Monday, March 25, 2013

Wild Stallion on the Virginia Range Challenge Painting #396

 Part 4 History of the Virginia Range: Complications
"Virginia Range Stallion"
5 by 7 inches Watercolor
by Linda L Martin Artist
In house signed prints available $35.00 each
The wild horse privately held round ups had legally ceased in 1971 with the enactment of the Wild Horse and Burro Act. It had two dramatic affects.

The first effect was on the domestic horse population. This is something I lived through. Before I went to  college  anyone could buy a low end domestic horse for less than $100. I had a friend who started her horse business that way in 1972. In 5 years there was a population explosion on the range. While the population of wild horses was going unchecked on the range the prices of low end domestic horses was pushed up by Kill buyers who needed to fill their orders. A $50 domestic healthy over weight horse in1970 by 1978 was selling for $650 to $850 through the stock sale.  By 1983 the market did taper off, And 45 cents to 55 cents a pound was frequent for domestic horses. It hurt a lot of us who were just starting out.Although it was only in hind sight that any of us in the horse industry in the east at that time realized how we were impacted by the "horse meat slaughter market".

I have to say that I have never supported in principle or in fact any portion of the industry that deliberately bred horses for a cruel use including slaughter for human consumption. The reason many of us supported the Wild Horse and Burro Act in the 1970s is because we all knew that in some states that is how wild horses were being used. And the slaughter mentality for the most part did not include humane treatment for any horses they considered "walking dead". This is still true today.
Since, I and the majority of my friends in college all supported the Wild Horse and Burro Act,  as I am sure we all do to this day because it stopped the majority of the cruel and bloody round-ups that  were a daily occurrence at the time, we didn't realize how it would change our own participation in owning and training horses once we finished college. In fact no one knew what the outcome would be because this whole situation was uncharted territory for us as advocates, for ranchers and stockmen and for the Federal and State Governments involved. Those who were not advocates of wild horse protection and humane treatment  had always looked at wild horses as a commodity. After 42 years that perception has not changed much in the horse industry.

Too  many horses on the range because the round ups ceased in 1971 began to created a  crisis.  With too many horses and  frequent droughts  anyone who was at ground zero in the situation including  the  cattlemen, horse advocates,  outdoorsmen, as well as conservationists were beginning to sound the alarm. If the horse populations continued to go unchecked then there would soon be no grasses of any kind in low rain areas of the ranges. Wild horses and other wild life would begin starving in great numbers.

On the Virginia Range this was a cataclysmic prospect because of the nature of the grass. The main grasses were clump grasses. Unlike the continuous grass that we see here in the east and in other rain plenty states, clump grasses were adapted to low rain and high temperatures of harsh high desert habitats. This is why when you look at photos of the range you see  a dotted effect  where these native grasses grow. There are many varieties of this type of grass all good for grazing  and they grow this way to conserve water and provide protection for their roots.   
Cheatgrass grows well between the
volcanic rock that covers much of
The Virginia Range.
 The other type of grass the horses exist on is called cheat grass. It is an invasive species that thrives is low rain areas like the Virginia Range.  Several articles I’ve read on cheat grass say that its nutritional value isn’t as high as the native clump grasses. The problem is that when a range of clump grasses is over grazed, especially during a drought, the cheat grass over runs the area of the clump grass, because it grows faster and has an extensive underground root system. One story compared it to eastern crabgrass, which also so  over runs the native grasses by its strong root system. Another side effect of cheat grass is in drought conditions it’s the first to dry out and the first to catch on fire. It acts as a tinder. When other grasses burn out the Cheat grass over runs the area and replaces the native grasses.

The population explosion of wild horses was heading toward a crisis that was further complicated by another practice: horse dumping.  

For the uninitiated, horse dumping has a wide and varied history in the west and indeed it was also happening just recently during the economic down turn of the last decade. Horse dumping is pretty much done for the same reason that puppies and kittens are dumped by the side of the road. The idea is that if an animal is sold at a sale it would cost more money than it could bring in.   That would mean that the blood lines of good horses might end up purchased for slaughter.   Or a rancher in poor economy might not even be able to pay the transport to a sale facility, much less get his money out of the sale. For a rancher that was already having economic trouble transporting good stock to a sale where it wouldn’t even pay for the gas to get there was impossible.

When every effort was made to sell horses during an economic down turn and the prices could not be met, traditionally all over the west horses were simply let loose. The hope was that they would be picked up by another rancher who could benefit with a stock upgrade or that when the rancher could get back on his feet financially he could get his horses back. Most often it was opportunistic band stallions or bachelor stallions looking for a band that got the mares.  It was really rough going for the horses that were use to being fed  because many, especially those who were not adopted by bands, died cruel deaths of starvation or froze during the winter. Those who became part of the a band were able to survive and infuse the wild horses with some pretty amazing blood lines.

Through out history so many horses have been dumped in western states that sometimes it is difficult to tell the domestics from the wild ones. Now it is against the law to dump horses. By 1978 it inflated the numbers of wild horses further and during the frequent drought years it taxed the land to badly that some areas of the range would never recover. Then die offs began.

A lot of people would like to hold the cattle and sheep producers completely responsible for land degradation in the west, however it is not just cattle that the horse must compete with in the fragile high desert areas. There are a number of wild animals that graze  there as well.

There was a desperate need for a management plan. This management plan needed to make room for the horses and the range to be healthy as well as make room for other Nevada wild life and to prevent destructive over grazing. Since this was all new terrirtory there was no scientific data available and no people other than professional mustangers who knew how to handle wild horses.

A management plan needed to be put in place that would both preserve the horses and would protect them from abuse as well as starvation.  The Virginia Range Horses needed a savior. And because of the circumstances that savior was going to have to come from the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

The designation of Virginia Range horses was astray. They well might have been wild the entire time but because of the fact that no unbranded stock was left on the Virginia Range Public Land except on Pine Nut Mountain, the horses had no protections except what was designated by the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Tuesday: Who would Save and Protect the Virginia Range Wild Horses?

No comments:

Post a Comment