Horse News

Moratorium on Wild Horse Roundups Is Essential

by Carrol Abel ~ President of The Hidden Valley Wild Horse Protection Fund

Live Link to Roll Call News

Survivors of Twin Peaks Stampede ~ Photo by Terry Fitch

Escalated removals of wild herds from the West are categorized as necessary by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management officials. In a recent article, BLM Director Bob Abbey cited the need to “protect wildlife habitat, the horses themselves and the public rangelands from the environmental effects of herd overpopulation” as reasoning behind what appears to be a mad rush to clear the herds from publicly owned Western rangelands.

There are four elements involved in deciding how many animals are “excess,” thus satisfying criteria for their removal: current population, appropriate management levels, rangeland health and multiple-use requirements. Sound decisions on how many mustangs are to be removed, if any, and how frequently the gathers occur must be justified by solid science. The BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is fraught with scientific uncertainty associated with these critical management assumptions.

Animal welfare advocates are not alone in questioning the science behind the massive wild horse and burro removals currently in contention. The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General released an evaluation report in April titled “Interior Lacks a Scientific Integrity Policy.” It states, in part, that “without policies to ensure the integrity of its scientific research, Interior runs the risk that flawed information will reach the scientific community and general public, thereby breaching the public’s trust and damaging Interior’s reputation. The time for a comprehensive scientific integrity policy at Interior is, therefore, long overdue.”

Establishing appropriate management levels for wild horse and burro populations is an example of scientific integrity lost. A 2008 Government Accountability Office report states that the bureau “has not provided specific formal guidance to field offices on how to set AML.” Equitable multiple-use policies also come into question with GAO findings that 27 percent of BLM field offices in its survey did not consider data from actual forage use by livestock when setting appropriate management levels. Clearly, the ability to properly determine appropriate management levels with current methods is questionable.

The U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution was recently hired by the bureau to develop an effective strategy to engage the public in Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. Published findings in April cite the National Research Council’s 1982 perspectives on “data gaps, the role of social factors in decision making, the persistence of conflict over values, and research priorities,” as remaining relevant today. Its extensive interviews with BLM employees show internal skepticism, as revealed in the following statement, “BLM hiring and staffing for the program does not reflect a priority on scientific expertise. The questions, data gaps, and research issues identified by the committee as priorities to support effective management do not appear to have been addressed.”

Abbey’s announcement in June of an “unprecedented new direction” for the Wild Horse and Burro Program and the request for public comment on Salazar’s new initiative was met with a degree of hope from animal welfare advocates. But the June publication of the bureau’s handbook on wild horse and burro management shattered that optimism.

The handbook, which is the first of its kind and was undoubtedly in its final stages when Abbey made his announcement, quotes the legal requirement for maintaining a wild horse’s free-roaming behavior — but provides for their removal should they migrate from their designated areas. Further damaging public trust, the creation of nonreproducing herds on their home range — a decision that was supposed to come after September’s closure of public comments — has already been made and is outlined in the document.

The Data Quality Act of 2001 was passed to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information disseminated by federal agencies. Published guidelines for the BLM state, “Information presented or submitted to Congress, which is simultaneously disseminated or previously disseminated to the public is exempt from these Data Quality Act guidelines.” Lawmakers and their constituents concerned about wild horse issues should ask questions — and then further question the answers given.

The bureau’s past actions give the impression of an attitude of omnipotence. By all appearances, the agency has disregarded recommendations from the GAO, Office of the Inspector General and the National Research Council pertaining to the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Congress now shoulders the moral obligation and the responsibility to intercede on behalf of the American public. A nonpermanent moratorium on wild horse and burro roundups and removals, barring emergency conditions, is an appropriate action at this historic crossroad. Review of the scientific evidence on which wild horse and burro policies are based is crucial to the well-being of America’s wild herds — and the re-establishment of public trust.

29 replies »

  1. A moratorium makes so much sense. There is no meaningful way to plan for wild herd management until we know how many horses and burros are really out there — based on real head counts, not bogus computer models spewing over-inflated population increases.
    We need real data on births and deaths, how PZP is effecting population and what deaths may occur as a result of its use. (I’m thinking about horses getting injured and dying as a result of the constant battling it out for mares between the stallions.) We need independent EAs, and a full accounting of multiple use policies and practices.
    The only way to really know any of this is to put a stop to the round ups and do the research, on the ground — which in my estimation is money better spent than on helicopter stampedes.


    • Speaking of counting, I’m STILL trying to find out how many big game animals are out there – on the HMAs/HAs or anywhere else. Ranchers in many areas are crying there are too many elk – they’re eating eating up and destroying cattle allotments and private pastures. Not enough pronghorns. Too many whitetails, but not enough mule deer. And don’t you dare touch those precious bighorns!

      I think the government does census flyovers, but where do I find the info?


      • Linda,

        Here is some info from research I just did this week. I used the most current data I could find on the various game & fish sites and supplemented where necessary with numbers from deer/elk hunting groups who were citing studies by game and fish or other reliable sources such as university studies. Some of the 10 western states make it extremely difficult to find population estimates. They offer all the stats on how many animals are killed each year by hunters but seem to hide the conservation information about the actual status of these species. Then again, that should not surprise as these folks are really only interested in killing animals it seems, not so much interested in how many exist; at least, not until the hunters have trouble finding prey to kill. Yes, that’s sarcastic but it’s the overriding feeling I got after spending so much time at those sites even though I do support hunting for FOOD necessity as a lifestyle/cultural/health choice. It’s just there is so much glorification of the kill, it really wears on one with a more tender heart who has no use for these “glory only” type of killers…. Anyway, here is what I found in the context of a post I made on the NYT article at MSNBC:

        Wild horses (20,000 to 38,000, depending on whose estimate you believe, independent or BLM) are vastly outnumbered by welfare ranching via privately owned livestock of 1.8 million (via BLM stats*) which are allowed to graze on public lands that are supposedly lands where the wild horses were to be the principal components (per the 1971 Act). This equates to a ratio of something between 47:1 to 90:1, cattle to wild horses. Quite outnumbered, I’d say!

        To top that off, horses also are vastly outnumbered by wildlife grazing animals including deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. Here are the population estimates in the 10 western states where wild horses live: wild horses – 28,000 (middle estimate between BLM and independent sources); deer – 3.3 million; elk – 1 million; pronghorn – 780,000; bighorn sheep – 70,000 (estimates are from various state game&fish, hunting and conservation sources).

        For anyone able to parse out numbers, it’s plain to see wild horses are getting the short end of the stick just by population numbers alone. Looking at the entire picture, we see:

        28,000 horses versus a whopping total of 6.9 million other grazing animals (wildlife and livestock combined)

        …on public lands in the 10 western states where wild horses still live. Considering there were 1-2 million wild horses at the turn of the 19th century, it’s clear we have decimated this wild life species just as we did bison.

        * Calculation of 1.8 million livestock derived from BLM’s stat of ~21 million AUMs divided by 12 months=1.8 million cow/calf pairs authorized annually


      • note: sometimes the USFW service “feeds the Elk Hay they drop them from helicopters; prob. to ‘fatten them up for the hunt; then after they feed them; and elk multiply USFWS says; too many Elk!

        they do a similar stunt with the Mustangs and burros; by not putting Geldings back to the range…and keeping populations lower

        then the BLM says wow where did all these mustangs come from?
        ummm…you the blm bred them in the wild by not using Geldings; you use Stallions to lower the population ? that is aburd ! get a life!


      • Kathleen … sorry it took me so long to thank you for your research. I’m adding it to my Word file on wildlife numbers. That’s the best way I’ve found to keep different topics organized.


  2. Ms. Abel…..good information. I disagree with one point: emrgency conditions caveat. Why? Because the equine killers and torture factory machine uses that “excuse” frequently.

    No caveats. No excuses. No roundups. No sterilizations (permanent or temporary).

    Congress…freeze their discretionary funds and appropriated/stimulus funds connected to removing wild equines. T4C all roundup contracts NOW.

    If there is an “emergency”…haul in the water or grass hay and pull down the special interest fences for starters before one more equine is removed…PERIOD!.


    • Thank you Denise! That couldn’t have been said any better! Short, sweet & to the point, right on track. We do need a moratorium, but, a permanent one. How can anyone say, or claim, that these brutal round-ups are “necessary”, due to herd over-population!!?? Who do they think they’re kidding, do they(BLM) really think we’re that stupid? If anything, I think most Americans are getting smarter about the truth of this whole issue, & about the BLM’s & our governments lies! How can they justify saying there’s too many wild horses in any given area(except, in captive holding pens maybe!!)? Who counted each & every wild horse, &, how could they?? We KNOW the TRUTH!


    • Yes they have pulled that “emergency” nonsense way too often-such as the man made emergency at Owyhee. I agree, bring in the resources needed use some of that roundup monies to improve range condition and in the meantime stop the madness.


  3. Continue to BANG the drum LOUDLY!

    I know the feds and states hear the drumbeat; might explain the scrambling to roundup, kill and slowly send the wild ones to concentration camp, undocumented to slow, miserable deaths without documentation. Afterall, if everything was peachy-keen, why hide everything wild equine?

    Everyone here and the wild equines and the killers know WHY!


  4. I hope the NYT’s article and VIDEO does some good
    I also wish it was easier to send e-mails to our congressmen. I guess they would just get too many to look at if it were easy. The way it is done now, at least they know we are serious.


  5. I sent the link to my Congresswomen. I know I’ll hear the usual Senator isn’t on Energy Committee but will keep your thoughts in mind–blah blah blah. I just hope someone actually takes the time to watch the video and listen to good ole Dave.

    Wishfully it will be the nail to seal his coffin–and he’ll be out of business. What a great soundbite. I just wish some judge would stop and listen for 5 minutes to Dave spouting off.


  6. Bob Abbey, (who is just one “director” of one of the thousands of government programs in effect) refused to stop the roundups in his response to that request made by 54 members of Congress. So, all the letters I wrote asking Congress to intervene and get the roundups stopped, were trumped because this ONE person planted his feet and said “NO”?

    What power of government is in place that allows a mere “director” to deny a congressional request made not just once, but twice? IMO, what is far more important is what these 54 Congress members are going to do about it? Dina Titus (D- NV) seemed to be defeated by Abbey’s refusal, instead of hopping-mad and ready to take action! What good are elected public officials to US if arrogant little “directors” like Bob Abbey can simply put their hands on their hips and sneer, “NO!” to 54 of them?

    C’mon Congress, you’re acting like a bunch of girly little sissies! Are you going to let this punk keep taking horses off the land WE voted to give them, even after you told him to stop, or are you gonna get tough and say, “Mr. Abbey, you’ll stop them NOW, period!”?

    I’ll tell you this much… If you don’t stop the roundups now that we’ve told you that’s what WE want and expect YOU to do, none of you will be telling US, “NO!” after WE kick
    your yellow-bellied butts out of office!


  7. I recently wrote a letter to Debbie Collins [BLM Wild Horse and Burro “Team”]. She responded but her answers were the same “canned” answers that we have read over and over from the BLM. So, I wrote her back, addressing the issues in her letter that was full of mis-information. I have not heard back from her … but below is my letter (and hers) so that you will see another example of the ignorance of what we are up against. In addition, if any of you think my letter will be of help to you in spreading the word, please use it any way you want. Send it (or your version) to all BLM at Eagle Lake (their email addresses are online) and/or all BLM offices/representatives plus media plus to your governmental officials. What have we got to loose? Our horses/burros have everything to loose … and they ARE loosing. Do the best you can.

    September 3, 2010

    Dear Ms. Debbie Collins:
    BLM National WH&B Team

    Thank you very much for taking the time and interest to respond to my email. I want to help you to understand the actions of the BLM at this time regarding the Wild Horses and Burros in the Twin Peaks roundup area in California/Nevada as well as the BLM land use in general.

    You need to know that the link you sent me is a dead end and did not provide me with the full text of the 1971 Wild Horses and Burros Act and imagine you will want to correct your error. Regardless, I have read the entire Act and am aware of the amendments that have been made and am also aware that those amendments do not negate the law as it was originally written. The amendments add/subtract/change the original law but do not disqualify the original law. If the amendments were intended to exclude the original law, then those parts that I quoted “§1331…It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found…” would have been exed out and/or noted as such. The original law is still is the law.

    As for Section 1333(b)(2)(iv) that you quote, please be aware that the Secretary determined his decision without the basis of all information available to him as he is required to do per the law. I know this because no overpopulation of wild horses/burros on the Twin Peaks existed on the given area of public lands and thus it was not and is not necessary to remove these animals. There was no excess. The BLM is using the appropriate management level (AML) to determine overpopulation, but it is faulty to utilize the AML in this determination. AML is not based on any scientific methods, but instead is based on socioeconomic demands of the competing interests of livestock users. This is not consistent with the law under… §4700.0-6 Policy (b) “Wild horses and burros shall be considered comparably [def. equal, same, equivalent] with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans”.

    In the case of the Twin Peaks area, please read below:
    Twin Peaks Forage Allocations (AUM’s)Twin Peaks EA 2010 (after 2010 roundup)
    # Animals (AML) AUM’s %
    Horses and Burros (448+72) 520 5,808 18%
    Livestock (cattle + sheep) (3,730+10,000) 13,730 27,178 82%
    Total 14,250 32,986 100%
    Note: Wildlife is not provided AUMs in the Twin Peaks HMA.

    Therefore, since the AML is not representative of the law, it is not a legal justification to remove excess horses or represent “overpopulation” or “excess”…even if this condition did exist. The AML is not based on scientific principles that provide repeatable and verifiable results using scientific methodologies, and for that reason should not be used to determine excess or a thriving ecological balance for wild horses and burros. The forage allocation in the Twin Peaks HMA is representative of the obvious excess of livestock and not of wild horses and burros. Although the Bureau is entitled to include livestock as part of their land use plan, nowhere does it state that multiple-use should favor livestock over wild horses and burros. Twenty-six to one is without a doubt greatly in favor of the livestock.

    In addition, the law does state that even if there was an excess of wild free-roaming horses and burros … that he can assure they are to be “humanely” captured. Helicopter roundups are not humane. Please watch the You Tube video of the wild horses brought in from Twin Peaks the day after they were captured. The animals in the video are obviously traumatized as well as many are physically injured – entirely caused by the roundup – this is not “humanely captured”. This is anything but humane.

    The law goes on to say, “removed for private maintenance and care for which he determines an adoption demand exists”. The rate of captured wild horses and burros historically averages about twice those adopted each year and thousands are in BLM holding pens that are available for adoption, so obviously there is no adoption demand. This is another evident error by the Secretary.

    Section 1333(b)(2)(C) of the law states that: “The Secretary shall cause additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible”. As I think you know, the unadoptable animals are not destroyed outright by the BLM, they are warehoused in “long-term” facilities where their daily care and lives are unknown and unavailable to the public. In addition, this warehouse policy is fiscally irresponsible. The cost for one Animal Unit Month (AUM) to graze livestock on public land is $1.35 per month vs. the $70.04 pre month expenditure [BLM figure FY 2009 – $29 million holding costs] per head to warehouse a wild horse/burro. This is easily seen as a negative $68.69 per head per month, which computes to $28,437,660 per year cost to the tax-paying public. This is a clear example of the failed fiscal decisions made by the BLM.

    Also, do you know that we, the public have no access to the publicly owned wild horses and burros on these private lands? This is another mistake made by the BLM. Have you visited these private long-term facilities and do you know personally that they are “lush and healthy” as you proclaim? I think not, since I have requested to see this for myself and nobody seems to be able to tell me the addresses of these facilities and the only accurate knowledge I have of the public’s wild horses/burros in one of these long term holding facilities is one of abuse to the point of starvation and death of a group of the public’s wild horses/burros last year who were supposedly on your “lush and healthy long-term private pasture” and eventually had to be rescued by the Grace Foundation in California. Do you know of this travesty?

    With that said, please also note that horses over the age of 10 years [horse lifespan averages about 25 years] are considered non-adoptable by BLM and are then subject to sale at $25 per head to anyone, who then can sell them to slaughterhouse brokers. Although horse slaughterhouses are now illegal in the U.S, there is no law that says that these “over-age” animals cannot be sent to slaughter in either Mexico or Canada, and everyone knows this is done. Do you believe our public horses should be allowed this kind of death? I do not.

    Another important piece of information for you is the fact that wild horses and burros who are being captured and then re-released onto public lands in populations that are far below genetic viability. What I mean by this is that per the BLM, the Twin Peaks wild horses (for example) are going to be released at the ratio of 60% stallions and 40% mares and that 100% of these mares will be given PZP (birth control that averages 5 years). This cannot lead to a scientifically accepted population size for a healthy reproducing herd and thus there can be no healthy wild horse herd in this area for future generations. There will be a zero population increase of these animals for at least the next 5 years and obviously this points to a zeroing out of the entire wild horse population that will eventually lead to extinction of the entire American Wild Horse. As a grandmother of out future generations, I take great exception to this fact. As at the Twin Peaks range, this is also true on the majority of the wild horse/burro HMAs and is not caused by natural selection or predation but is caused by the illegal, unscientific and inhumane roundups authorized by the mismanagement of the BLM. The BLM’s stated mission is to “Sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. None of the BLM’s actions at Twin Peaks or other wild horse/burro designated wild areas follows this “mission” of the BLM. I beg of you to do everything within your authority to learn the true facts and take action to place a moratorium on all wild horse/burro roundups immediately.

    I again thank you for your response and interest but expect that you will now see the reality of the misled actions of the BLM and also trust that you will contact me if you have questions or if there is anything I can do to educate the BLM on the truth about this very grave subject. I look forward to your response to my letter and to your actions to stop the illegal and inhumane treatment of the public’s horses and burros at the Twin Peaks roundup and all other roundups that are planned in the future.
    Most Sincerely,
    Kathy Gregg

    (Debbie’s letter below)
    Good Afternoon. If you have not had an opportunity to read the entire 1971
    Act, I can understand how you may misinterpret Section 1331 to mean the
    horses are not to be removed. However, Section 1333(b)(2)(iv) of the law
    states that where the Secretary determines on the basis of: “…on the
    basis of all information currently available to him, that an overpopulation
    exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to
    remove excess animals, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the
    range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.”

    In addition, Section 1333(b)(2)(B), the law states that: “The Secretary
    shall cause such number of additional excess wild free-roaming horses and
    burros to be humanely captured and removed for private maintenance and care
    for which he determines an adoption demand exists by qualified individuals,
    and for which he determines he can assure humane treatment and care
    (including proper transportation, feeding, and handling): Provided, that,
    not more than four animals may be adopted per year by any individual unless
    the Secretary determines in writing that such individual is capable of
    humanely caring for more than four animals, including the transportation of
    such animals by the adopting party.”

    Section 1333(b)(2)(C) of the law states that: “The Secretary shall cause
    additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption
    demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most
    humane and cost efficient manner possible.

    As you can see, Congress only allows for two management options, but BLM
    does not implement the second option. Therefore, we provide feed and care
    to our wild horses on lush, healthy long-term private pastures that exist
    primarily in Oklahoma and Kansas. Congress does not allow BLM to place
    horses on public lands where they did not exist in 1971, but we are allowed
    to place them on private lands.

    The following link will provide you with the full text of the 1971 Act.

    Click to access whbact_1971.pdf

    Thank you for your interest in the program.

    Debbie Collins
    BLM National WH&B Team


    • Brilliant, Grandma Gregg! Superb letter and I will definitely keep to use some of your wonderful COMPELLING points of fact. Thank you for sharing, thank you for standing up for them 🙂


    • Thank you for your encouragement … but what I really want is for “everyone” to send it (or your version) to anyone and everyone who needs to know that WE know the truth.


  8. Many, many thanks to Carroll Abel. You have written an excellent article. You gave one detail that I have been shouting in the dark about, but you wrote it so that it ought to stick somewhere. I have been very frustrated because horses and cattle do not eat the same forage. Not only do they not eat the same forage, they do not eat the forage they do eat in the same way. They have different jaw structures and different teeth. If the BLM field office employees examined the forage, they might discover that culprit destroying the range is not the wild horse, but the cattle. Of course, that would require that the BLM field office.

    I have a master’s in English education—that did require a course or two in research methods and statistics, but if I can go to a farm that has cattle and horses in adjoining pastures and observe the differences between the way the pasture with the cattle in it and the pasture with the horses in it, it flies all over me, how the BLM has been able to get away with blaming horses for damage clearly caused by cattle.

    Here is the nonsense. We have a government agency spending millions of tax payer dollars to solve the problem of range deterioration, but they will never solve the problem because they are not addressing the correct cause of the range deterioration which is the excessive numbers of cattle using the range as it is currently managed.

    Rather than bringing in educated scientists to study the problem, it is easier to just blame the problem on the horses and grant more cattle grazing permits. Why not spend a few million of those Catoor dollars to do a scientific study and few more of those holding cell dollars on methods to replenish the range like resting sections of it one year or trying to reseed areas. Why not educate the ranchers who believe because they have never been told the truth that the wild horse is not necessarily their enemy. If the money currently spent on wild horses in holding were to be used to make the range healthier for everyone, we might be doing something more soul lightening than writing about the cruel and inhumane treatment of our wild horses and the government who perpetrates it.


    • You are so correct! This is one of the most important scientific issues that is overlooked! Sheep and cattle and deer and horses do not all eat the same thing in the same way. Please read Craig Downer’s book “Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom” to understand the scientific background on this exact subject! All BLM employees should be required to read his book before being hired. Copies of his book may be ordered directly from him at Craig C. Downer PO box 456 Minden, Nevada 89423 ( He explains this subject SO well. I will say no more… because Craig Downer says it so well – you MUST read it.


  9. sentence at the end of the first paragraph should have read:

    that the BLM employees in the field offices actually be educated about how different species consume forage. If they think they are just looking at a leaf, a stem, or a stalk, they may not see what the trained eye should see.


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