Michelle Gough is an Ethologist and member of the Wild Horse Fire Brigade Advocacy Board.
Michelle’s natural connection to native American wild horses runs deep and may very well be related to some of her family roots as indigenous Americans who enjoyed a co-evolved relationship with native species American wild horses.
That relationship between native Americans and wild horses is outlined in the dissertation by scientist Dr. Yvette ‘Running Horse’ Collin titled; ‘The relationship between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the horse: deconstructing a Eurocentric myth‘
Michelle Gough spends hundreds hours with the local herd of wild horses as an embedded observer studying the behavior of free-roaming wild horses, using a study method that has been coined as the ‘Goodall Method’.
In 1960, Jane Goodall began a study of the apes in Gombe Africa which resulted in some amazing results due to the unique method of her study. The method that Dr. Goodall employed was that of an ’embedded observer’, which wild horse researcher-ethologist William E. Simpson II now calls the “Goodall Method”.
Using the Goodall Method has allowed the discovery of new information about wild horses, as well as resulting in hundreds of stunning images of individuals and family bands of the local wild horses in the Cascade-Siskiyou wilderness by Michelle Gough.
Michelle’s photos can be seen at the ‘Our Herd‘ web page and via the social media outlets for Wild Horse Fire Brigade.
The emotionally difficult work of a disciplined study
In the foregoing photo, wild horse researcher Michelle Gough is gathering numerous photographs of the remains of a wild horse, which will be analyzed further.
For those researchers who love wild horses, probably the hardest part of conducting the necessary behavioral ecology study is the collection and analysis of the forensic data related to depredation of wild horses by their co-evolved predators.
Natural depredation of wild horses by apex predators is also known ‘Natural Selection’. Natural Selection is critically important to the survival of all prey species, including wild horses, as it preserves the genetic vigor of the species by weeding-out weak, sick, diseased and elderly animals from the populations.
When Natural Selection is disengaged by any human interventions, including Selective Breeding via the use of chemical contraception (PZP, GonaCon), genetic erosion occurs, which is the opposite of genetic vigor.
Wild Horse Fire Brigade is a newly established 501-c-3 nonprofit all-volunteer organization dedicated to the natural conservation and preservation of native species American wild horses on public and privately owned wilderness landscapes that are both ecologically and economically appropriate.
This vision of Wild Horse Fire Brigade, by the founder of Wild Horse Fire Brigade, William E. Simpson II, is consistent with the stated intent in the preamble of the 1971 Act signed by President Nixon to protect and conserve America’s remaining wild horses.
The key stated intentions of the The Wild and Free–Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRHBA) are recited as follows:
“It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
Arguably, the 1971 Act has been so diluted over the past 50-years by illicit, monetary driven policies and actions by Bureau of Land Management (‘BLM’), that virtually all of the stated key intentions of 1971 Act are no longer observed or honored.
As we clearly see in the news today, the BLM, the United States Forest Service (USFS) as well as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife are all violating every cited intent of the 1971 Act, and have/are engaged in the rounding-up, capturing, branding, harassing, and have provided a conduit for American wild horses being sent to slaughter.
Making Matters Worse For Wild Horses
And making matters even worse for wild horses, some so-called wild horse and burro non-profit organizations are arguably monetizing the ongoing plight of wild horses and burros, and even assisting in their demise via the obtuse promotion and use of Selective Breeding via treating wild horses (wildlife) with chemicals that sterilize wild horses and burros, which settled-science proves, is Selective Breeding and leads to genetic erosion over time.
In 2014, William E. Simpson II began living-among and studying a herd of free-roaming wild horses in the remote mountains on the California – Oregon border. Simpson explains that by taking a page from Jane Goodall’s work in Gombe Africa with the study of the apes there in 1960 and using her paradigm of close observational study as an embedded observer, he has been accepted by most of the local herd of wild horses as a non-threat and is allowed to make close observations that have provided new and important information about wild horse behavioral ecology.
These new findings are critically important for establishing a more intelligent and enlightened management and conservation paradigm for the remaining American wild horses in North America.
In Dr. Goodall’s 1960 study, she spend the time required (months continuously onsite) to be accepted into the troop of apes she was studying, which allowed very close-range observations of their daily lives and behaviors leading to revolutionary new discoveries that rocked the world of anthropology. One such revelation was that apes made and used tools, a new truth that collapsed the prior false belief that only man made and used tools.
A mare and her band brother relax near a juniper tree. Photo: William E. Simpson II
Simpson’s 5-Year Study was published in 2019, and contains new ground-breaking discoveries of the benefits that wild horses actually provide to wilderness ecosystem. This Study is the first of its kind regarding wild horses and is unique in that it was conducted in a wilderness area that is virtually devoid of livestock operations, and therefore any impacts, good or bad, on the landscape could only be attributed to wild horses.
In other herd areas, where scant-few very short-term studies have been conducted, which contained commingled livestock and wild horses in competition, determining damage or benefit to the landscape becomes a virtually impossible “who done it” mystery, highly vulnerable to partisan interpretation.
The close-range 5-year Study by Simpson was only possible due to the fact that the local herd of wild horses had not been subjected to the draconian abuses by humans, such as those inflicted upon wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management (‘BLM’) in the name ‘managing’ wild horses, using roundups, and chased by vehicles and aircraft beyond endurance.
As a result of adverse interactions with humans in BLM and USFS managed wild horse areas, wild horses have been conditioned to immediately react to the presence of humans, triggering fight or flight instincts, in ways that obscure natural behaviors, which is further complicated by the limitations of very short-term, sporadic observational periods.
The local herd of wild horses has only known kindness and respect from William E. Simpson II since he began his embedded observational study of the herd of free-roaming wild horses in 2014 on the edge of the Soda Mountain wilderness. That study is continuous and is now going on it’s 8th year of 24-7, 365 days, all seasons, observation.
This unique study paradigm as an ’embedded observer’, which Simpson has coined as the ‘Goodall Method‘ in honor of Dr. Jane Goodall who pioneered the paradigm with the apes of Gombe Africa in 1960, opens the door to a much greater understanding of these noble, sentient creatures.
American wild horses (E. Caballus) have managed to survive for 1.7-million years on the North American continent, without the interference of so-called human management, arguably making them one of the most successful terrestrial herbivore species on the planet.
However, their numbers are now in significant decline, suffering from the gross mismanagement by humans at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), arguably spurred-on by money motives by numerous entities and sectors of U.S. industry, including but not limited to the extraction industries (oil, gas and minerals) and industrial livestock production.
That gross mismanagement is made materially worse via the ecologically flawed political influence on wild horse management policy by several major non-profit wild horse advocacy organizations, including; the American Wild Horse Campaign, Animal Wellness Action (Marty Irby, Wayne Pacelle and Scott Beckstead), Veteran For Mustangs (Cameron Ring) and Return To Freedom (Neda DeMayo).
Their contributions supporting and leading to the gross mismanagement of wild horses includes the promotion and/or use of Selective Breeding and the resulting genetic erosion via the use of chemicals treatments (PZP & GonaCon) to sterilize wild horses, placing the species at grave risk for genetic failure and extinction. And in accomplishing that obtuse chemical treatment, these organizations and people are shocking promoting the paradigm of having people (including military veterans) stalk wild horses with high-powered gas rifles and shooting heavy chemical-filled darts into the bodies of wild horses (wildlife). This is textbook harassment of wild horses, and is a violation of the intent of the 1971 Act to protect naturally living American wild horses.
These people and their organizations are turning American wild horses into a carnival Shooting Gallery, and in the process, making a mockery of the 1971 Act to protect and conserve naturally living wild horses.
This is an important concept to grasp given that the remaining wild horse populations, especially splinter populations, that arguably descended from pre-Ice-Age wild horses, may contain the last reservoir of rare ancient horse genes.
Contrary to illusions regarding the genome of wild horses, it is not complete, as is the case with the human genome.
Wild horse advocates and conservationists should seriously consider withdrawing all support from any organizations or individual people who promote or use PZP or GonaCon on free-roaming American wild horses.
More at this Press Release: Killing the ‘Wild’ in Wild Horses – The Travesty of American Wild Horse Advocacy and Management
There is a truly humane, cost-effective, holistic and all Natural solution for managing American wild horses.
Wild Horse Fire Brigade Plan (‘WHFB’) and its directives are consistent with the intent of the 1971 Act to preserve and protect wild horses and burros as an integral part of public lands.
Given the socioeconomic changes in America and resulting competitive pressures on public land use by a wide-range of industrial enterprises, the idea of forcing wild horses to remain commingled in areas containing livestock and extraction industry enterprises, that have long-ago been made devoid of their necessary co-evolved predators, is pushing a very bad position for wild horses from an ecological perspective.
This is especially true and important because there is 110-million acres of other public wilderness lands where the reintroduction of native wild horses would provide many positive benefits for both the wild horses and these wilderness ecosystems.
This new management paradigm (WHFB) seeks to rewild all wild horses held in crowed temporary holding facilities back into remote wilderness areas that are both ecologically and economically appropriate where they provide huge ecological benefits to those ecosystems as native keystone herbivores.
Part of the benefits of wild horses restored to wilderness ecosystems includes reducing the frequency and intensity of wildfire via their symbiotic grazing that reduces and maintains wildfire fuels. A deeper explanation of the many ecological and socioeconomic benefits of rewilding captive wild horses is detailed in this paper:
Additionally, the conservation vision of Wild Horse Fire Brigade applies to free-roaming wild horses in Herd Areas that are deemed to be in conflict with other public land policy or uses, and as a result are targeted for roundups, family segregation and sterilization.
Instead of these wrong-headed draconian measures, these wild horses can be relocated humanely as family bands into the same ecologically approproate remote wilderness areas, as cited above.
Outside and beyond existing grazing Herd Areas (HAs) and Herd Management Areas (HMAs) which are now arguably wild horse war zones, there is about 110-million acres of ‘designated’/’critical’ wilderness where grazing is illegal and/or is economically unfeasible due to increased costs for the management and transportation logistics of livestock in such extremely remote areas with difficult terrain. And those costs are further increased by livestock losses due to healthy apex predators populations in these remote-rugged wilderness areas.
Using only 20-30 million acres of this vast remote wilderness (110-million acres), which contains our dwindling wildlife and heritage forests, we can reestablish the natural habitat for at least 50,000 American wild horses at the distribution rate of one (1) horse per 400-acres.
The nominal natural carrying capacity (native grazing) of these wilderness areas in the far western states of Northern CA (north of Redding, CA), Oregon and Washington, varies between 1-horse per 20-acres, up to 1-horse per 100-acres.
Ecologically speaking, a distribution of wild horses at the rate of 1-horse per 400-acres guarantees adequate forage for all other native herbivores on the landscape and also accomplishes a natural and cost-effective program for wildfire fuels reduction and maintenance.
Wild Horse Fire Brigade is a winner for forests, wildlife, watersheds, taxpayers, wild horses and the livestock industry, and ends the range war in the existing Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas that contain numerous industrial extraction enterprises, including livestock.
Learn more at: https://www.WildHorseFireBrigade.org