Letter: For the sake of the whole environment, management of horses on public lands requires great care

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wild horses from the Onaqui wild horse herd frolic around near Simpson Springs, on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

The opinion piece by Scott Beckstead in the Oct. 3 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune about the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse management program is very disturbing. It fails to consider or connect any of BLM’s legislative management responsibilities beyond that of horses. It dismisses decisions and actions of professionals as gaslighting and lies. It makes statements that are misleading and incorrect.

I have visited, camped and hiked in the area inhabited by the Onaqui herd. It appeared to me that much of the valley floor native bunchgrass vegetation has disappeared. The eruption of grass and forage during rainy periods characterized by Beckstead as an abundant source of food for the herd is primarily cheatgrass. Cheatgrass and most other annual vegetation is short-lived and of little value beyond two or three weeks and that only if the seasonal rains occur. If Beckstead has visited the area I wonder if he examined or considered the condition of the vegetative cover which is as much a management responsibility of BLM as are the horses. And of course, the two are intimately connected. He decries the presence of commercial cattle operations. I hope he has informed himself as to the legislative history and requirements of the presence of cattle on the range to preserve long established ranching operations. Cattle grazing is amenable to a variety of management options that can be used to improve the vegetative community. Such as turn out dates, pasture rotations, removal during periods of weather extremes, and others. Options that are mostly unavailable regarding the management of wild horses. Eliminating cattle grazing to facilitate the well-being of herds of wild horses is not an option legally available to BLM.

Horses are not native. They displace animals that are native, such as elk, deer and antelope. They are big, strong and destructive. They are not preyed upon by any predators. They do not self-regulate population growth due to environmental variations. They are there 24/7. They are extremely resilient and will survive and multiply right up until the biotic environment has been destroyed. During the winter of ‘49-’50, when hay became unavailable to feed horses, I saw them survive eating willows, small trees and eventually the barn itself.

Personally, I would much prefer the presence of native animal populations to that of horses. Notwithstanding my preferences or the preferences of others, horses have secured a place on the public lands by virtue of legislative enactment. The nature of the beast is such that management of them needs to be careful and stringent. It is critical to the preservation of the whole environment. Let’s work with, not get in the way of professionals who do that.

Philip Beck, Stansbury Park

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