed grazing provides numerous environmental benefits as well. For example, while livestock grazing can lead to increases in some invasive species, well-managed grazing can be used to manage vegetation. Intensively managed “targeted” grazing can control some invasive plant species or reduce the fuels that contribute to severe wildfires. Besides providing such traditional products as meat and fiber, well-managed rangelands and other private ranch lands support healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat.  Livestock grazing on public lands helps maintain the private ranches that, in turn, preserve the open spaces that have helped write the West’s history and will continue to shape this region’s character in the years to come.

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17 Responses to “Grazing on Public Lands vs. Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands: The Eternal Conflict”

  1. LOUIE COCROFT said

    I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE IN PERCEPTION. TOO MANY HORSES/HARDLY ANY HORSES LEFT. THAT IS WHY WE NEED AN INDEPENDENT CENSUS. THERE HAS TO BE A SOLUTION. THERE IS A LOT OF MONEY–TAXPAYER MONEY GOING THE WRONG DIRECTION AND INTO THE WRONG HANDS. I FEAR THAT THE RANCHERS WILL BE A CASUALTY, ALSO, IF THE BIG MONEY GETS IT’S WAY. NONE OF US WANT TO HURT THE SMALL RANCHER OR FARMER.

  2. LOUIE COCROFT said

    I HAVE HEARD SOME STORIES OF RANCHERS GETTING THEIR PERMITS TAKEN–SMALL RANCHERS. FRIEND OF A FRIEND–THE WAY YOU HEAR ABOUT THINGS. IT HAS SOUNDED TO ME AS THOUGH THEY WERE GETTING PUSHED AROUND,TOO. I THINK A LOT OF IT IS WATER RIGHTS. WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE RUBY PIPELINE INFO, YOU SEE APPLICATION FOR WATER RIGHTS–I THINK IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF WATER TO PROPEL THE NATURAL GAS THROUGH THE PIPELING. MINING, I THINK, ALSO TAKES A LOT OF WATER. IF THEY WANT IT AND YOU’RE SITTING ON IT, BEWARE.

  3. Louie makes a good point. Water is the most precious commodity in Nevada and other parts of the west. In Nevada BLM decades ago decided not to get into the “water business” so nearly all the water rights were applied for and assigned to private entities. You don’t do much on desert ranges without water. Now water rights are being bought and sold like any commodity.

    What is scary is that many of the family ranchers are being replaced by ranching companies that are actually operated by mining and energy companies. If your high profit business impacts your low profit business, so what? So when a “rancher” gets all in a fuss over horses or other legitimate multiple uses on a piece of public land, it sometimes pays to find out who he really works for.

    Mining and energy are significant contributors to rural economies so the idea is not to kick them out wholesale, but rather make everyone play fair. A couple of these companies have a history of not playing fair, which can be a problem, and they are huge political contributors… probably more so now thanks to our Supreme Court.

  4. LOUIE COCROFT said

    THE REASON THE ISSUE GETS EMOTIONAL IS BECAUSE THOSE THAT UNDERSTAND HORSES KNOW WHAT SENSITIVE, HIGH STRUNG CREATURES THEY ARE. FROM THE MINUTE THEY HEAR THAT HELICOPTER, IT IS A LIVING HELL FOR THEM. THIS HAS TO BE STOPPED. THERE ARE SOLUTIONS, BUT THE ONLY WAY TO BE HEARD, IT APPEARS, IS TO RAISE SOME HELL. THERE ARE HERDS IN THIS COUNTRY THAT ARE SELF-STABILIZED, AND IT CAN BE DONE. AUSTRALIA AND ISRAEL CAN DO IT–SO CAN WE.

  5. LOUIE COCROFT said

    HERE’S YOUR ANSWER. THIS WAS IN THE COMMENTS IN THE ONLINE NEWSPAPER, RCJ–FOR SOME REASON THE LOGO DIDN’T TRANSFER OVER:

    Actually one place where wild horses, cattle, and deer are co-existing well with minimal management is in and around Fish Lake Valley, Boundary Peak, Adobe Valley and Montgomery Pass. The scientists down there think it is because there is a lot of room, lots of water in the streams and springs on the north and east sides of the White Mountains and perhaps most critically-a healthy population of Mt. Lions. Mt Lions are the modern day equivalent of those tigers that prey on foals and keep the horse population in check. I have also seen over 70 sagegrouse in one Fall day’s hike on the high ridges south of Boundary Peak (highest point in NV, by-the-way). So I assume the sagegrouse are also doing well there. Unfortunately the local rumor is the guys in the black cars and dark blue suits with briefcases full of cash have been visiting the ranchers. They are looking for water for Las Vegas so it all may start falling apart

    • It is interesting that you bring that up – we have been researching that very subject: Water in Nevada and how it affects the wild horses and burros along with their cohibatants. Very interesting information, will hopefully be posting it soon. (Wow, wish I could stop time every once in a while just so I could catch up LOL.)
      T.

  6. LOUIE COCROFT said

    THE RANCHERS HAD BETTER HANG ONTO THEIR LAND AND THEIR WATER. IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THE HORSES PLAY A ROLE IN THIS , SOMEHOW? WOULDN’T IT BE SOMETHING TO FIND OUT THAT THE HORSES COULD BE INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING THE RANCHERS KEEP THOSE RIGHTS. I KEEP THINKING THAT THERE IS SOME REASON THAT THE HORSES AND BURROS ARE THE ONES THAT TAKE THE BRUNT–WHAT ARE THEY STANDING IN THE WAY OF?

    • sandra longley said

      Money and lots of it Louie..That gold mine at Mt Tebon is sitting on the largest vein in the world. Yes they said it will take 10 years to mine it and then they will pack up and leave, a 900 acre gold mine that will impact 6700 acres, and remove 50 water seeps and springs and one preninnial stream forever..to me, that is unacceptable in the desert. These are BLMs own figures.

  7. sandra longley said

    Just to clarify..I think there were wild horses on the lands before the ranchers and miners came.Weren’t the Indians already in Nevada prior to the gold strike days? and didn’t they capture wild horses to ride? And everyone says the miners brought the burros and turned them loose..but in fact the padres on their burros- settled california with missions long before americans moved west-california and new mexico -and half way up into colorado was part of mexico. Mules came to america via the trade route of the sante Fe trail..traders traveled from missouri with their goods and brought back the mules..I learned alot in my trips and living in New Mexico and exploring and visiting with generations of locals.

  8. sandra longley said

    Whoops..meant to add ..so the burros mules and wild horses at least in the west were descendants of the original stock brought by the spanish to mexico..California was colonized by the spanish, who brought the spanish horses from mexico or spain to california as well as herds of cattle..and palaminos were prized by the spanish.So anyway you want to look at it “they are of spanish origin” Somehow people seem to think the west was settled by americans which just ain’t so

  9. sandra longley said

    Horse History and Genetics
    Genetic data, interestingly enough, has traced all extant domesticated horses to one founder stallion, or to closely related male horses with the same Y haplotype. At the same time, there is a high matrilineal diversity in both extant and wild horses. At least 77 wild mares would be required to explain the diversity of the mtDNA in current horse populations, which probably means quite a few more.

  10. sandra longley said

    I am sympathetic to the ranchers cause having been around it much of my life, and know ranchers very well, but again-we ALL pay for the horses to be there, so not only does it take food out of my mouth for the horses but it takes food out of my mouth to support his cattle business on public land..somehow he has not drawn that distinction..I am willing to pay taxes to subsidise his ranching as well as the wild horses..Maybe I have missed something in my research, but so far, I have not seen allotments for cattle removed and given to the horses..someone feel free to give me some statistics that show that to be the case.Rather if there is a drought and water crisis, cattle should be cut off as well.

  11. Dorothy Nylen said

    The Depaoli family may be able to claim some part in providing wild horses in the Dayton area, but that is likely a small portion. Fun family story though! Recorded history has whites traveling through Nevada by the mid 1820’s. The Dayton area was heavy traveled by 49er wagon trains and massive numbers of livestock. It was on the main route. And yes, local Indians had been working on ranches in California probably since the mid 1840’s, and Mormons settled in western Nevada around 1848. The first gold known to have been discovered in Nevada was found in 1849 in the Dayton area. In addition, I illustrated a northern Paiute story book, and can tell you that a beautiful white stallion has something to do with the creation of the Milky Way. That story starts with: “Years and years ago Deer and Wild Horse were People and spoke the same language.” (Coyote Tales and Other Paiute Stories You Have Never Heard Before by Helen Stone). That would seem to be an indication that the wild horses had been here before the whites arrived. But all of this does not diminish the proud history of the Depaoli family.

  12. This is a a beneficial story for advocates to hear and understand. The lives of people who know the horses have been impacted heavily by pressures from mining and the need for water. I think Janet F. needs to come by with her NV water research and comment. She was of the opinion that water has everything to do with decisions about recent land use. That water in the West is worth more than gold is my opinion, and all human uses must be seen for their long term impact and even reduced so that spread of desert is held at bay. This can be seen from comparisons of Satellite photos over the decades and it continues. Water has been fought over since the West was settled. Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert is a defining book on the history of the uses and abuses of water in the West. High Country News also has published continually about water issues across the west and the recent court decisions about NV water. mar

    • Janet Ferguson said

      I only got “so far” on my big research project, but will bring some links here, soon which may assist
      further research. Basically, I went to the Nevada water authority website and just looked around. You can see the water permit grants month-by-month and what use it is for.

      There is also another link on it to an organization that publishes a $22 booklet all about Nevada water use.

      Anyone can find the above on a google search, if I can!

  13. reveil39 said

    Any details on this?
    http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-25094-LA-Equine-Policy-Examiner~y2010m4d6-BLM-envisions-tristate-mega-complex-for-wild-horses?

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