Horse News

The Night Wild Horses Came to Manhattan

Another stunning article by Andrew Cohen as it appears in The Atlantic

The Wild Horse Act act celebrates its 40th birthday, but only a shell of its protections for America’s herds remain

Lives Lost to Obama's BLM ~ photo by Terry Fitch

As near as anyone today can tell, America’s wild horse herds never came anwhere close to Manhattan before they were either slaughtered or confined to dusty rangelands out West. And it is hard to imagine a venue more different from those rangelands than brick-lined Vanderbilt Hall, at the New York University School of Law, where on a rainy Wednesday night a group of 50 or so wild horse enthusiasts met to discuss the past, present and future of the mustang, whom author Deanne Stillman calls “North America’s gift to the world.”

Yet there we were. Among others, there was Dick Loper, the soft-spoken rangeland expert from Wyoming, trying to soothe some of the anger Easterners feel about the way wild horses are treated out West. There was Ross MacPhee, from the American Musuem of Natural History, come to remind the audience that the horse is a native species. And there was Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, who has chronicled some of the recent abuses America’s mustangs have endured.

Sponsored by NYU‘s Environmental Law Journal and its Environmental Studies Program, the legal forum “Managed To Extinction?” was designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the federal measure signed into law on December 15, 1971 by President Richard Nixon. At the time, Nixon cited Henry David Thoreau — “We need the tonic of wilderness” — when he pledged to protect America’s wild horses from the human forces arrayed against them. Those were the days.

Forty years later, the Wild Horse Act is a shell of what it once was and was supposed to be. Weakened by subsequent amendments, beseiged by politicians who are emboldened by lobbyists for the ranching industry, and administered by a distracted federal agency which is captive to that industry, the act is what one panelist called a “thumb in the dike” against the political, economic and cultural realities of our time. If Velma Bronn Johnston — also known as “Wild Horse Annie“– were alive today she’d be disgusted at the perversion of her life’s work.

The discussion Wednesday evening alternated between an ersatz Occupy Wall Street session — “Americans stand up!” one audience member practically shouted — and a reality check from the panelists, some of whom sounded positively war weary for having fought so long on behalf of the horses. The consensus? “Science is not governing things,” McPhee said. “The law is not governing things. Power and politics control.” Hey, all you global warming tribunes out there: sound familiar?

Sadly, no representatives of the Bureau of Land Management were present. Federal officials were invited to provide balance to the panel but they hemmed and hawed in responding before deciding, at the last minute, not to come. Ed Roberson, Assistant Director of the BLM, told organizers last week that the Bureau believed the Forum was “unbalanced by designed” because of its title and its “list of invited panelists who predominantly have a negative stance regarding the BLM’s management of wild horses and burros.”

By refusing to provide the balance forum organizers sought, the Bureau then refused to participate because of a lack of balance on the forum. The dodge. The refusal to confront opponents in honest debate. The unwillingness to be accountable to taxpayers. These are all classic ways in which bureaucracies sustain themselves, perpetuate their power, and avoid making the tough choices that are supposed to make government work well. The Bureau’s absence Wednesday is a perfect symbol for its failed stewardship of the horses.

The BLM thought the session would be a two-hour diatribe against its policies and practices. But there was a great deaI of talk about potential solutions. Some wild horse advocates say that “non-hormonal fertility control” would help control horse populations so that livestock ranchers would have less cause to complain. Others say that ranchers should be allowed to voluntarily retire their “allotments” of public land so that more can be given back to the herds. Everyone agreed there should be more dialogue. And the Bureau missed it all.

So did the ranchers, the true adversaries of the horses. They, too, were invited to New York to offer their assessment of the Wild Horse Act at its 40th birthday. But they do their talking mostly in court these days. The Rock Springs Grazing Association, for example, filed a lawsuit earlier this year asking a federal judge in Wyoming to get rid of all of the wild horses in Sweetwater County, in the southern part of the state. The losers talk, I guess, and the winners walk all over the horses a federal law was designed to protect.

Click (HERE) to Comment at The Atlantic

28 replies »

  1. We keep hearing solutions for “over-population”. There’s an old saying that “if you reapeat a lie often enough, people will believe it” That is what the BLM has been doing with our Wild Horses and Burros when it comes to “over population”.
    This is just part of the report that Carla compiled and delivered to the National Academy of Sciences:

    Compiled by Carla Bowers, 10/26/11, Revised 11/6/11
    For NAS/NRC Study Panel of BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program
    All numbers above are verifiable

    21,354: WH&B population as of 2/28/11 using BLM’s own data & 20% growth model (independent analysis)
    240,000-480,000: Approximate head of livestock on WH&B management areas
    Up to 3M livestock on BLM lands
    Up to 1.5M livestock on USFS lands
    245 million: Number of acres BLM currently manages
    160 million: Number of BLM acres allocated to livestock use
    53.8 million: Number of BLM & private acres originally designated for WH&B in 1971
    31.6 million: Number of BLM & private acres currently managed for WH&B
    22.2 million: Number of acres WH&B have lost since 1971
    27 million: Number of BLM acres currently allocated to WH&B use (with livestock)
    11%: Amount of BLM land currently designated for WH&B use
    $75.7 million: FY2011 total cost of BLM’s WH&B Program
    $11.4 million: FY2011 cost of roundups, including fertility control
    $48.2 million: FY2011 cost of BLM warehousing WH&B
    $766,164: FY2010 cost of BLM WH&B census & range monitoring (3.3% of budget)
    $144-500 million: FY2011 cost of livestock grazing program
    $13 million: FY2011 cost of predator control program to benefit livestock


  2. Bravo, Mr. Cohen! Bravo, NYU! Bravo, panel and participants!

    Shame on, DOI! Shame on the special interests! Shame on all the Presidents, especially Obama!

    Hope everyone goes to The Atlantic and comments (they get horsekillers and nay sayers over there).

    I think this is another documented event that shows, yes, this iS management to extinction.


  3. This is why I don’t eat beef!!!! I don’t understand why man thinks that they have complete control over the planet and everything on it…


  4. The BLM doesn’t seem to mind a bit if they speak at events with an agenda “stacked” in their favor…oh, like the NAS.


    • If you lie about the problem (agenda) and control the debate, to include orchestration of participants and lack of acknowledgement of issues, with a ton of off-topic points that don’t address the real problem (which would be YOU and your special interest driven influence), PLUS a dysfunctional legal authority (Congress)…..there is NO problem, save for the one you think!

      In some ways I’m pleased that they consider us outsiders and choose not to play….I think it means they KNOW we are right. What terrifies me is that this behavior buys them more time to kill more equines, wild and domestic.

      Control the debate…you control the issue; don’t allow debate……….you still control the issue, ergo, agenda.


  5. Terry, your photos say SO much. I have a couple of those tags that I found on the ground; breaks my heart. Mary, are you the Mary Johnson I know? I must say, (and NOT with ANY animosity): to each his own. A lot of good people I know, don’t eat beef. But always remember America; not all ‘ranchers’ or ‘beef producers’ believe in using BLM ground to run their cattle. And not all ranchers are against the wild mustang, or think they should be rounded up, or believe in slaughter. Just had to voice my opinion. I also realize, when R.T. talks about the ranchers, pretty sure they are quite a bit bigger than we; which also means that the small, family-ran-for-generations ranch probably doesn’t have much of a voice either.
    R.T.; great articles!


  6. I know for me since Judge McKibben told the BLM they could do that awful round up at Triple B back in July–something in me snapped. I was furious. And had no outlet. I just couldn’t believe that another group of horses had to endure to the brutality that is our government.

    A month or so later and the same Judge found for Laura that Josh and the BLM had indeed committed several acts that went against the law. That case is slowly moving onward and hopefully upward. To date I don’t think BLM has stated anything concerning Josh hitting the animal with the skids of his helicopter except to denounce it.

    Even if it were a tap or he actually didn’t hit the animal in this case (which I hardly believe is the case) JOSH HAS HIT NUMEROUS ANIMALS IN THE PAST YEAR. It’s clearly shown on video.

    For me, I was so upset at the first ruling I decided NO MORE RED MEAT. I just can’t do it. It just makes me ill thinking about a hamburger knowing that the horses are suffering because some rear end cattleman wants the horses gone.

    For milk I use almond milk. Mix that with Costco’s Ancient Grains–I’m in happy heaven. Yes, I do use milk and cream for ice cream. And I do have an over fondness for cheese. I haven’t quite managed that switch yet.

    Recently I went to lunch with someone that ordered steak. He asked me if I minded. I thought that was really sweet of him. I told him no it didn’t bother me. And it doesn’t. Because its a choice we make. I’ve had others not bash me for being a carnivore when I’ve asked vegan questions. They chose to educate me. I feel I can only pass on the non-judgment feelings like I was treated.

    So now I have some questions for those that live near a farmer or just know. What is the difference between Organic vs Regular Chicken in terms of slaughter? Or don’t we know? I know that the animal isn’t fed steroids and stuff to make them grow big really fast. It’s the stable to table part that I’m questioning.

    Or organic eggs. Are the ways chickens treated any better than non Organic?? I know there has been huge deals about crates and chickens living in unlivable conditions. People want them free range brought up. Do they do that for egg laying too?

    Can you be vegetarian eat Organic beef, milk, and eggs. Are they better choices?


    • This site has rankings of good egg producers. Find out which ones are sold at your store and support them. You really have to watch the cage free labeling as it is often very misleading and the chickens are still crammed inhumanely, just without the cages. A lot of producers are misleading the public.


  7. Margaret, several years ago, someone that we knew told us about his diet. He worked in heavy construction. That is HARD work…long hours. He was older than most of the other workers who (who were mostly 20 something). He could outwork all of them. Naturally, everyone wanted to know where and how he got so much endurance. He told us that his wife had converted him to a vegetarian diet, because he was sick all of the time….always got sick every winter. Since changing his diet, he hadn’t even had a cold.
    That’s not going to work for everyone, nor will everyone want to go that route. You are right in saying “it is a personal choice”. The issue that we are hammering is HUMANE treatment. As to eggs? Barnyards…where chickens can be chickens.


    • Basically, it comes down to handling, space and feedstuffs.

      But there is a raging debate about “real” organic, the USDAs “organic” seal and what eventually winds up in the marketplace based on regs, enforcement (to include standards and inspection) and special interest influence.

      BTW, I know small ranchers and farmers that refuse to participate with USDA on the “organic” thing they have stolen from ethical farmers and ranchers.

      Do your homework and you’ll find decent humans, treating animals, crops, water and land decently, with a reliable product.

      But you have to give Mikey D’s credit for dropping those trolls re: egg. Sadly, based on their supply needs, they will just switch to another mass producer without the documented history.


  8. BIG AG will get their greedy claws into everything IF we let them. They have to be blocked at every pass. When you start to become aware of FDA and USDA (Marti calls them the Alpahbet soup agencies), and the regulations that are on the agenda, you can see WHO is running that show.


      • With enough money, politicians’ conflicts of interest….anyone in Congress (for the most part) can become one of the worst.

        Another tactic of Big Ag is to slip stuff into larger bills, usually appropriations to force their will………..remember Burns’ Amendment for our wild ones?


  9. THE ATLANTIC is a GOOD place to comment, It is read by a lot of people. Someone said (can’t remember where or when) that it is comparable to TIME Magazine. It is a good place for verifiable information and data to be gotten out to the Public.


  10. I wish Mr. Cohen would have elaborated further on the marking of the 40th anniversary. I eat that stuff up (pun intended).

    But it is good and I am floored that the NYU environmental/law folks chose to discuss this. I just wish I knew what the discussion was.


  11. Thank you Mr Cohen and RT , you are greatly appreciated~

    Ironically on that same rainy Wednesday that a group of 50 or so wild horse enthusiasts met to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act,
    The fate of All of America’s Equine was undercut by THREE MEMBERS of Congress to enable slaughter to commence on American soil once again !!
    Indeed the entire American Government is a shell of what it once was !!! And ” We The people ” are becoming likewise captive’s !!


  12. Seriously….Throw Them All Out (Peter Schiewzer, author)!

    Yes, the deck is stacked for elections, but it can be done. Get involved. Pass out flyers that talk about graft and killing equines, land, water. We can do it.

    Most of all…don’t go away and NEVER, EVER give up. Gonna hurt? Yep! But you still have to try.


    • Gotta keep the good ones: Moran, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and a handful of others. The problem is that our congress no longer represents the interests of the people. They represent corporations. And that is why the Occupy movement is out there. Thank God for these people. Our congress has sold us all out for their own enrichment and job security. They are pathetic. All this could be solved by banning campaign contributions by lobbyists. But, unfortunately this supreme court gave even more power to corporations to purchase a politician or 20.


  13. I posted this video on the ATLANTIC, but it is not longer accessable. I was trying to show the video that was taken at the Utah/BLM Wild Horse concentration camp…the one that was taken by Lisa Friday. I am VERY concerned about those Stallions with no freezmark:


  14. This is what it says….it’s enough to stop people from watching. If they can’t get right to it, they ususally don’t follow through. You have to have instant access to be effective:
    This video is private


  15. I love reading the truth … and am SO sick of reading the lies that BLM continues to feed the public. I think that the BLM should just eliminate their big buck$ professional liars and make a recording and play it over and over … isn’t that what they already do anyway … over and over and over … the SAME lies. This would allow us to save lots of big buck BLM salaries to people who don’t know what they are talking about anyway and don’t care about their true job (as designated by the law) to protect the WH&B and even worse are the BLM professional liars who are paid the really big buck$ to cover up what is REALLY going on and this would even pay for some real scientists to do valid research that is not “PRE-PAID” by the livestock & oil/gas industries and the politicians these industries OWN.


  16. Thank you and for the record. . .
    Please visit the link to this article at Atlantic Online and retweet or share on Facebook.

    RT, many thanks for helping to spread the word.

    It’s worth noting that Managed to Extinction? A Legal Issues Forum Assessing the 40th Anniversary of the WFRH&B Act would not have happened without hours and hours of volunteer effort by NYU students. Because this event was hosted by the NYU Environmental Law Journal we did not accept any monetary donations from any third-party animal or wild horse advocacy groups so we could legitimately maintain an issue neutral point of view. We did not pay any stipends nor did we offer to pay for any travel expenses.

    We also made every effort to provide a balanced and diverse range of views. We spent hours trying to work out attendance by grazing interest groups.

    Everyone received an unsigned invitation, most by email. As soon as we set the date for this, we reached out immediately to the BLM. Joan Guilfoyle was our first invitee. I personally took time off from my day job and drove from the NYC metro area to visit the Washington DC area twice, with the express purpose of meeting with BLM representatives face-to-face to request their participation in this Forum.

    I approached Joan Guilfoyle right after her speaking engagement at the IEC (International Equine Conference) in September. She refused to give me a business card or any contact information so I had to contact Tom Gorey via email, which I did shortly thereafter. He did call me on the phone but expressed reservations about our choice of Andrew Cohen, of Atlantic Online as a co-moderator.

    In October, I attended the Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting (staying with friends 45 minutes away to defray the expense instead of the Crystal City Hyatt Hotel where the meeting took place) and during the public comment period invited the entire WH&B Advisory Board as well as BLM representatives. Joan Guilfoyle approached me and said she was busy the day of our Forum and would be unable to attend. So I spoke directly with Ed Roberson and gave him carte blanche to send any representative of the BLM of his choice. He expressed misgivings that the BLM had not been approached at least six months, preferably a year in advance. I explained that we had conceived the idea for this in early September when we realized that there seemed to be no plans to mark this 40th Anniversary date by the BLM or any other academic or public institutions.

    Andrew Cohen withdrew as co-moderator so he could instead cover the event as a journalist. We released a press release announcing the Forum on November 4th but did not receive a response from any BLM representatives – despite numerous follow up phone calls or emails – until we finally received a definitive answer from Ed Roberson via Tom Gorey on Thursday, November 10th, six days before the date of the Forum. (see his response below).
    On Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 3:29 PM, Gorey, Tom

    Dear Mr. xxxx:
    I appreciate your recent invitation to Joan Guilfoyle to participate in New York University’s (NYU) legal forum titled “Managed to Extinction?” regarding wild horse management issues. Joan is on my staff and I am responding on her behalf and on behalf of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

    I found it unusual that the letter inviting Ms. Guilfoyle to participate was unsigned and was hand-delivered by an NYU student working on a video project related to the issues surrounding wild horse and burro management on public lands. I expressed concern to Ms. Liverance, the NYU student who delivered the letter on October 13, that the proposed forum was just over a month away and that, in spite of the fact that the forum was being touted as a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the WFRHB Act, no one at BLM was consulted regarding the development of a forum agenda and invitation of attendees. I also expressed concern that the letter did not provide any indication of whether the focus would be on the legal issues (the Act and litigation), which I would think would be important to the NYU School of Law and Environmental Law Journal.

    The BLM is focused on a management objective that results in healthy horses thriving on healthy rangelands. We strive to continuously improve the humaneness and effectiveness of our management actions using the best science. We recently completed a strategy and will soon present a report to Congress on the ideas we developed over the past year and a half with extensive public engagement. We would have welcomed the opportunity to participate in a discussion about these issues.

    I was advised by Ms. Liverance that the forum would be balanced with discussions on all sides of the issues, and that it would provide the opportunity to chart or forge some new, more sustainable solutions. At that time I did not have any more information about the forum than was provided in the very short invitation. When I was finally able to get the details a week ago, I unfortunately found the title of the conference to be “Managed to Extinction?” and a list of invited panelists who predominantly have a negative stance regarding the BLM’s management of wild horses and burros. This leads me to the conclusion that the intent is not to find common ground and sustainability, and, further, that the forum is unbalanced by design. I therefore must advise you that the Bureau of Land Management declines to participate. Had the BLM been brought into the preliminary discussions about putting on this forum, our agency would have had an opportunity to provide input at a time when it could have made a difference. Regrettably, this did not happen.

    As the 40th anniversary of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is marked, our agency remains committed to the health and well-being of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range. We welcome partnerships with all who share this commitment as we carry out our multiple-use mission, as set forth by Congress in the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Accordingly, we will continue to manage and protect wild horses and burros, along with the Western public rangelands on which they roam, for current and future generations.


    Ed Roberson, Assistant Director
    Bureau of Land Management
    20 M St., S.E.
    Washington, D.C. 20003


    Despite this negative response to our invitation, we responded to the BLM as follows:

    Dear Mr. Roberson,

    I am sad to read that you have decided against attending or sending a BLM representative to our panel, to take place in six days here at NYU Law. But thank you for responding and offering insight into the decision not to attend.

    The panel’s representation is not imbalanced by design. The BLM was our first invitee, along with industry and grazing rights groups. Everyone received an unsigned invitation; most by email. I spent hours trying to work out attendance by grazing interest groups, but we were unable to work it out – for reasons of travel costs and a desire to avoid discussing ongoing litigation. Further, we had a long discussion regarding the title, which I agree is controversial. We believed an edgy title would attract students, professors and others who could use a bit of a nudge to attend as audience.

    More than anything, I am surprised at the expectation here. The Environmental Law Journal is part of an independent academic institution. We invite the government to participate, but not to dictate the panel’s complexion and the content of its subject matter. We would have gladly worked with you to discuss altering the panel title and to leverage BLM attendance to invite other interest groups such as the cattle industry. But a six day notice–where I first hear of your concerns—makes it hard to believe in a willingness to chart or forge sustainable solutions.

    Our panel intends to be simply that–a panel. No new legal obligations will come of it. Just a conversation among representative beneficiaries of Congress’ trust- the trust that holds wild horses and the federal land upon which they graze. They will simply discuss a statute as it applies to today’s changing world, and it would have been wonderful to include BLM’s voice.

    I hope that despite your decision not to send a panelist, the BLM will be represented in the audience. We intend to hold a vigorous question and answer session, and BLM’s perspective is certainly desired.


    Please click this link to download a zipped file with the event program.

    Follow up:

    We did not have any budget to webcast the Forum but a NYU student from the Tisch School of Film and Television did volunteer his time to videotape the proceedings. We are editing the video and will also make every effort to create a transcript of the Forum to share with everyone who was unable to attend. Thank you for your patience; we will post links to all of this from our event webpage when they are available.


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