Placitas Open Space Makes Slow Recovery

Today marks the third anniversary of the completion of the protective fence around the Placitas Open Space (POS). It’s an occasion we like to celebrate, because getting the POS fenced was a hard-fought battle.

Open Spaces managed by the City of Albuquerque are intended to be protected recreational areas where native vegetation and wildlife can coexist with human enjoyment of those areas. But by 2010, the exploding population of feral horses in the Placitas hills was taking its toll. And by 2012, the horses had devastated the POS vegetation and badly trampled the banks of Las Huertas Creek, which runs through the POS on its way to the Rio Grande.

The knee-high native grasses that had covered the creek basin were everywhere eaten to within a few inches of the ground, leaving bare topsoil exposed. The summer monsoons then washed the topsoil away. What remained of the grass clumps dried out and died as their roots became exposed. With every passing year, the POS became more overgrazed and degraded until the hardest-hit areas resembled a feed lot, with large piles of horse manure and bare dirt everywhere.

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Placitas Open Space in 2014 after a few years of damage by feral horses.

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Same area today after 3 years of recovery.

The horses have now been fenced out for three years. Recovery has started, but at a slow pace. With the nutrient-rich topsoil gone, it’s difficult for seeds to sprout and take root. It will be decades or more before the area bears any resemblance to its former self. Still, there have been some changes.

These photos show places in the POS at the height of the horse incursion and what they look like now, three years after the horses were fenced out so the land could recover. Thanks to Albuquerque Open Space Division volunteer Dave Reynolds for the photographs.

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Coyote Canyon in the Placitas Open Space in 2013, with lots of horse manure and trampled soil.

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The same area in 2017. Some limited vegetation has taken hold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Mexico HB 446 Down the Drain

thumbs-downYesterday afternoon, the NM House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee tabled HB 446, which aimed to have feral horses designated as wildlife and put under the management of the NM Department of Game & Fish. This means the bill will not move forward.

The hearing was lively, complete with f-bombs hurled by a WHOA supporter. Patience O’Dowd (WHOA president) and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, the bill’s sponsor, were unable to clearly explain or defend the bill, weren’t able to answer some simple, pointed questions by committee members, and seemed unaware of existing livestock regulations directly relevant to the bill. The director of Game & Fish, which gets two-thirds of its budget from hunting and fishing licenses, explained to the committee why the notion of adding horses to the agency’s purview was a non-starter.

One of the bill’s supporters told the committee she knew of 170 acres that would be a great place to put a bunch of wild horses. It was pointed out to her that 170 acres would provide enough forage for approximately three and a half horses. It’s a telling example of how poorly informed some members of the wild horse lobby are about basic horse facts.

We’re grateful to the folks who attended the hearing, spoke before the committee, or met with representatives to discuss the bill’s shortcomings. Fortunately, the House committee was not taken in by O’Dowd’s “alternative facts.”

 

HJM 17 and HB 446: Phenomenally Bad Ideas

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Representative Joanne Ferrary sponsors some good legislation, but although she may mean well, she is out of her depth with both House Joint Memorial (HJM) 17 and HB 446. Both pieces of legislation argue that “wild horses” should be treated as wildlife and present other problematic claims and misinformation.

But if one thing is clear, it’s that horses are not wildlife. Spanish colonial horses are not wildlife. Indian paint ponies are not wildlife. Mustangs are not wildlife. Mr. Ed the talking horse is not wildlife. The term “wild horse” is an unfortunate misnomer that confuses the issue and leads people to think feral horses are native wildlife. Wildlife biologists and wildlife organizations overwhelmingly agree that the horses in North America today cannot be considered indigenous wildlife. To treat horses as native wildlife, as these two pieces of proposed legislation attempt to do, flies in the face of science, current state and federal law, and basic critical thinking.

Horses are not an endangered species. There are lots of them. Federal agencies are overwhelmed trying to manage the enormous and growing wild horse populations on federal lands. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent every year housing tens of thousands of excess wild horses that our public lands cannot support. Biologists, environmental scientists and rangeland management experts recognize the overpopulation problem. Many western communities are coping with it. The Western Governors Association has recognized the problem, too. Wyoming recently sued the Bureau of Land Management over mismanagement of burgeoning horse populations.  In fact, the wild horse overpopulation problem is widely recognized as being at a crisis level, as we’ve shared in previous posts like this one.

Classifying feral horses in New Mexico as wildlife and giving them equal status with native wildlife would have terrible consequences. Horses are beautiful, sensitive animals with complex herd and family behaviors. They’re wonderful to watch in the open. We understand the wild horse lobby’s fascination and compassion for them. We like horses too. Like all animals, they should be treated humanely. But they are large, hungry mammals that degrade vegetation, harm fragile desert ecosystems, and deprive indigenous wildlife of food, water and habitat. And they reproduce like crazy. Many of New Mexico’s native wildlife species are already stressed by development, loss of habitat, and years of drought. Preserving native wildlife populations has to come first, and has to be based on careful science and expertise, not emotion.

The “alternative facts” presented in HJM 17 were clearly provided by a local wild horse lobbyist and were not checked beforehand by people with credible expertise and knowledge about horse populations, DNA-testing, immuno-contraception, wildlife biology, and wildlife management. We agree that the horses roaming freely throughout our state need to be managed, but Rep. Ferrary’s legislation is a faulty approach.

Bottom line: A big thumbs down to Rep. Ferrary for getting hoodwinked by the local wild horse lobby into sponsoring HJM 17 and HB 446. The proposed pieces of legislation are poorly thought out, unscientific, and irresponsible. We suspect that Rep. Ferrary doesn’t understand the consequences of the legislation she has sponsored. We hope she will learn more about these issues and consider protecting, rather than harming, New Mexico’s native wildlife in the future.

Contact Rep. Ferrary and cosponsors Christine Trujillo, Liz Thomson, and Patricia Roybal Caballero and the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Commttee to let them know you do not support HJM 17.

Contact Rep. Ferrary and the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee to let them know you do not support HB 446.

NM Legislature 2017: Two Bills We Hope Pass

new_mexico_state_capitol_east_entranceSB 126 (“Change Livestock and Animal Definitions”), sponsored by Sen. Pat Woods, clarifies the definition of livestock in the NM livestock code to include all horses, not just those domesticated or raised on a farm or ranch. We wrote about this bill in an earlier post. To support this bill, contact  Sen. Woods and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 284 (“Disposition of Trespassing Horses”) is also sponsored by Sen. Pat Woods. This straightforward bill gives the NM Livestock Board (NMLB) jurisdiction over any horse trespassing on private land, as it had just two years ago, before the NM Court of Appeals (WHOA v. NMLB) divided horses into two categories, livestock horses and non-livestock horses. That court decision essentially forces property owners to assume ownership of any trespassing horse that appears to be unowned (e.g., a “non-livestock” horse) and prevents them from utilizing NMLB’s estray livestock services. To support this bill, contact Sen. Woods and members of the Senate Conservation Committee.

Both SB 126 and SB 284 will ensure that property owners can utilize NMLB services to remove trespassing horses, no matter what type of horse. Why is this important? Uncontrolled free-roaming horse populations are damaging large swaths of private and public land in New Mexico. In rural areas, reducing free-roaming horse numbers will improve ecosystem health, wildlife habitat and road safety.

Have Some Spaghetti: New Mexico HB 446

spaghettiThe NM wild horse lobby, AKA Patience O’Dowd of Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA), has been busy. House Bill 446 (“Wild Horses in Statute”), introduced by Joanne Ferrary, aims to do 5 things:

Add a definition of “wild horse” to the livestock code (Section 72-2-1):

“wild horse means an unbranded and unclaimed horse that is not livestock.”

Add a different definition of “wild horse” to a different section of the livestock code (Section 77-18-5):

“wild horse” means a horse that shows no indicia of ownership.”

Designate most on-the-loose horses in the state as “wild horses” (Section 17-2-38):

“A horse that is not branded, tattooed, microchipped or showing other indicia of ownership shall be presumed to be a wild horse…”

Designate the aforementioned “wild horses” as “Wildlife” (Section 17-2-38):

“wildlife” means any nondomestic mammal, wild horse, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, mollusk or crustacean or any part, egg or offspring or the dead body or parts thereof.”

Make the NM Dept. of Game and Fish responsible for managing “wild horses” (Section 77-18-5):

“Jurisdiction and management of wild horses, including descendants of Spanish colonial horses, shall be with the conservation services division of the department of game and fish…”

Require property owners throughout the state to fence their property (Section 77-16-1):

“Every gardener, farmer, planter or other person having lands or crops that would be injured by trespassing animals, including wild horses, shall make a sufficient fence…”

A few points. First, the bill contains three or four different definitions of “wild horse.” We’ve got horses on the loose that are “presumed” to be wild, wild horses that aren’t branded or tattooed, wild horses that are unbranded and unclaimed, wild horses that are on public land and and show no signs of ownership, and wild horses that are descendants of Spanish colonial horses. Apparently, anything on four legs that has a mane and a tail and isn’t in a corral is to be considered a wild horse. Good luck untangling the spaghetti. The confusing mishmash of definitions is unhelpful in dealing with the state’s overpopulation of feral horses and only exacerbates the confusion that has reigned since the unfortunate August 2015 NM Court of Appeals ruling (which stated that a horse proven to be “unowned and undomesticated” is not “livestock”).

Point two. It’s a safe bet that “every person having lands…that would be injured by trespassing animals” will not be keen about being required to fence their property for some unclear and unstated purpose. The wild horse lobby’s hidden agenda behind this part of the bill is to prevent property owners from being able to complain to local agencies about feral horses trespassing on their property. HB 446 would allow the agency response to be, “if you don’t like having a bevy of 1000-pound equines on your back porch, fence your property.”

This element of HB 446 stems directly from the wild horse lobby’s frequent, erroneous claim that New Mexico is a “fence-out state” and that property owners have no right to remove trespassing horses from their property. Because the wild horse lobby wants horses to be free to roam anywhere at any time, this portion of the bill is intended to diminish private property rights and force property owners to put up with trespassing horses and the damage they cause or fence their property at significant cost and hassle. Not to mention, fences are generally bad for wildlife and many subdivisions don’t allow extensive fencing.  What Rep. Ferrary may not realize is that Section 77-16-1 of the livestock code only concerns a property owner’s right to claim damages from the owner of trespassing livestock. Since “wild horses” are unowned and “wild horses” are apparently not “livestock” (as is stated elsewhere in Ferrary’s own bill), this proposed change to the livestock fencing statute is contradictory and nonsensical.

Point three. Horses are wildlife? What, you didn’t know? Welcome to the ever-expanding universe of alternative facts.

Fortunately, the NM Livestock Board and Dept. of Game and Fish have pointed out the many problems with this bill, including the fact that feral horses are not native wildlife and, for many reasons, can’t be treated as such.

The bill will be heard in committee (House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources) on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 1;30 pm, Room 317. Contact Rep. Ferrary and the House Energy Committee to tell them you are against this bill.

Support New Mexico Senate Bill 126

  • SB 126 clarifies the definition of horses in the New Mexico livestock code
  • SB 126 is good for property owners in rural areas
  • SB 126 is good for New Mexico’s environment
  • SB 126 is good for wildlife and wildlife habitat
  • SB 126 is good for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts
  • SB 126 will cost taxpayers nothing
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SB 126 will help rural homeowners cope with trespassing horses.

Senate Bill (SB) 126 (“Change Livestock and Animal Definitions”) was introduced by Senator Pat Woods. If passed, it would solve one aspect of the feral horse problem in rural communities. Since 2015, property owners who corral a trespassing horse on their property haven’t been able to count on the NM Livestock Board (NMLB) to take the horse. A trespassing cow, pig, goat, ostrich or llama yes, but not a horse. That’s because a 2015 Court of Appeals ruling changed the definition of a horse. It said that a horse that is “undomesticated and unowned” (e.g., feral or free-roaming) isn’t livestock; unfortunately, the NMLB is only authorized to deal with “livestock”.

The ruling has inadvertently made a mess of what used to be a simple process for dealing with feral horses that regularly trespass on private property. It has left property owners who want to protect their land from harm and citizens who are concerned with environmental sustainability stuck between a rock and a hard place.

SB 126 would provide a simple fix. Its straightforward clarification of the livestock definition will mean that property owners can once again fully utilize NMLB’s services regarding estray horses. By making it easier for property owners and communities to cope with feral horses, SB 126 will help protect New Mexico’s rural lands, fragile desert lands, forests and wildlife corridors. It will help reduce the public safety hazard due to feral horses wandering busy roads.

The bill will be heard shortly by the Senate Judiciary Committee. As of today, the hearing date has not been set. Because the wild/feral horse lobby is loud, persistent, promotes falsehoods, and scares the bejeezus out of legislators, it is important for more reasonable voices to be heard. We urge you to contact your state senator and Senate Judiciary Committee members and ask them to support SB 126.