In recent weeks wild horse and burro advocates have included the names of Country Natural Beef, Roaring Springs Ranch and a few additional Country Natural Beef ranchers in discussions surrounding wild horses and burros that legally share federal lands with grazing cattle. It has come to our attention that one advocacy group in particular – The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) – is attempting to discredit our ranch cooperative and one of our highest profile customers when at every juncture Country Natural Beef has attempted to engage collaboratively with AWHPC to find solutions to the complex issues in-play on the Beatys Butte Herd Management Area.
Suffice it to say, there is a lot of history surrounding wild horses on federal lands, and with it comes a lot of history surrounding livestock grazing, recreation, and many other uses legally permitted on federal lands. These issues are intermingled and complex.
I believe horse activists and livestock owners should be in communication and working together on grazing issues. I have many good friends who are horse advocates, some of them use our guest house when they come to see the horses. It might surprise many wild horse advocates to know that we pump water, reserve forage, allow wild horses and burros to graze our private land, and do many things to facilitate the thrift and vigor of the horse herds.
The question I have for AWHPC is this: If we removed all of the cattle and no longer gathered and removed wild horses and burros, what would happen? The Beaty Butte herd would quickly expand past 5,000 animals within ten years, and the land simply cannot sustain that size population. If you have ever seen these animals starve, thirst and be neglected then you know there is nothing sadder. And all of that is preventable.
So while I truly am an advocate for wild horses and burros, and I appreciate their free and wild spirits, I also believe that their numbers require management.
I’m disappointed that AWHPC has decided to take the approach they have instead of shaking our outstretched hand in the spirit of collaborative problem solving. Problems are only solved when the various sides agree to work together in good faith. I’d like to share a letter sent by me last month to Suzanne Roy, director of AWHPC. I would like Suzanne, the AWHPC, and every advocate of wild horses and burros to know that my hand remains outstretched in the spirit of constructive collaboration to find a solution that works for everyone here in Oregon.
Finally, it’s important to understand that ranchers have little to no influence over the gathering and removal of the horses and burros. Rather, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes those decisions on their own. Your voice may well have more power to influence BLM’s decision-making than my voice, and I encourage you to share your concerns with them. Thank you.
Director, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
October 22, 2015
I am reaching out to you in response to a letter that you sent to John Mackey and the leadership of Whole Foods Market regarding America’s mustangs and potential conflict with livestock grazing the same public land. My hope is that we can engage in direct dialogue to understand one another better.
I greatly respect the work that the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign does to preserve the Mustangs on Western rangelands. I too appreciate the beauty of these majestic animals and the heritage that they represent. I am very fortunate that I have the opportunity to view them on a daily basis as I ride among them working cattle on our ranch.
Like most ranchers in the Western United States, many Country Natural Beef ranchers utilize public lands as part of the forage base for our cattle. We adhere to and support the “multiple use” concept of public lands which includes livestock grazing, wild horse and burro grazing, many forms of recreation, scenic vistas, clean water and air, abundant wildlife populations, and wide range of other uses. Our ranchers are involved in many advisory councils and working groups to find solutions to the conflicts that can arise from the many different users sharing the same landscape.
I would love to visit with you so that we can discuss your concerns in detail about the public lands that cattle from Roaring Springs Ranch graze. I think you will find that I appreciate wild horses a great deal, and I have never nor will I ever advocate for complete removal of these horses.
We share rangelands with three herd management areas (HMA’s) in Oregon: the South Steens, Beaty Butte, and Kiger herd management areas. I fully support the management plans that were developed by the Bureau of Land Management when the HMAs were created in the late 1970’s. The most recent count of horses in the South Steens HMA is in excess of 800 horses, while the designated appropriate management level is 159- 304. I do support gathering horses from the South Steens HMA and returning the total numbers to a number within the appropriate range. Currently BLM is producing 12,000 horses per year and adoption rates are only 1000-1500 per year. Reproduction rates are greatly exceeding demand so I maintain we should reduce production to meet demand. By allowing the herd numbers to increase beyond Appropriate Management Levels, too many horses grazing all 12 months of the year has negative implications to rangeland health and competition for forage with not only livestock, but wildlife also increases. The most recent count of horses on the Beaty Butte HMA shows an excess of 1,500 horses when the appropriate management level is a range of 100-250. Again, I support a gather to return the total number of horses on the rangeland to a number between 100-250 head. Frankly, I feel that the Beaty Butte HMA can and should support more than the maximum of 250 horses and I am willing to discuss expanding that AML.
I understand that many do not trust the accuracy of the counting methods used by BLM and therefore distrust the numbers reported. I share some of that frustration, but through personal experience I can assure you that there are currently excessive numbers of horses on Beaty Butte, South Steens, and Kiger HMA’s.
We may agree to disagree on some of the assertions made in your letter to Whole Foods Market, but I can assure you that Country Natural Beef ranchers actively support the management system and herd numbers as outlined by BLM in their Herd Management Area plans. Again, we do not support and would resist elimination of wild horses. We support the Wild Horse and Burro program as established and implemented, will continue to advocate for safe gathering and handling of excess horses, and have offered many suggestions to improve current methods.
Roaring Springs Ranch works diligently to be good land stewards, neighbors, and co-land users with the multiple users of public lands. I want to highlight just a few of many specific things we do for wild horses:
1. Most of the watering areas that horses use are private land. We pump water from wells, maintain water holes and pipelines and troughs to supply water for horses across the rangeland at our own expense. Wild horses would often go thirsty without this water.
2. As horse numbers have increased and the drought has intensified, we have reduced livestock numbers on the range substantially, allowing more forage for wild horses. On the Beaty Butte allotment, livestock are granted 25,600 animal unit months (aum) of grazing on an annuals basis. In 2015 we voluntarily reduced livestock numbers to 2,300 aum(less than 10% our allocation) to provide forage for wild horses and reduce the impact on drought stricken rangelands.
3. In multiple advisory council meetings and other public forums, I regularly defend the Wild horse and burro program and its right to be a part of the multiple use on public lands.
4. Following the large wildfires on the Kiger HMA several years ago, we opened the gates onto our private lands and reserved forage for wild horses to replace the forage on public lands that was consumed by wildfire. This eliminated the need for a gather and removal of many of the Kiger horses.
5. We work closely with BLM to provide winter forage for horses in the South Steens HMA during severe winters when snow depths on BLM would limit the available forage for horses.
I believe we share a lot of common feelings and appreciation for wild horses. I would truly enjoy meeting with you and others that are willing to investigate options and find solutions to some of the challenging issues facing rangeland management. If you are willing to come to Oregon, I would be glad to host you and tour several of the herd management areas together. If travel to Oregon is challenging, I could also meet you in San Francisco or any other place to further discuss our common ground and explore solutions to the areas of disagreement.
Stacy L Davies
Roaring Springs Ranch
Country Natural Beef