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Wild Horses: Evolution, Ecology & Economics with Craig Downer
Spend the evening with wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, who will talk about "Wild Horses: Evolution, Ecology & Economics."
Craig Downer shows how the horse and burro evolved in North America, and how they benefit the ecosystem as a post-gastric rather than a ruminant grazer (as compared to nearly all the others present in North America). Wild horses, in turn, involve a great complementing of the ecosystem, soil building, plant seeding, reduction of dry vegetation and prevention of catastrophic fires. But their modern history has proven politically complicated.
In 1971, the United States Congress recognized wild horses as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” Today, mustang herds vary in the degree to which they can be traced to original Iberian horses. Some contain a greater genetic mixture of ranch stock and more recent breed releases, while others are relatively unchanged from the original Iberian stock, most strongly represented in the most isolated populations.
Free-roaming horses are protected under United States law and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM considers roughly 26,000 individuals a manageable number exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. As of February 2012, the Bureau of Land Management estimates that approximately 31,500 horses are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, comprising 31.6 million acres. The agency removes thousands of animals from the range for adoption each year to control herd sizes.
As of January 2013, there were 14,637 horses in corrals and 33,524 horses in pastures being cared for off the range. All wild horses in holding, like those roaming Western public rangelands, are protected by the BLM under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Congress appropriated $74.9 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program in Fiscal Year 2012.
The Sandwash Herd of about 400 mustangs lives about an hour and a half west of Steamboat Springs, near Maybell. Controversy regarding best management practices among public land managers, ranchers and wild horse advocates abounds.
About the speaker
Craig C. Downer is a wildlife ecologist (University of California Berkeley, University of Nevada Reno, University of Kansas Lawrence, University of Durham UK) who has extensively studied both the wild horses of the West and the endangered mountain tapirs of the northern Andes. His specialization in wildlife ecology is herbivorous odd-toed grazers, and he is nearing the completion of his doctoral degree on the mountain tapir. Downer's writings are both popular and scientific, in English, Spanish and translated to German. His writings about wild horses concern their ecological contribution, their North American evolutionary roots, their great natural and social value and their survival plight. His new book is The Wild Horse Conspiracy, which has been called "a must read for those who want to delve deeply into the topic and plight of America's wild horses."
Downer is a member of the World Conservation Union, Species Survival Commission and has written the action plan for the mountain tapir (1997). He is also a member of the American Society of Mammalogists. One of his books, entitled Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom (1977), examines these magnificent animals from a variety of perspectives, stressing their need to live both freely and naturally in appropriate habitats of sufficient size for long-term viability.
Downer has been a plaintiff and given testimony in several legal suits to restore wild horses and burros at viable population levels in their legal herd areas throughout the West. He is a fourth generation Nevadan who grew up with his best friend Poco, a tall chestnut stallion, with whom he had many adventures in the deserts and mountains of western Nevada and eastern California.
Read about the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse & Burro program.
This is a free talk, however donations to the nonprofit Andean Tapir Fund will be gratefully accepted. Craig Downer is the president of this organization, which works to preserve wild populations of tapir and wild horses. In addition to his wild horse research, during 20+ years of conservation work Downer has helped establish and better protect several nature reserves with remnant mountain tapir populations in northern Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
Craig Downer's books will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of Off The Beaten Path.
Special thanks to Pat Evangelatos and Green Goat Patrol Natural Weed Control (970-846-4524) for support of this program, with a grateful heart for two who've galloped on above the Timberline, Pip Oliver and Sharon Saare.