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.