Mustang and Burro Musings
Author in Escondido with his horse
Rounding up mustang and burros when their populations exceed the rangeland’s carrying capacity isn’t a muleheaded idea. If you’ve ever staked out a burro to eat down a blackberry thicket, you’ll appreciate what I mean. Burros come out of Africa. Jack’s and Jenny’s are suspicious animals and know people can be as unpredictable as jackals.
The further you travel into the least populated regions of the American West the more likely you are to encounter overgrazed rangeland. Especially because burros tend to roam deeper into the emptiness, you’ll have to travel farther off the highways into the least visited corners to see what harm the animal can do to the seldom visited places. Javelinas, mule deer, big horn and elk never were meant to be in competition with an African burro and can find their forage stripped right out from their home ground.
Remember just twenty thousand years before now across North America roamed a great many predators, megafauna as they are so adorably referred to by paleontological types, large carnivores kept the small herbivores in ‘checkeroo.’ And that was before the eternally stubborn rapier witted burro arrived from Spain via Africa.
Skippering a sailboat south from San Francisco south to Catalina Island requires preparation, patience and time. You embark not on a date and hour but as the weather allows. You do not travel on one compass heading at one speed, you alter your course with the breeze, you may speed up, decide to decrease sail area to slow down or if conditions deteriorate seek refuge in the nearest harbor. Only a fool is in a hurry.
A citizen living in Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or Denver while close to the American West no longer depend upon the place, urban people feed off a dynamic economy. The urban westerner goes camping out in the empty trackless outback, arriving late Friday to fish, hunt and hike and home late Sunday in time for work on Monday.
Rural rascal residents have a more complicated circumstance, scuffing up a living tends to be extractive, focusing on exchanging the value of the natural resources for fiat currency, the almighty dollar.
The carrying capacity of the American West, how many people and animals can be supported out here has long been tipped beyond the fulcrum of natures balance. To my eye the rural citizen starved of access to resources is a more desperate animal with fewer choices. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing is a corner in need of a fix.
Like that a galloping herd of mustang can be heard thundering over the horizon. Fortunate for America, the nation has got near as many able-bodied men and women ready to embark upon right livelihood. Herds of mustang need to be culled, burros too. Getting the animals off sensitive habitat would be good for starters. Preparing the animals ready for adoption requires skilled horsemen, not knuckleheaded desperados but horse whisperers, skillful people from rural communities that have grown up around livestock will know what I mean. Forget about cheap, this is going to take mucho dinero, revenue, spending, dollars, hard earned and supplied by taxpayers, culling mustang and burros is not ever going to be a project that fully funds itself.
We’ve got mustang everywhere, from California to Colorado, from Washington to New Mexico, and with all those animals comes a horseman and an honest day’s work for a wage. Hotheaded cattlemen want the animals off the range. Bolo tie wearing western range managers caught between the anti-tax fervency of the muckamucks and big shots back east find their hands tied behind the famous rock and hard place.
I’m going full blasphemy and don’t get your knickers in a knot, just breathe with the revelation, allow your imagination to run with the coyote and neighbors dogs, let’s defuse this toxic sagebrush rebellion, bring some human horse and burro sense to the moment.
Mustang, are icons of an American West that is slowly getting surrounded, filled up and near ready to collapse. American taxpayers already subsidize fossil fuels out here, we already giveaway our trees to timber companies, we already dole out water rights to growers that ship crops to offshore markets for their private profit pumping the peoples ancient aquifer like there is no tomorrow.
I would propose we set a new and more enlightened agenda. Repurpose tax subsidies, aim our tax dollars to the rural men and women that can help preserve and protect our rangeland.
All weekend long I’ve been driving between Denver back to San Francisco. Every chance I had I spent reading over all these postings about the crisis the American West is having over the out of control herds of mustang and burros.
What to do about the overpopulation of mustang and burro stories are being published far and wide. Noteworthy was how delicate the tapdancing around the topic seemed. Editors from Elko to Provo, Cheyenne to Yuma are careful about what this sensitive issue. Depending upon the publications readership the writers and editors shaped the story to fit the preconceptions, all the old tired out of date assumptions perpetuated by all the locked into their positions and not going to budge one inch types. I mean it makes a man want to spit his false teeth across the room and empty a quart of whiskey so as to settle his risk of tantrum, fits and spontaneous impulse to break his faith in humanity.
Everything and everybody is doing their damned best to protect their turf. “Ain’t nobody giving up nothing for nobody.” You got a water subsidy, goddamn it, I’m keep my fair share. Have a lease on a tract of BLM land, got dibs on those grazing rights, keeping them too. Mineral rights, drilling leases, deer tags and pinion pine nut picking privileges are never to be surrendered.
The draft horse is a working stiff. I had the privilege of being introduced to a team that together plowed 700 acres. The man that managed this team had nothing to prove, working with the animals was a reward unto itself. A draft horse isn’t finding meaning until its harnessed up and laboring breaking stubborn ground apart with a plow from light of day to dusk. Humankinds relationship with the horse is long and storied. Like a sailor the man handling the draft horses has set his own course to go his own way cultivating a crop for reasons beyond merely marking a commodity to market.
The American West is in transition, the tumbleweeds and sagebrush steppe needs its poet cowboy and renegade go-it-my-own-way types. We need to reimagine the place and people, expand our stunted imaginations, and remake this classic in the eyes of a people scrambling to fix the underlying centuries old assumptions that have kept us all tangled up and stuck. Billions of repurposed dollars could do the trick. Better days are promised to those willing to be the change, to embrace the unfamiliar, to preserve what is right and good about what we’ve found out here. This is remnant frontier homeland, a place that deserves protecting, a place worth paying a man a fair wage for a good day of work.
Originally published at http://danasmith.com on February 1, 2021.