The sagebrush-spattered deserts of eastern California, where the state butts borders with Nevada, are home to perhaps the most complex wildlife management challenge in America. And Amy Dumas
M.E.Sc '95 is one of the lucky scientists at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who get to untangle it.
Dumas is head of BLM California’s Wild Horse and Burro Program
, the group responsible for managing the thousands of free-ranging equids that wander the state in 22 separate herds. Recognizing these animals as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” U.S. law protects them from capture, harassment or killing.
But unlike other protected species, the primary threat to wild horses isn’t hunters or habitat loss — often, it’s the horses themselves.
Eastern California’s arid climate and sparse vegetation provide harsh conditions for wild horses, which can drink up to 10 gallons of water and consume 18 pounds of forage per day. Left to their own devices, says Dumas, horses can rapidly multiply, and may effectively eat and drink themselves — along with other wildlife and livestock — out of house and home.