Wild Horses/Mustangs

Wild Horses are NOT ecological villains

A Times editorial makes the troubling assumption that mustangs are pests that irrevocably damage our public lands.
By Stephanie Boyles
July 31, 2009

The Los Angeles Times’ July 27 editorial “Wild horse sense,” which weighs in on proposals to handle the growing wild  horse population in the western United States, makes at least one good point: Using an immunocontraceptive vaccine (birth control, in other words) developed by the Humane Society of the United States presents the “best hope” for managing wild horses in an effective, humane and cost-beneficial manner. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that by treating more mares with this drug and returning them to the range, rather than detaining them indefinitely in holding centers, the cost of managing wild horses could be reduced by as much as 14% per year, saving taxpayers more than $6 million annually.

An American Icon put at risk by poor management of the BLM

An American Icon put at risk by poor management of the BLM

The Times recommends castrating stallions. This would do little, if anything, to stabilize and reduce wild horse populations on the range over time. It only takes one intact stallion to fertilize an entire harem of fertile mares, so unless you capture and castrate every stallion in a herd, mares who have not been inoculated with the contraceptive will continue to foal.

Worst, The Times appears to come to the indefensible conclusion that wild horses are introduced pests that irrevocably damage our public lands and should therefore be managed by, in addition to castrating stallions, holding the herds in “vast, but contained wildlife refuges.”

Wild horses have been an important part of America’s landscape for centuries, and recent DNA studies have demonstrated that they are, in fact, native wildlife reintroduced to North America more than 400 years ago. In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which requires the government to protect America’s mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” The law stipulates that wild horses would be permitted to live free on lands where they existed at the time the act was signed into law.

The notion that horses overpopulate and damage the rangeland is also grossly misleading. A 1990 study by the U.S. General Accountability Office determined that the primary cause of the deterioration of rangeland resources and damaged riparian areas is poorly managed cattle and sheep grazing, which is hardly surprising when you look at the numbers. The Bureau of Land Management oversees about 33,000 wild horses on 34 million acres of land, compared with more than 6 million head of livestock on approximately 160 million acres.The editorial also claims that recent legislation passed by the House, HR 1018 — the Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act — would increase the horses’ range by 20 million acres. The Times fails to mention that since the 1971 act was passed, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has reduced the lands designated for mustangs from 53.5 million acres to 34.3 million acres. The ROAM Act would not increase the horses’ range but simply repatriate those mustangs to the public lands originally designated for them more than 30 years ago. This promising strategy will enable the agency to move horses out of the costly warehousing system and put them back on the range where they belong, saving millions of tax dollars annually.

In addition to reducing on-the-range management costs, the ROAM Act would also reduce off-the-range expenditures by only allowing the BLM to remove animals from the range when demand for horse adoption warrants such an action. It also directs the agency “to implement creative and more aggressive marketing strategies for the adoption program” in order to increase adoption rates and further reduce off-the-range management costs. The Humane Society and other wild horse protection organizations have been active in supporting and organizing the upcoming National Wild Horse Adoption Day events

The proposed ROAM Act would give Americans back their free-roaming horses, swapping a captivity-based approach to wild-horse management for the model Congress originally set forth. The measure would get us back to the basics on mustang management, save taxpayers millions of dollars annually and set our horses free again. Who wouldn’t support that?

Stephanie Boyles is a wildlife scientist with the Humane Society of the United States.

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2 replies »

  1. Thank you Stephanie – excellent.

    Maybe we need something simple, visual, just figures and dates running down two sides of an 8 1/2 x 11 page, that a person with very limited reading ability could understand, footnotes with sources at bottom:

    Is there a talented person(s) do a visual timeline table/chart illustration of these facts and figures? I could do by pen en pencil, but not on a spread sheet. Identify those that are best guesses estamates, starting with how many horses the Spanish brought, then the 2 – 3 million horses, ___bison, and the condition of the range. Then the time when the bison were erradicated and the condition of the range. Then 100- 150 years ago when cattle began to grazed, where and when and continue with the horse and acreage numbers down the line, then 1971 to present. Maybe include a 3rd line of BLM money collected and spent for what. And include the cost to graze cattle on private land, vs on Public Land, and how much is spent/ collected on hunting permits for wolves and mountain lions, compared to the cost of these roundups (I could go on and on).


  2. I have seen some of the clips in this video numerous times and every time they wrench my heart and make me so mad. Some of it is lost on the average person, like the horse entering the solid door, they dont seem to realise what comes directly after that, it sure isnt branding, but is stunning the terrified animal (sometimes not completely) and then hanging them by their rear leg and cutting their throats while they are still alive. It just sickens me!!!!

    I think it is also worthy of notice that ALL of the horses while in the wild are clean, healthy and fat, whereas the same cannot be said for the ones that are now in captivity, they are injured, unkempt and showing signs of body mass loss to an alarming degree and costing us millions unnecessarily, this just shows that the BLM is not doing what they claim their are doing. How can they justify this?

    Venting sorry it just makes me sick to see.

    Lori Schmidt


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