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Wildfire Season Is Almost Here! Can One State’s Problem Be Another State’s Solution?

By: Nonprofit Admin. Wild Horse Fire Brigade 

Nevada has a problem. They have too many herbivores grazing the landscape. Between the cattle, wild horses, deer and elk, the competition for grazing and water resources is tough.

Livestock producers in Nevada have been effective at eliminating the predators that would normally take their calves and lambs and causing financial havoc. But that has the unintended side-effect of removing the evolved natural predators of the wild horses living in the same areas, so without their predators, the horses overpopulate. 

On the other hand, California has too many predators and a collapsed deer and elk herbivory. The deer population is estimated to be down approximately1.5-million deer over the past 30-years according to published data. And that results in nearly 2-million tons of annual grass and brush waiting for the first source of ignition. 

This annual un-grazed crop of prodigious grass and brush fuels are largely responsible for California’s wildfire plague. And California has protected the mountain lions and wolves that are among the thriving populations of bears. The result is that these abundant apex predators are now short on prey and are turning to consuming livestock, people’s pets, and attacking humans. 

Many California livestock producers are suffering significant losses due to depredation of livestock by apex predators, and have little or no recourse. 

Can Nevada’s excess herbivore population serve several problems for California? 

The answer seems clear.

By relocating wild horses from Nevada to carefully selected wilderness forest areas in California, several costly issues can be addressed.

  1. Nevada can reduce herbivore pressures on their finite grazing and water resources; and
  2. Wild horses can cost effectively reduce wildfire fuels in selected California wilderness areas unsuited for ruminant livestock grazing (aka: wildfire-grazing) 
  3. The prey-predator balance is reestablished in California wilderness areas, thereby reducing predator attacks on livestock, pets and humans; and
  4. Taxpayers save hundreds of $-millions annually.

A deeper dive into the details:

A lot has changed in America since the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act (‘ACT’) was signed into Law by President Richard Nixon.

The population in America has almost doubled from 207-million in 1971 to 340-million in 2023.

With the increase of 133-million more people in America, consumer demands for products related to livestock, mining, oil and gas industries and raw material coming from public land enterprises is at an all-time high and growing. And increased efficiencies in the supply-chain have accelerated the delivery of consumer products to end users.

Even with the rise in vegetarianism and veganism, today, 97% of Americans still regularly consume livestock derived products.

Americans depend upon food security and American livestock producers have long been the backbone of a significant portion of that food security. 

American wild (aka: ‘feral’) horses are non-commercial herbivores that managed under the currently outdated 1971 Act. Wild horses are being commingled and managed with commercially valuable livestock and game animals that serve the American economy. Wild horses are competing with commercial livestock and game animals for grazing and water resources on certain public lands creating an economically fueled conflict, amounting to what might be characterized as the range-war of the 21st century. 

The question arises:

Is there now, 50-years since the establishment of 1971 ACT, a better paradigm for managing wild horses in a manner that allows them to live naturally, wild and free, as intended by the 1971 ACT?

Is there a management paradigm that concurrently ends the economic conflict between wild horses and livestock production on public lands where livestock grazing has been long established and is appropriate? 

The answer is yes.

The solution to the livestock-wild horse management dilemma comes in the form of solving the national disasters stemming from catastrophic wildfires costing tens of $-billions in losses annually and are devastating the forest ecosystems in the far western states of California, Oregon and Washington, among other areas.

The solution comes from a 10-year pilot research project (2014-2024) with 150-wild horses in the farthest reach of Northern California on the Oregon-California border.

In 2014, William Simpson, a trained researcher, acknowledged wild horse expert, and founder of the all-volunteer 501-c-3 nonprofit Wild Horse Fire Brigade started living-among and studying the Environmental Benefits of wild horses when they are located in appropriate wilderness areas, beyond conflicts with commercial enterprises such as gas, oil, mining and livestock production. 

This revolutionary pilot project and wild horse management Plan is known by its formal name; the ‘Natural Wildfire Abatement and Forest Protection Plan’, aka: ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade’. The Plan is focused on managing wildfire fuels in wilderness landscapes, and was tested-true by the deadly 38,000-acre Klamathon Fire in 2018. 

The insurance industry credit-rating and analyst company AM BEST has produced a documentary that promotes Simpson’s plan. That 8-minute documentary can be viewed online here:  https://www.ambest.com/video/video.aspx?s=1&rc=wildhorses323

The reduced grass and brush fuels from Simpson’s Wild Horse Fire Brigade grazing model aided CALFIRE via large landscapes of reduced fuels making their suppression efforts more effective. Numerous peer-reviewed published studies also support Simpson’s empirical, first-hand findings. 

William E. Simpson II on July 7th, 2018 – Photo: Laura Simpson (RIP 1955-2019)

Additionally, William Simpson (author) served on the Klamath Fire fire-line for 9-days as the technical advisor to CALFIRE commanders on the Camp Creek fire-line and observed and documented first-hand the benefits of the wild horse fire-grazing.

The wilderness area where Simpson’s pilot program called ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade‘ was proven is like millions of acres of other far western-state wilderness areas. These particular wilderness areas are manifestly unsuited to livestock fire-grazing due to the presence of thriving populations of Apex predator populations of mountain lions, bears, wolves and coyotes. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife have been trying to increase bear hunting due to the extreme populations of bears in the far north of California. 

Due to the collapsed deer populations, wolves, mountain lions and bears have been taking livestock, pets and there have been attacks on humans. Recently, in March 2024, a 21-year old man in California was killed by a mountain lion as his 18-year old brother watched: (https://www.cbsnews.com/sacramento/news/mountain-lion-attacks-2-people-in-california-foothills-killing-1/). 

These Apex predators are the natural predators of wild horses, according to the latest science, and in wilderness areas where they thrive, they control populations of wild horses via Natural Selection. As Simpson’s published Study suggests, the co-evolved predator-prey relationship between Apex predators and wild horses benefits the genetics of wild horses, and does so naturally as it has for the past 2-million years. Published peer-reviewed science support Simpson’s Study.

A Humane, Cost-Effective Nature-Based Solution for the Wild Horse – Livestock Conflict

Wild (aka: ‘feral’) horses can be humanely removed from areas of commercial conflicts as family-bands, and relocated humanely in family units and re-wilded into carefully selected appropriate remote wilderness areas to manage wildfire fuels. Areas that would benefit greatly from re-wilded horses are those wilderness lands and forests that have collapsed populations of native herbivores (deer, elk, etc.) and where livestock fire-grazing is manifestly unsuited due to livestock losses from existing Apex predator populations coupled-with remote difficult terrain that would incrementally add to the total cost-of-goods-sold due to burdensome logistics costs (fuel, trucking, etc.).

What is a Wild Horse Worth? Depends on where it’s located.

Based upon comparable cost metrics for various wildfire fuel mitigation methodologies, such as prescribed burning, Simpson has determined that each horse deployed into a wildfire fuels management role, via appropriate re-wilding, provides approximately $72,000.00 worth of fuels management value over its lifespan. 

On the other-hand, a horse at a slaughter auction sells-for between $160 and $600. 

The USFS spends approximately 90% of its nearly $9-billion budget on wildfire suppression. Other federal and state agencies are also spending $-billions annually chasing the wildfire issue. The annual resulting property and casualty losses are in the tens of $-billions, added to the loss of forests, timber, wildlife and habitat. In California alone the wildfires of 2017 caused losses estimated at $180-billion according to Courthouse news: https://www.courthousenews.com/costs-to-fight-2017-california-wildfires-shatters-records/

As we see, even a tiny reduction in the frequency, size and intensity of annual wildfires results in savings of hundreds of $-millions annually in direct costs for suppression as well as related to property and casualty losses, not to mention loss of wildlife and habitat.

Wild Horse Fire Brigade offers a humane, cost-effective, nature-based solution that provides meaningful benefits to all stakeholders, while cost-effectively accomplishing the intent of the 1971 ACT. 

Wild Horse Fire Brigade Announces Historic Environmental Initiative on Earth Day – Plan to ReWild 1,000 Wild Horses

Wild Horse Fire Brigade (‘WHFB’) has received formal letters of endorsement from the Nevada Lands Council and Elko County Nevada Commissioners who voted unanimously to support Wild Horse Fire Brigade’s large-scale Rewilding project for up to 1,000 wild horses.

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