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.