Horse News

Wild Horse Debate Gallops On

By William M. Welch, USA TODAY

Wild Horses in the Pryor Mountains, MT - (Photo by Terry Fitch)

Wild Horses on Pryor Mountain, MT - (Photo by Terry Fitch)

LOS ANGELES — The Obama administration’s first try at resolving the debate over the wild horses of the West has not gone over well with some.

Animal rights groups say that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar‘s proposal to relocate thousands of mustangs to preserves in the East and Midwest would compound years of federal mismanagement of the horses.

They want the 37,000 horses now roaming federal lands in the West to remain despite the risk of starvation and conflicts with cattle. In response to Salazar’s proposal, they reiterated their stand during the Bush administration: let the mustangs run loose on millions of acres of federal land where beef cattle are raised.

“Why are we, a cowboy nation, destroying the horse we rode in on?” asks Deanne Stillman, author of Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West. “We may be heading toward the point where we only have wild horses in zoos.”

Tom Gorey, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages the rangelands, said the federal government is aware “of the heritage and symbolic importance of these horses.” Even so, the bureau says, the cost of keeping the horses at a sustainable population is far too much.

“We’re protecting horses, rangelands and the taxpayer,” Gorey said.

TAX BURDEN: Wild horses face slaughter

The wild horse population, which ranges largely in Nevada, keeps growing, as does the cost to the bureau to maintain them. This year alone, the cost of the horse program will be an estimated $50 million, the bureau says.

Much of that money goes to care for and feed 32,000 horses rounded up and taken off 29 million acres of federal land. The Bureau of Land Management says the land cannot sustain such a large horse population.

Taxpayers currently pay to let the horses live out their lives at 11 private pastures and corrals in Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota. The horses can be adopted, but few are.

Gorey said the agency needs to reduce the wild herd size to 26,600 horses and to neuter enough horses so the breeding population drops to 17,500.

Salazar’s plan is to spend $96 million buying and configuring two ranches and contracting with five private ranches. The properties and what states they would be in have not been identified.

Horse advocates such as Stillman accuse the bureau of consistently favoring ranchers with low grazing fees and say this latest proposal is in keeping with that policy.

“We have almost 300 million acres of public land in the West, and they (the horses) are going to come East. … That’s ridiculous,” says Chris Heyde, lobbyist for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington.

The bureau denies favoring cattle ranchers.

“We don’t remove horses so we can put cattle on the range,” Gorey says. “We’re not trying to make room for more cattle grazing.”

Some cattle ranchers like the solution offered by Salazar, himself a former rancher.

Dan Gralian, who manages a large grazing range out of Battle Mountain, Nev., and is president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, calls the plan “a great thing, taking this icon of America back to where it originally came from, the East.”

He says wild horses and burros are in the West because they were brought there by pioneers, cattle barons and prospectors. He disputes the contention of horse advocates that the horse is indigenous to the West.

“We were here first — that’s the bottom line,” Gralian says, referring to cattle ranchers.

Fencing in and sterilizing horses violates a 1971 law that protected the West’s wild horses and set aside land for them to roam free, says Ginger Kathrens, a filmmaker who has done documentaries on the mustangs.

“We’d like to see our wild horses staying free roaming on public lands we already own,” she says. “If we return some of the holding horses to the land, we think that would be a better solution than sticking them on tourist attractions in Ohio.”

Makendra Silverman, associate director of the Cloud Foundation, agrees.

“It’s a bad idea because the nation deserves and wild horses deserve to live on their rangelands in the West, on public lands,” she said.

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3 replies »

  1. i’d like to know what history classes gralian sat in on! he says, “we (being the cattle ranchers) were here first?” WHAT?? i thought native americans were there first? horses & buffalo were there before any d@$#^d cattle ranchers! & we all know what happened to the native americans & the buffalo….slaughtered, rounded up, put on reservations, stripped of their identity & freedom…hmmmmm…..sounds ohsofamiliar……
    & where did the first cattle ranchers come from? all those people heading from the EAST! maybe gralian & his kind need to be shipped back east instead of america’s mustangs….maybe gralian needs to go back to grade school & get him some learnin’.


  2. I totally agree, JoBunny. Even if you don’t accept the idea that horses are indigenous to the West, they’ve still been there for about 500 years, which I do believe predates the cattle ranchers.

    Still, NO ONE has answered my essential question about this plan. Salazar is going to spend $96 million buying and configuring two ranches, plus contracting more land, gathering and moving the horses, etc. at no telling how many MORE millions of $$$. Then they are going to put NON-REPRODUCTIVE horses on them. They plan (so they say) to keep a few horses in the wild at bare minimum levels (read extinction).

    Horses live say, 30 years – a very generous estimate since most are already adults. These herds won’t be making any new horses and there will be far too few in the wild to replenish the zoos from there.

    So, in some 30 years we will have spent all that taxpayer’s money on — empty fields? They gonna put cattle on those too?

    I mean, this is INSANE.


  3. Jo B and Suzanne, Yep, and when BLM says the horse program is costing too much it has nothing to do with the horses on their ranges, the cost all starts when they are removed. If there have been better ways to manage for population control in the field, they have never been tried. Not in the West. We may have to look at Chincoteague and Assateague ponies to find some answers for good management. The continued removal and loss of lands is on BLMs head. At this point, most people see this for what it is. The public is wising up.. For the horses to be free, natural balance comes into play. Shoot back the mountain lions and the population grows more than it should. Kill the wolves and we will never know if they may be another predator that will keep horse population down. Of course we have marginalized predators for most of the past 100 years and the horses had still survived. We need the opportunity to do this better, for the horses and for the nation who has decided they belong. It is someone else’s turn to manage the horses. RJ Daum keeps saying this, and I agree. Mar


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