WHOA reports that its recent “independent” survey found a majority of Placitans “want the free-roaming horses of Placitas to remain.”
Let’s look at those claims.
Was the survey “independent”? No. The survey was sponsored and paid for by WHOA, whose President, Patience O’Dowd, was closely involved in developing the questions. An independent poll is one funded and designed by a neutral organization that has no vested interest in the outcome.
Did the survey ask whether or not you “want the free-roaming horses to remain”? No, there was no such question. Nor did the survey ask callers in what part of Placitas they lived, and whether free-roaming horses frequented their subdivision, property, and nearby roads — key variables that would be expected to influence the opinions of those polled.
Was the survey fair and unbiased? Nope. An objective poll would have addressed the key issues residents have raised for years related to free-roaming horses, such as environmental damage, impact on wildlife, impact on the watershed, property damage, and public safety. And some questions were leading or misleading. For example, the response options for one question incorrectly implied that contraception, fences and cattle guards would be sufficient to “manage” the current overpopulation of free-roaming horses. Another item included irrelevant response options, such as keeping free-roaming horses on the Placitas Open Space (that’s not permitted by the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division). And let’s not forget that long, jumbled question about a loop road.
By avoiding key concerns and manipulating questions and response choices – something an independent poll would not have done – WHOA once again intentionally misleads the community to serve its own agenda.
A public meeting was held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church on August 23, at which Land Management Specialist Ricardo Ortiz of San Felipe Pueblo presented the Pueblo’s proposal for the 3142-acre BLM tract that abuts Placitas to the north, should the Pueblo acquire it from the BLM. The Pueblo’s plans include, in part, a horse sanctuary.
The meeting was sponsored by Placitas Wild, a recently-formed group that supports San Felipe Pueblo’s plan. Other organizations that have expressed interest in acquiring some or all of the BLM parcel, commonly known as the Buffalo Tract, include Santa Ana Pueblo and the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant.
We’re grateful to our favorite local cowboy, Marty Clifton, for putting together an excellent summary of the meeting. You can read it here.
And you can read about the meeting in the September issue of the Sandoval Signpost here.
In the last week, many Placitas residents received a phone call asking their opinion about Placitas free-roaming horses. The survey is sponsored by the local Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) and is being fielded by Southwest Planning, a New Mexico marketing firm that conducts public opinion polls.
In a call last week to Southwest Planning, we learned the survey sample draws from 900 Placitas households with telephone landlines. The firm hopes to complete at least 200 surveys, and the results will be statistically weighted to reflect the demographics of the Placitas population. The pollster will calculate both response rates and confidence intervals for each survey item. The poll started on Tuesday, August 19 and was scheduled to end on Sunday, August 24. However, as of August 25, it was still being fielded.
Unfortunately, any survey is only as valid as its design. To be accurate, a survey has to have what researchers call content or face validity. That means survey items must reasonably address all the relevant issues – not just a cherry-picked few – and provide an appropriate range of response options. In addition, a valid survey’s questions are worded in an unbiased, neutral manner and don’t “push” the respondent towards a particular response.
Uh, could you repeat the question?
We understand the polling firm has gotten an earful from Placitans upset or confused about the survey questions. Continue reading
We’ve been pleasantly surprised at LOLR to see that the posts in our “Science Stuff” category are some of the most popular posts on the blog.
It’s terrific that so many of our Placitas and other visitors want to learn about the impact of feral horses on land and wildlife sustainability from the biologists and rangeland scientists who study this stuff day in and day out. To this, we say “huzzah!” and raise high our glasses of local, sustainably-produced microbrew!
If you want to dig deep into what’s happening on Western lands from the combined stresses of climate change and grazing–whether by cattle, feral ungulates (that’s feral horses and burros; ungulate refers to an animal with hooves) or native ungulates (deer and elk)– this review paper is an informative read. Published in Environmental Management by eight researchers from different institutions, it gives some context to the ecosystem problems we face here in Placitas. The full paper is not for the faint-of-heart, but a summary that goes down easier can be found here.
In a nutshell, the cause of habitat destruction is not the either/or proposition that Placitas pro-horse advocates make it out to be (“All the damage to the land is from the drought; none is from the horses.”). As thoughtful people might surmise, drought/climate change stresses the land and overgrazing stresses the land. Combine the two and you have a crisis of land sustainability.
For a stark example of what has been happening in Placitas, see the photo in our August 14 post, which shows the difference between land impacted by drought and land impacted by drought-plus-horses. You can draw your own conclusions.
A thoughtful and pointed piece in today’s Albuquerque Journal from two long-time Placitas residents familiar with the ecology of the area, who wrote, in part:
“Rayburn interviewed newcomers to Placitas who are enthralled by the “magical” sight of free-roaming horses in the (open space) and the neighborhoods.
Better she should have spoken to anyone who has known the (open space) for 20-plus years and has seen the ecological devastation wreaked by the rapidly growing numbers of horses, which would never survive in this high desert region without being fed and watered by humans.”
You can read the full piece here.
“These horses are wild and you can know that by their wild behavior.” Patience O’Dowd (WHOA president), Santa Fe New Mexican, August 13, 2014
“Stop gabbin’ and get me some oats!” Mr. Ed, CBS Television, 1961
This photo was taken on August 6, 2014. In the foreground is an area of the BLM tract where over 20 horses have been hanging out for about five months. In the background behind the fence is the Placitas Open Space (POS), a 560-acre recreational area, which has been horse-free since a fence was completed five months ago. The area in the foreground has received the same precipitation as the POS, yet it’s barren except for yucca, juniper trees, and horse manure–even though we’ve had unusually abundant rains this summer. The image graphically refutes the argument that the multi-year drought is the sole cause of habitat destruction in the Placitas area.
The area in the foreground is a great example of sheet erosion. Compacted soil, whether from construction site activity or horse hooves, leads to accelerated water runoff and wind erosion that removes the top layer of nutrient-rich soil. The nutrient loss and soil compaction makes it very difficult for vegetation to come back.