The Greater Sage Grouse Controversy and Wild Horses

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in USA. Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US. • Uploaded by Snowmanradio By Derek Oyen - Sage grouse, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Greater Sage Grouse Controversy and Wild Horses

By Janice M. Ladendorf


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director in Nevada wants to round up 4,000 wild horses to protect the Greater Sage Grouse. As of Nov.15, 2016, helicopters have rounded up 770 wild horses in northern Nevada and more roundups are scheduled. Seven horses have died and 610 have been sent to adoption centers. The rest have been returned to the range after the mares have been injected with the fertility control vaccine, PZP-22.


The BLM justifies these removals by claiming they will prevent further deterioration of Greater Sage Grouse habitat. Sagebrush is poison to horse; but cattle will eat it. Horses don’t build fences:  they are built to control cattle.  Grouse get caught in fences, but rarely approach them because they fear the avian predators who perch on fence posts. Horses don’t drive four-wheel vehicles on the range, but humans do.  Grouse depend on riparian areas [the areas between a water source and land, e.g., river banks] for brood rearing. Horses may create water sources by digging, but they don’t hang around them and trample them as cattle do. So far, no plans have been made to reduce the number of cattle who are a far more serious threat to the grouse’s existence.


PEER (Protecting Employees Who Protect Our Environment) has published an analysis of the BLM report on Greater Sage Grouse and the wild horses. The BLM claims wild horses have twice the impact of cattle, but

Female Sage Grouse. By Derek Oyen - Sage grouse, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Female Sage Grouse. By Derek Oyen – Sage grouse, CC BY-SA 2.0,

this claim was based on biased data. Accurate statistics reveal cattle have six times the impact of wild horses.


Humans are the ones who choose to destroy the sagebrush habitat by replacing it with crested wheat grass to feed their cattle. The BLM alone cleared 1.8 million hectares of sagebrush. A hectare is 2.47 acres. That translates to 728,744.9 acres.


Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist, states:  “Suggesting that wild horses are a problem for sage grouse while ignoring the comparatively massive impacts of cattle and sheep, is a bit like suggesting that the captain of the Titanic should be worried about the ice cubes in his passengers’ cocktails rather than the icebergs floating in the North Atlantic.”


Information Resources:

BLM Press Release, Oct. 25, 2016.


PEER, “Greater Sage Grouse – Wild Horses”, 2016.


Sonner, Scott (AP), “Scott Sonner on BLM Nevada Director urging roundup of 4,000 mustangs,” Las Vegas Sun, May 3, 2016.”

Webb, Randy and Salvo, Mark. “Sage Grouse: Imperiled Icon of the Sagebrush Sea,” Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West. Wuerthner, George and Matteson, Mollie, editors. Foundation for Deep Ecology, 2002. pp. 237-9.