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Feds Begin Selling Wild Horses Captured in California for $1 Each

Animals
Feds Begin Selling Wild Horses Captured in California for $1 Each
Wild horses from the Devil's Garden Wild Horse Territory. BLM

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced this week it will sell off wild horses recently rounded up from the Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory inside California's Modoc National Forest for as low as $1 each, drawing condemnation from wild horse advocates who say the "fire sale price" will motivate buyers to launder the horses into slaughter.

About 200 horses are available for adoption and sale until Feb. 18. The fee for purchase "with limitations" has been reduced to $1 per horse, down from the original price of $25. The fee for adoption is $125.


"With limitations" includes a stipulation that prohibits using the horses for human consumption. Other requirements include appropriate transportation, adequate space and healthy accommodations for the animals, according to Ruidoso News.

The horses now up for sale and adoption are all 10 years and older. They were among the 932 mustangs that were gathered via helicopters in the territory near Alturas, California between Oct. 10 and Nov. 8.

The gathering of wild horses has prompted fierce debate about how to control populations. On the one hand, the USFS basically views the Devil's Garden horses as " a pest," as reporter Leighton Akio Woodhouse explained on The Intercept:

According to Laura Snell of the University of California Cooperative Extension, who works closely with the Forest Service, "The population of horses on Devil's Garden needs to be between 200 and 400 animals. It's now at nearly 4,000." Snell holds the horses responsible for land degradation on the high desert plateau, including the destruction of native grasses by overgrazing and the depletion of scarce water sources.

The Wild Horses of the Devil's Garden www.youtube.com

On the other hand, advocates such as Suzanne Roy, the executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), worry that the Devil's Garden horses up for sale will end up as livestock.

In press release emailed to EcoWatch, AWHC blasted the Forest Service's $1-a-piece sale.

"The Forest Service is treating these national treasures like trash by selling them for one dollar a piece, sending a strong message that our cherished wild horses [are] throwaway animals who lack value," Roy said in a statement. "This irresponsible move makes these wild horses vulnerable to purchase by individuals with ill intent, and ignores the wishes of 80 percent of Americans who want wild horses protected on our public lands, not slaughtered."

AWHC said that the Forest Service is already facing criticism from the public and federal and state officials, including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, over its plans to offer horses for sale without limitation on slaughter.

"The sale of wild horses for $1 a piece is unprecedented in federal wild horse management, and renders the restrictions of sale with limitation meaningless," Brieanah Schwartz, policy counsel for AWHC, said in a statement. "Not only are the horses being sold at a price that makes them essentially valueless, but also the Forest Service has absolutely no measures in place to enforce the sale with limitations restrictions."

The Forest Service is currently being sued by advocates—including Return to Freedom—over its plan to sell any horses that have not been adopted or sold after three attempts without limitations, according to a blog post from the nonprofit. Those sales could begin as early as Feb. 18.

AWHC is calling for immediate oversight measures including public review of all applications for five or more horses at a time before the horses are sold. Without such enforcement measures, AWHC said these new sales terms will encourage kill buyers to purchase the horses and transport them across the border for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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