Re-balancing The Ecosystem: Good For Outdoor Sports; Reduces Wildfires & Toxic Smoke

A family of native Kiger wild horses grazed in a picture perfect wildfire break in a remote Oregon forest.
Photo Credit: William E. Simpson

by Capt. William E. Simpson II
10-8-2018
OPINION

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In the latest cooperative effort with a handful of visionary politicians, natural resource advocates and supported by noted wildlife biologist Craig C. Downer, rancher-author William E. Simpson II has opened a new line of communication with Siskiyou County, CA. Here is that open letter and response by Craig C. Downer.

TO: The Honorable Gentlemen: 
      Alan DeBoer - Oregon Senator
      Ray Haupt - Chairman Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors
      James E. Smith - Commissioner Siskiyou County Dept. Of Agriculture
      Jon Lopey - Siskiyou County Sheriff

CC: Carla Bowers - Modoc Devils Garden Wild Horse Advocate

The pilot test of the Wild Horse Fire Brigade as proposed by Mr. Simpson is both ecologically and economically sound and solidly positioned upon well-established science [1]. Cultural and paleontological evidence from the locale shows that wild horses lived in the area of the Soda Mountain Wilderness area of Southern Oregon and Northern California for millennia and up until recent times.

I spent 3-days on-site touring the landscape on foot and have evaluated the conditions of the local flora and fauna. From my findings, I concur with Mr. Simpson that there is a severe depletion of large-bodied native herbivores here. This situation has led to super- abundant vegetation to become intensively established throughout the landscape, a major portion of which is rocky and of rugged, accentuated topography.  At present, the wild horses here are well below their carrying capacity for this particular ecosystem, and this ecosystem could greatly benefit from their increase. Other native herbivores have been and continue to be depleted by a robust population of lions and coyotes. The predated remains of adult and sub-adult wild horses are frequently encountered in this reserve along with scant remains of deer. I concur with Mr. Simpson that the use of livestock for fuel abatement would result in significant loss of animals and financial investment.

From my observations as well as the photographs and videos I have viewed, it is clear that the presently occurring, relatively few, private wild horses have benefited the landscape by their reducing flammable vegetation -- especially important under conifer and oak canopies. It is my view that the horse population here should be increased in order to more fully fill its niche and more adequately reduce the vegetation that later in the season becomes dry and flammable and acts as kindling for major wildfires. I estimate the population density of private wild horses in and around the Simpson ranch in an area approximating 15,000 acres at 1 horse per 250-acres. The estimated carrying capacity varies with terrain. But by balancing out the different soils and terrain types and their productivity, I estimate that somewhere between 30 to 50 acres in this ecosystem would provide sufficient annual forage for one individual horse. As concerns water, I observed that even in the late summer, water sources were sufficiently present in the numerous springs and creeks found here and occurring both at considerably higher elevations than -- as well as around - the Iron Gate Lake. Also adequate shelter is found for the horses throughout the reserve in the form of bushes and trees as well as sheltering hollows and ravines. Much of the reserve faces south, which is of benefit to the horses during cold seasons.

The economic value of the proposed fuel treatment by means of an ecologically appropriate number of wild horses introduced into the  landscape should definitely enter into any cost:benefit analysis as this relates to wildfire costs (suppression, loss of health/life, healthcare, infrastructure and other man-made assets, wildlife, plant communities including meadows and forests, scenic values, etc.).

Prescribed burning creates undesirable toxic smoke and compounds the ill-effects of smoke from wildfires, already at an alarming level.  This costs approximately $400.00 per acre, and must be done at least on an annual schedule in order to be effective. Furthermore, it entails numerous other undesirable side-effects that are associated with disruption of the soils, wildlife, plant community, etc. Each wild horse introduced onto the landscape can abate approximately 5.5 tons of vegetative material per year and presents no risk of causing fire even when working at the height of the wildfire season.

Added to the positive economic benefit from the standing herd of wild horses is the revenue stream that under the right circumstances can be derived from Eco-tourism. Wild equine fanciers form a very large and robust market segment. Currently, this is an under-served demand. Thus, the availability of venues where wild horses can be readily and safely observed, such as the Wild Horse Ranch and vicinity, I see as being a highly attractive prospect. 

During my visits to this wild horse reserve area in the Klamath River basin north of Iron Gate Lake (Siskiyou County), I observed and photographed an occasional wild horse usually far up on a mountainside. Such observations even occurred during brief visits of only an hour or two and from the convenience of my vehicle.  It seems that Siskiyou County has something that not many other areas have; easy opportunity for the observation and photography of America's wild horses. And hikers could gain much closer access to these vanishing American legends. 

The potential for equine tourism success here is supported by the many similar successful enterprises across America that exist today. Hotels, restaurants, and guide services related to wild horses have helped drive local economies by providing seasonal as well as year-round jobs. Mr. Simpson has pointed to just one of many examples: the high-end Mustang Monument in my home state of Nevada;
http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/la-trb-new-nevada-resort-mustangs-20140710-story.html

In closing, I offer my enthusiastic support for Mr. Simpson's pilot project to transfer wild horses gathered off of Devil's Garden USFS Territory. I believe that this germinal project would be the most economically efficient and productive way of addressing today's very real and threatening wildfire threat. The use of native North America wild horses in the proposed wildfire fuel treatment project would both save and restore a more balanced and healthy life community, while at the same time serving to boost local tourism and business in and around Yreka, California. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or concerns.

Craig C.Downer - Wildlife Biologist
P.O. Box 456
Minden, NV 89423

[1] According to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape."

Another published study states:
"The removal of large herbivores has adverse effects on landscape structure and ecosystem functioning. In wetter ecosystems, the loss of large herbivores is associated with an increased abundance of woody plants and the development of a closed-canopy vegetation. In drier ecosystems, reductions of large grazers, can lead to a high grass biomass and thus to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Together with the loss of a prey base for large carnivores, these changes in vegetation structures and fire regimes, may trigger cascades of extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Estes et al., 2011; Hopcraft, Olff, & Sinclair, 2009; Malhi et al., 2016)."

------------------------------

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Simpson <gemmaster7@aol.com>
Sent: Sat, Oct 6, 2018 10:40 am
Subject: The Proposed Local Pilot Test of WHFB on Private Lands & Need to take action now or lose the opportunity

 

TO: Ray Haupt - Chairman Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors
CC: Senator Alan DeBoer
       Craig C. Downer PhD
       Carla Bowers - Wild Horse Advocate for Devils Garden Wild Horses

Hi Ray:
As you know, I am trying to accomplish something positive here for our community, which will help protect our immediate community and outward areas in our County from catastrophic wildfire and toxic smoke. Published peer-reviewed science supports my posits and plan, and must not be discounted; 'reestablishing the herbivory devolves catastrophic wildfire and reduces both the frequency and intensity of wildfire and reduces toxic wildfire smoke.'

I still haven't heard from Jim Smith (our AG commissioner) yet (he is copied hereto). I had hoped we would know something this past week on my proposal to you (a pilot test on private lands of Wild Horse Fire Brigade) since the source of the intended grass/brush abatement tools (being the native wild horses) are being rounded up now. 

All proposed wild horses will be aged, sexed, vaccinated, dewormed, microchipped, & gelded by the agency (USFS).

The timing is not mine, but that of our friends at the USFS. The horses we would receive are described by Carla Bowers in her email farther below herein.

Our community up here (private land owners controlling about 2,000 acres, as well as two ranches sharing our fence in Oregon with 160 acres) are signed on (in writing via an email) and have agreed we need to establish a reasonable herbivory of native species wild horses up here due to two things:

1) The inability to use livestock due to numerous lions (they killed all 40 bighorn sheep that were introduced into Jenny Creek 2-years back); and,

2) The severely depleted cervids in our area (and State). 

I also have a letter from a noted wildlife biologist who agrees with the plan (deploying an additional 100 native wild horses) and has toured our lands up here (Craig C. Downer). The added 100 wild horses would increase our grass and brush abatement by approximately 600-tons annually. This would be in addition to the 360-tons being annually abated by the ~60 local private wild horses, for a total of approximately 960-tons of 1-hour fuels treatment annually in our locale.

Interesting side note: Last year, the Devil's Garden District Ranger Greg Moon told me several times they had "2,700 wild horses"; now in one-year it's suddenly 4,000?  Interesting rate of reproduction.  

I hope that since this pilot test would be done as a cooperative project (at least a tacit blessing from the County) between private land-owners and which benefits the entire community and County by making the landscape more wildfire resilient and yielding less toxic smoke, I pray we can quickly get some form of an OK from the County (or Mr. Smith), or at least obtain some statement to the effect that 'we don't have a problem with your pilot test'...

I am also working with Senator Alan DeBoer and Congressman Greg Walden and Jackson County Commissioners towards the implementation of a similar plan (1-horse per 100-acres) on the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. The fuel abatement coupled with the tourist attraction/biz opportunities are not inconsequential. And as we see in the video from ABC news, about 300 citizens drove in many cases over 100-miles just to see 29 wild horses!  News Video here: https://www.kivitv.com/news/wild-horses-roam-free-in-owyhee-county-thanks-to-the-blm-in-idaho

Other people are paying $1,000/night to stay in an area where wild horses live to have a chance to glimpse them and maybe take a photo:

LA TIMES story:
http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/la-trb-new-nevada-resort-mustangs-20140710-story.html

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE (the Devil's Garden is the perfect source for wild horses for our area; many are native Kiger wild horses and they are acclimated to our area (actually worse conditions than we have in our area where we have better carrying capacity and far more water).

FYI: 
1,000 wild horses to be rounded up in Northern California

The Associated Press
October 05, 2018 12:07 PM
Updated October 05, 2018 12:08 PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. 

The U.S. Forest Service is set to round up 1,000 wild horses and says many of them could be sold to distant slaughterhouses.

The roundup is set to begin Tuesday and last through the month. It will target horses from a herd in the Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory inside the Modoc National Forest, the Sacramento Bee reported .

Modoc National Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said the area is supposed to have up to 400 horses but that the area has almost 4,000 animals.

Those horses enjoy a range of more than 250,000 acres (101,170 hectares) within the national forest, which is about two and a half hours northeast of Redding.

"It sounds like a lot of acres for 4,000 horses, but there's not a lot of vegetation and not a lot of water," McAdams said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior oversees most of America's wild horses and burros and prohibits selling them to slaughterhouses, but the Forest Service is underneath the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has no such restriction.

The American Wild Horse Campaign says the government is "exploiting a legal loophole" that will result in the slaughter of hundreds of animals.

The horses will be made available for adoption but after a 30-day period all horses 10 years and older — an estimated 300 animals — will be made available for sale without limitations for $1 each, "allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone," the AWHC said.

Forest Service spokesman Ken Sandusky said that while the policy is new, this is also the first "horse gather" on public lands in 13 years and that the Forest Service works with a variety of partners to adopt out as many wild horses as possible.

"The other option is long-term holding, which makes unlimited sale the only fiscally responsible option," Sandusky said.
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William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions – Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary.

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.

Simpson spent his formative years growing up on the family’s working ranch in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where horses were an integral part of the daily life. William left the family ranch to attend college, which turned out to be a stepping stone into a bizarre lifestyle that led him around the world on an entrepreneurial quest. An adventurer at heart, Simpson and his best friend and wife Laura, spent many years at sea during two sailing expeditions (1991-1994 and 2008-2011) where they experienced some of the many wonders and mysteries of nature. Since retiring, Bill and Laura have changed lifestyles and are once again engaged in a new adventure; living an off-grid lifestyle in the remote wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains, where they enjoy coexisting with herds of wild horses, along with a myriad of other wild animals. The staggering beauty of the local mountains and valleys is awe inspiring and has influenced Bill to frequently write on subjects related to wild horses as well as wild and domestic horse advocacy, rescue and sanctuary.

The opinions expressed on MyOutdoorBuddy are those of the author and do not represent the opinion of MyOutdoorBuddy or that of the author's employer unless otherwise stated.