Famed Oregon wild horses still surrounded by controversy
PORTLAND, Ore. (November 22, 2011) – The Cloud Foundation (TCF) and Craig Downer, plaintiffs in a case brought against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are encouraged to learn that Federal Court Judge, Patricia Sullivan, issued a ruling ordering defendant, the BLM, to provide the court with answers to questions regarding the roundup, removal, adoption and warehousing of mustangs from the famed Kiger and Riddle Mountain herds of southeastern Oregon. Georgie Duckler, counsel for the plaintiffs, and client, Kathleen Lewis, requested that the BLM reveal the number of wild horses removed, their locations, condition, deaths, adoptions, and relocations. The BLM has until December 12, 2011 to respond.
“We’re encouraged that the judge is concerned about these famous mustangs and how they’re faring,” states Cloud Foundation Director, Ginger Kathrens. “The Kiger and Riddle herds are some of the most famous and most Spanish of our western wild horse herds, yet they are being managed to extinction by an out-of-control agency charged with protecting them.”
Advocates are hoping that the concerns expressed by Judge Sullivan will translate into a ruling that orders the return of un-adopted Kiger and Riddle wild horses back to the range in order to shore up the genetic viability of these seriously under-populated wild herds. The BLM removed all but 21 horses on the Kiger range and all but 26 in Riddle Mountain during a July 2011 helicopter roundup, insuring inbreeding and the potential for a complete die-out of these herds. A herd population size of 150-200 adult animals is generally accepted as the minimum to maintain genetic viability.
“The numbers of wild horses left in these two herds, even combined, will result in inbreeding over time,” states E. Gus Cothran, PhD, the most respected equine geneticist in the U.S. who has been studying the genetics of western wild horse herds for over 20 years. “It’s a situation you want to avoid if possible. I don’t understand BLM’s reasoning on this.”
The BLM reported that they received no responses to their Environmental Assessment (EA) calling for the drastic reduction of the Kiger and Riddle Mountain Wild Horse herds; however, advocates claim that no one they know received the EA, not even the local Oregon Resource Advisory Council (RAC) member for wild horses, Diane Pinney. “There is something very irregular about this whole process,” stated Pinney. “There is absolutely no possibility that not one person would have commented on the roundup of some of the most popular wild horses in the country, if given the opportunity, especially given the Kiger community’s concern over the past two roundups which reduced genetic diversity, increasing the chances of inbreeding in this small breeding population.”
Ironically, the BLM’s website touts the unique qualities of the two herds saying: “The BLM manages two special areas in southeastern Oregon for wild horses with Spanish Mustang characteristics… the Kiger and Riddle Mountain Herd Management Areas. Seeing the beauty of the Kiger Mustangs in the wild with their classic coloration and markings will add much to your enjoyment of our western heritage. It is an experience you won’t soon forget.”
“If this is what managing for ‘special areas’ means, I’d rather be a wild horse living almost anywhere else,” says Kathleen Lewis of Portland, a wild horse advocate who brought forth the suit against the BLM. “It is absolutely devastating that the BLM has no regard for our western history and culture, and their mandate to manage for sustainable wild horse herds.”
“The BLM is so hypocritical. The Wild Horse and Burro Act intended for these animals to be the principle users on their legally designated ranges, yet they are at the bottom of the totem pole,” says wildlife ecologist and author, Craig Downer. “BLM thumbs its nose at the true intent of a unanimously passed Act of Congress and completely disregards the will of the American public. It is truly disgusting that they have destroyed these unique populations in Oregon.”
Some wild horses from the two herds remain in short-term holding and could be returned to the range if the plaintiffs are successful with their challenge to BLM management. TCF and Downer brought suit against the BLM in July, seeking to stop the roundup and removal of the famed Oregon mustangs. The judge denied their temporary restraining order and the roundup continued with two reported deaths and a total of 165 animals permanently removed.
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