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NAS Committee Tasked with Reviewing the BLM’s WH&B Management Program… Get To Know The Members & Their Questions

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on October 24, 2011


The National Academies of Science will be conducting a meeting on October 27 and 28, 2011 in Reno, NV to determine whether the BLM is using the best science available in managing wild horses and burros on Western range lands. The agenda also includes hearing from BLM and a panel of Wild Horse & Burro genetics and population experts. For more information on this committee and the scope of the project, see below. Thanks, The TMP Team


Project Scope


At the request of the Bureau of Land Management, the National Research Council (NRC) will conduct an independent, technical evaluation of the science, methodology, and technical decision-making approaches of the WH&B Program. In evaluating the program, the study will build on findings of three prior reports prepared by the NRC in 1980, 1982, and 1991 and summarize additional, relevant research completed since the three earlier reports were prepared. Relying on information about the program provided by BLM and on field data collected by BLM and others, the analysis will address the following key scientific challenges and questions:
1. Estimates of the WH&B populations:  Given available information and methods, how accurately can WH&B populations in the West be estimated? What are the best methods to estimate WH&B herd numbers and what is the margin of error in those methods? Are there better techniques than the BLM currently uses to estimate population numbers?  For example, could genetics or remote sensing using unmanned aircraft be used to estimate WH&B population size and distribution?
2. Population Modeling: Evaluate the strengths and limitations of the WinEquus population model for predicting impacts on wild horse populations given various stochastic factors and management alternatives. What types of decisions are most appropriately supported using the WinEquus model? Is there a better model (i.e., the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) model) the BLM should consider for future uses?
3. Genetic diversity in WH&B herds:  What does information available on WH&B herds’ genetic diversity indicate about long-term herd health, from a biological and genetic perspective? Is there an optimal level of genetic diversity within a herd to manage for? What management actions can be undertaken to achieve an optimal level of genetic diversity if it is too low?
4. Annual rates of WH&B population growth: Evaluate estimates of the annual rates of increase in WH&B herds, including factors affecting the accuracy of and uncertainty related to the estimates. Is there compensatory reproduction as a result of gathers to remove excess WH&B or application of the immuno-contraceptive vaccine porcine zona pellucida (PZP-22) over a 4-year gather cycle, and if so, what is the level of compensatory reproduction occurring? Would WH&B populations self-limit if they were not controlled, and if so, what indicators (rangeland condition, animal condition, health, etc.) would be present at the point of self-limitation?
5. Predator impact on WH&B population growth:  Evaluate information relative to the abundance of predators and their impact on WH&B populations. Although predator management is the responsibility of the USFWS or State wildlife agencies and given the constraints in existing federal law, is there evidence that predators alone could effectively control WH&B population size in the West?
6. Population control:  What scientific factors should be considered when making population control decisions (roundups, fertility control, sterilization of either males or females, sex ratio adjustments to favor males and other population control measures) relative to the effectiveness of control approach, herd health, genetic diversity, social behavior, and animal well-being?
7. Immunocontraception of wild horse mares (porcine zona pellucida):  Evaluate information related to the effectiveness of immunocontraception in preventing pregnancies and reducing herd populations. Are there other fertility control agents or population control methods the BLM should consider (for either mares or stallions)?
8. Managing a portion of a population as non-reproducing: What scientific and technical factors should the BLM consider when managing for WH&B herds with a reproducing and non-reproducing population of animals (i.e., a portion of the population is a breeding population and the remainder is non-reproducing males or females)? When implementing non-reproducing populations, which tools should be considered (geldings (castration), sterilized (spayed) mares or vasectomized stallions or other chemical sterilants)? Is there credible evidence to indicate vasectomized stallions in a herd would be effective in decreasing annual population growth rates, or are there other methods the BLM should consider for managing stallions in a herd that would be effective in tangibly suppressing population growth?
9. AML Establishment or Adjustment:  Evaluate the BLM’s approach to establishing or adjusting Appropriate Management Levels (AML) as described in the 4700-1 Wild Horses and Burros Management Handbook.  Based upon scientific and technical considerations, are there other approaches to establishing or adjusting AML the BLM should consider?   How might BLM improve its ability to validate AML?
10. Societal Considerations: What are some options available to BLM to address the widely divergent and conflicting perspectives about WH&B management and to consider stakeholder concerns while using the best available science to protect land and animal health?
11. Additional Research Needs: Identify research needs and opportunities related to the topics listed above. What research should be the highest priority for BLM to fill information and data gaps, reduce uncertainty, and improve decision-making and management?
The project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Interior.
The start date of the project is June 2, 2011. A report is expected to be issued by the end of the project in approximately 24 months. 


Provide FEEDBACK on this project.

Contact the Public Access Records Office to make an inquiry, request a list of the public access file materials, or obtain a copy of the materials found in the file.


The committee members include the following:


Dr. Guy H. Palmer – (Chair), Washington State University 
Dr. Guy Palmer’s goal is to improve control of animal diseases with direct impact on human health and well-being. Within this focus, he leads global health research programs in sub-Saharah Africa and Latin America. For his research at the interface of animal disease and human public health, Dr. Palmer was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine and currently serves on the Board on Global Health. Additionally, Dr. Palmer is a member of and serves on the Board of Directors of the Washington State Academy of Science, which provides expert scientific and engineering analysis to inform public policy-making. Dr. Palmer has been recently recognized with a NIH Merit Award for research in microbial genetics, the Merck Award for Creatvitiy, and the Schalm Lectureship at the University of California, the NIH Distinguished Scientist Lecture, the Sahlin Award for Research, Scholarship, and the Arts, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Currently, Dr. Palmer serves as an advisor to the International Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Northwest Regional Center for Excellence in Infectious Diseases, and on the external boards for several universities in the United States and Latin America. He received his B.S. summa cum laude and D.V.M. from Kansas State University and his Ph.D. from Washington State University; he is board-certified in anatomic pathology.
Dr. Cheryl S. Asa, St. Louis Zoological Park 
Dr. Cheryl S. Asa is the Director of Research at the St. Louis Zoo and Director of the AZA Wildlife Contraception Center. She is an adjunct professor in the Biology Department of St. Louis University and in the Department of Forest, Range, and Wildlife Sciences at Utah State University and teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. She previously worked on a Bureau of Land Management project on fertility control of feral horses in Nevada and Oregon. Dr. Asa is a member of many professional organizations, including the American Assocation of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Society for the Study of Reproduction. In 2005 she co-authored a book entitled Wildlife Contraception: Issues, Methods and Applications, in addition to her many other scientific publications. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology.
Dr. Erik A. Beever, U.S. Geological Survey, Bozeman 
Dr. Erik A. Beever is a Research Landscape Ecologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center. His areas of specialization and interest are disturbance ecology, mechanisms of biotic response to climate change, and monitoring in conservation reserves, all at community to landscape scales. Since 1995 he has investigated the synecology of changes in grazing regimes (for free-roaming horses and burros, cattle, and domestic sheep) from a broad-scale yet mechanism-focused perspective to answer applied questions and address ecological theory. His greatest research experience is with mammals, but also with plants, soils, reptiles, amphibians, and ants. Prior to his current position, Dr. Beever worked wtih the U.S. National Park Service an a Quantitivative Ecologist. He is currently a member of Sigma Xi, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Society of Conservation Biology, and the Wildlife Society. For the latter, he is Chair of the Biological Diversity Working Group and a member of the Biometrics and Climate Change Working Groups. Dr. Beever received his Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno, in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology.
Dr. Michael B. Coughenour, Colorado State University 
Dr. Michael B. Coughenour is a Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University. He was a joint principle investigator on the South Turkana Ecosystem Project, investigating a native pastoral ecosystem in northern Kenya. He has carried out several major modeling and field studies of grazing ecosystems and assessments of ungulate carrying capacities in Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. He has developed three ecosystem models that have enjoyed wide success: GRASS-CSOM, GEMTM, and SAVANNA. He has been involved in research on pastoral and grazing ecosystems in Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Inner Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and Canada and has consulted on grazing ecosystem ecology in many other locations around the world. He has carried out ecosystem modeling responses to atmospheric change and has worked with atmospheric scientists to develop one of the first linked ecosystem-atmosphere models (RAMS-GEMTM). Dr. Coughenour received his Ph.D. from Colorado State University, specializing in systems ecology and nutrient cycling in a southern Montana grassland. He subsequently studied the Serengeti grazing ecosystem in Tanzania, using simulation modeling and experimental studies to determine how the ecosystem supports the world’s largest ungulate herds.
Dr. Lori S. Eggert, University of Missouri 
Dr. Lori S. Eggert is an Associate Professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Research in her lab uses the tools of molecular genetics to study wildlife species that are difficult or dangerous to study using traditional methods. By combining intensive field studies with individually-based genetic analyses, she asks questions about the ecology and evolution of species that would be almost impossible to study any other way. Current projects include field and laboratory studies aimed at refining the methods Dr. Eggert uses for “genetic censusing” of elusive species in the forests of Africa and Asia. Using DNA extracted from elephant dung samples, she has used multilocus genotypes as genetic tags for the purpose of estimating population sizes and sex-specific markers to estimate sex ratios. Previously, Dr. Eggert had been a research and postdoctoral associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. She received her M.S. in Ecology from San Diego State University and her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, in Biology.
Dr. Robert Garrott, Montana State University 
Dr. Robert Garrott is a faculty member in the Ecology Department at Montana State University and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Management Program. The focus of his research is understanding the abiotic and biotic ecological processes that influence mammalian populations and communities. He works in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems and contributes to basic science as well as applied wildlife management and conservation through collaborations with state and federal natural resource agencies. Dr. Garrott teaches undergraduate courses in wildlife management techniques and principles of fish and wildlife management. He received his M.S. in Wildlife Management from Pennsylvania State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in Wildlife Conservation.
Dr. Lynn Huntsinger, University of California, Berkeley 
Dr. Lynn Huntsinger is Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Huntsinger is a rangeland ecologist whose work focuses on the conservation and management of rangelands and ranching. Ongoing studies include research on oak woodland landowners and management in California and Spain, land fragmentation and conservation in oak woodlands, and participatory management strategies. She is a team leader for the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project, working with the Forest Service and state agencies to restore forest health. She continues to pursue lines of inquiry and theory she has found useful to her work: ecological models for disequilibrium systems as tools to understand the linkages between human relationships and ecological change; work in political ecology founded in basic notions of who wins and who loses in struggles over access to natural resources; and adaptive management as arbitrator in landscape and resource management. Dr. Huntsinger is also a California Certified Range Manager. She received her Ph.D. in Rangeland Ecology and Management from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Linda E. Kalof, Michigan State University 
Dr. Linda Kalof is Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of Michigan State University’s interdisciplinary graduate specialization in Animal Studies. She has published more than 40 articles and book chapters and ten books including Making Animal Meaning (MSU Press, 2011), A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Middle Ages (Berg 2010), A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Renaissance (Berg 2010), Introduction to Social Statistics (Wiley/Blackwell, 2009), Essentials of Social Research (McGraw-Hill 2008), Looking at Animals in Human History (University of Chicago/Reaktion 2007), A Cultural History of Animals in Antiquity (Berg 2007), The Animals Reader (Berg 2007), The Earthscan Reader in Environmental Values (Earthscan 2005), and Evaluating Social Science Research (Oxford University Press 1996). Dr. Kalof served as General Editor for the multi-volume A Cultural History of Animals and A Cultural History of the Human Body, and she is currently editing A Cultural History of Women and The Animal Turn. She has received two outstanding scholarship awards (the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title for A Cultural History of Animals 2008 and the ASA Outstanding Paper Award from the Animals & Society Section 2010). She was named a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in 2008; appointed to the Advisory Board for the Detroit Zoo’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare in 2010; and is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in the World.
Dr. Paul R. Krausman, University of Montana 
Dr. Paul R. Krausman is the Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University of Montana. His professional interests lie in the study of large mammals, especially as influenced by anthropogenic factors. Projects he is currently conducting include ecology of desert mule deer in southeastern California, winter ecology of mule deer in Montana and Idaho, predator-prey relationships between wolves and ungulates in Arizona, bison use of water in Montana, caribou-calving shifts in Newfoundland, use of clear cut areas by caribou in Newfoundland, and diet quality of bighorn sheep. He belongs to many professional organizations, including the Wildlife Society, Society for Range Management, and American Society of Mammologists. Dr. Krausman received his Ph.D. from the University of Idaho in Wildlife Science.
Dr. Madan K. Oli, University of Florida 
Dr. Madan K. Oli is Professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Florida. Dr. Oli seeks to understand factors and processes that influence dynamics, regulation, and persistence of populations and to contribute to science-based management of wildlife populations. His research addresses both basic theoretical questions and finding practical solutions to ecological problems using a combination of ecological theory, mathematical and statisical models, and field data. He was granted the University of Florida Research Professor Award in 2010 to fund his projects. Dr. Oli has published or co-authored over 100 publications. He received his Ph.D. from Auburn University.
Dr. Steven Petersen, Brigham Young University 
Dr. Steven Petersen is currently an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) where he teaches landscape ecology, natural resource planning, and forest ecology and management. He conducts research on the spatio-temporal effects of juniper invasion on natural resources, sage-grouse habitat assessment at broad spatial scales, and the impacts of wild horse distribution patterns on plant community structure. He advises graduate and undergraduate students, is the coach of the BYU plant team, and an advisor for the range and wildlife club. He was employed by the department to teach a suite of rangeland classes including arid-land plant identification, ecophysiology, landscape ecology, and rangeland ecology and management. Dr. Petersen graduated from Oregon State University in 2004 with a Ph.D. in Rangeland Ecology and Management.
Dr. David M. Powell, Wildlife Conservation Society/Bronz Zoo 
Dr. David M. Powell is Assistant Curator of Mammals at the Bronx Zoo, overseeing hoofed animals and carnivores. His research interests lie in studies of the role of dominance and subordiance in animal societies. As a zoo biologist, he is interested in application of behavioral knowledge to management of animals in captivity with the goal of promoting captive breeding, preparing animals for reintroduction, and ensuring optimal animal welfare. He has studied a variety of species both in captivity and in the field and has studied the application of captive population genetic management techniques to wild populations. Populations studied include feral horses, gorillas, flamingos, lions, golden lion tamarins, kori bustards, octopus, small carnivores, and giant pandas. Dr. Powell received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Maryland. He is a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. He is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Animal Welfare Committee, Equid Taxon Advisory Group, Caprid Taxon Advisory Group, and Contraceptive Advisory Board. He has participated in the IUCN Conservation Breeding Group’s Horses of Assateague Island Population and Habitat Viability Assessment Workshop.
Dr. Daniel I. Rubenstein, Princeton University 
Dr. Daniel I. Rubenstein is the Chair of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at Princeton University, where he is also a professor. His research focuses on decision-making in animals. Dr. Rubenstein develops simple mathematical models to generate predictions that can be tested using data gathered from structured field observations or experimental manipulations. Much of his recent research on the adaptive value of behavior has centered on understanding the social dynamics of equids: horses, zebras, and asses. How risks are assessed, decisions are made, and conflicts of interest among individuals of differing phenotypes with differing needs are avoided is the focus of his ongoing research into the control of behavior. His latest research focuses on one such problem – the rules governing animal movements and migration – and involves the interaction of ‘self-organizing’ behavioral movement rules, ecological information, and habitat structure at multiple spatial scales to understand how migratory animal movements respond to human-induced land use change and how these changes in movement in turn affect population stability. Dr. Rubenstein received his M.S. from Cambridge University and his Ph.D. from Duke University.
Dr. David S. Thain, University of Nevada, Reno 
Dr. David S. Thain is an Assistant Professor and State Extension Veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Veterinary Science at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). He is actively engaged in a vareity of research interests. He currently is participating in feral/wild horse contraception methods, range cattle DNA paternity testing, bighorn sheep and domestic sheep disease interactions, mule deer mortality issues, and catastrophic bighorn sheep die offs. Dr. Thain has a particular interest in development of cost-effective management tools for agency wild horse and burro field managers. Prior to his employment at UNR, he was the Nevada State Veterinarian, where he was responsible for managing the Virginia Range Estray Horse Program. This is a state feral horse herd adjacent to Reno, Nevada. Dr. Thain practiced veterinary medicine in Wyoming and Montana from 1980 to 1998. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University in 1980.

4 Responses to “NAS Committee Tasked with Reviewing the BLM’s WH&B Management Program… Get To Know The Members & Their Questions”

  1. jan said

    is anyone from cloud foundation going to be there – cant remember man’s name that is a wild horse biologist – if you know nothing about how wild horses live and interact with each other – you will not give a good report on how they can be protected and saved – that they live in family bands, that mares stay with stallion while young colts leave until they can start a band, that the oldest mare in the group is the one who knows where water and feed is, etc. i think man’s name is craig downer – he knows wild horses as does ginger kathrens and others

    and gelding stallions and turning them loose – they will no longer be able to lead a band or protect it and mares will ignore him – he is no longer a stallion or a leader

    • Linda Horn said

      Jan, I think the majority of these people have published peer-reviewed studies, and I don’t know if Craig has. But Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick and his associate (whose name I can’t remember) have done extensive, published research on the Assateague ponies, as has Patricia Fazio on wild horses of Shakleford Banks. BTW, their research on “Eastern” wild horses has been discounted as not applicable in the West.

      However, Kirkpatrick and Fazio collaborated on “Immunocontraceptive Reproductive Control Utilizing Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) in Federal Wild Horse Populations”, along with Dr. Allen T. Rutberg. Fazio has also studied the Pryor Mountain Horses. Why isn’t at least one of them on this panel? I do see allot of “wildlife” people, who are traditionally opposed to competitive introduced and re-introduced animal populations.

      And I totally object to Dr. David S. Thain. IMO, his involvement with Bighorn Sheep and deer (probably Mule Deer) issues is in direct conflict with wild horse management, especially in Nevada.



  3. Diana said

    Yes… is there any way to get Craig Downer on this committee or at least to attend this meeting?

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