Horse News

The Shame of the BLM

article by George Knapp from the Las Vegas City Lights

The Will of the American People Ignored

photo by Terry Fitch

Forty years ago this week, the American people spoke with one voice on an issue that clearly touched the heart of the nation. The Wild Horse and Burro Act was signed into law, over the objections of the powerful cattle industry. Congress was flooded with more letters and telegrams about wild mustangs than for any other issue save the Vietnam War. They insisted that wild horses must be preserved on public lands. That demand became law.

But it is doubtful horse lovers are popping champagne corks to celebrate. The law, or what’s left of it, is a hollow farce, a piss-poor replica of what we thought we were getting, about as authentic as a gift-shop Jackalope.

The timing of the anniversary oozes irony. Forty years later, teams of mercenary horse hunters prowl Nevada‘s public lands. They are paid a bounty, about $350 per captured animal. The two principal contractors that do this work have raked in tens of millions from their friends in the Bureau of Land Management. And I do mean friends. Some of those awarded fat contracts formerly worked for the Department of the Interior.

Right now, in an area of Northern Nevada known as the Calico complex, wild horses are running in terror across some of the roughest terrain in the West. Calico was the site of the bloodiest mustang roundup in history. Two years ago, I was there for part of it. BLM ignored all warnings about conducting a huge roundup in the middle of winter. The contractors used helicopters to frighten the mustangs, running them for miles across snow-covered ground, their hooves smashing onto sharp volcanic rocks. Dozens died on the spot. Some pregnant mares aborted their young. Others died in holding pens. A few literally ran their feet off — their hooves were worn to bloody stumps, so they collapsed and died.

I have lost count of all the promises the BLM has made in the 25 years I have covered wild horses. But the pace of broken promises has accelerated in the past few years, since former Nevada BLM director Bob Abbey ascended to the job as national director. Every few months, it seems, Mr. Abbey issues a news release in which he swears that the program is turning a corner, that it will be more open, that he welcomes new ideas, even public-private partnerships, and on and on. But as soon as the microphones are off, it’s business as usual — more roundups, more horses stuck in pens on private ranches owned by BLM-connected pals. That is where they stay for the rest of their miserable lives.

BLM has done its best to keep the public far from the roundups, though they make a show of bringing in media crews for tightly controlled observation sessions. There’s a good reason. The roundups are a bloody business, and there is no getting around it. Hundreds of horses have been run to death, or died of thirst or stress, or suffered injuries during the traumatic helicopter assaults. Advocates have captured video snippets of chopper pilots who smack into individual mustangs from the air. I’ve seen the BLM’s hired guns kick burros in the head, just to get their attention. This week, on the same day Abbey promised to ask his contractors to be more careful about the mayhem they inflict on horses, a mustang advocate recorded video of a BLM contractor repeatedly jamming a cattle prod into a band of scared burros. A few feet away, one of the government’s observers watched but didn’t say a damned thing.

My friend Jerry Reynoldson, who has probably done more to help wild horses than anyone, stopped short of predicting that there won’t be any left in 40 years, but he describes the future as “dismal.”

“They promise this, they promise that, they offer partnerships, say they want new ideas, but it is always the same. Round up the horses and stick them in holding pens,” Reynoldson says. “In 2005, they paid $500,000 for a study about how to increase horse adoptions, then ignored it. They stack the deck with friends of the cattle industry every time there is a review, and their allies always say whatever is needed.”

As with everything in American life these days, might makes right. The beef industry wants the horses gone from public ranges, and BLM is happy to comply. “BLM knows they can just wear people down,” Reynoldson says. “Few people can stay on top of this, can stay angry all the time. People have other issues. … BLM knows that all but the most dedicated advocates will wear down eventually.”

BLM plays a lot of games with numbers. There might be 25,000 horses still in the wild. Maybe. According to the 40-year-old law, the herds are supposed to be preserved on the same lands they roamed when the law went into effect, but more than 22 million acres of mustang country are now mustang-free. Instead, the public land is used to support privately owned cattle. There are 50 times as many cattle as horses on the range, yet it’s the horses that are deemed a threat to the land. BLM has omitted the effects of long-term livestock grazing from its evaluations of range conditions.

A planned study by the National Academies of Science won’t help. The panel is already stacked with members whose ties to the cattle industry are easily documented. NAS will be out with a report that supports whatever BLM’s policy of the moment is, and that will be that. Those who hoped that Obama would be more sympathetic than his rootin’-tootin’ predecessor have been greatly disappointed. As with so many other issues, Obama has been completely absent.

Will we still have wild horses on public lands 40 years from now? Guess we should ask the cattle barons. Because in today’s America, might makes right. All hail the “free market.”

George Knapp is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at

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13 replies »

  1. The answer to why this small minority of special interest has a voice is such simple math. It’s called adding dollars into the campaign coffers of dirty politicians. Money contributed to politicians is the root of the problem and has turned our country upside down, allowing small groups of special interest to run our country for decades. It’s why the BLM gets away with destroying our wild herds.


  2. The sad part, to me in all this UGLY is that some people, journalists work very hard to bring this to the attention of the “powers” and the public…..

    and nothing ever changes.


  3. Saw a picture of an older woman at an ‘Occupy’ gathering, holding a sign. The sign read (words to this effect):

    “I don’t mind you being wealthy. I mind you buying my government.”

    Truer words were never spoken.


  4. “Dishearting is our our govermentment when they are operating without a conscious by supporting the BLM Wild Horses Roundupsl These Wild Horse Roundups held by BLM are so inhumane and cruel but what seems even worse is our goverments deceptiaveness for pretending they want to stop this terrible injustice to our helpless wild horses yet they still continue doing it and sweeping it under the rug! The BLM Wild Horse Roundups are dangerous and sometimes deadly for the wild horses and foals. While the BLM says their driving them but when watching the videos instead they are scaring them literally with hellicopter’s. BLM is chasing them in dangerous weather conditions, recklessly down very dangerous terrains with barbwire and deadly cliffs. So many wild horses have been injured many and have even ran till their hoofs fall off from running so hard. Sometimes they will just drop to their death from stresss and exhaustion.Now it is time to give wild horses our voices for the fear of losing wild horses is becoming all to real. This makes you question our goverment and how did they would ever allow anyone to be paid salary for doing such horrible acts, Whether it is about greed or politics it is tramatizing to us that love the horses.This is wrong for this to continue and the goverment cannot bring back all the wild horses we have lost .The country”s people know that there is something seriously wrong with our goverment when our taxdollars are supporting such narrcissistic behavior
    We the majority will never allow this erratic and unconsciable acts to continue as we believe wild horses are detrimental to establish a healtier future for our world. Wild horses deserve life, respect and honor.Let us not forget where we came from with the help of the almighty horse. Horses have been carried many a man through wars, Wild Horses of untouchable beauty grace stand for humanity what is right,and justice for all….,….

    Sincerly, Tina Wooten


  5. As the owner of one of these magnificent animals, it is with a heavy heart that I read your article. Very well written, but hard to read, none the less. Thank you for your time and efforts in writing it and may the Great Spirit have mercy on our souls.


  6. “Wild” horses are not “wild” they are a feral, non-native species. Neither cattle or horses belong on federal land. This land should be concerved for truely wild, native species. This being said I do not approve of the methods being used.



    Jay F.
    Kirkpatrick, who earned a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the College of
    Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, has studied fertility control for
    wild horses. He is the director of the Science and Conservation Center at
    ZooMontana, in Billings. Patricia M. Fazio, a research fellow at the Science
    and Conservation Center, earned her Ph.D. in environmental history from Texas
    A&M University. Her interests include reproductive physiology, the
    monitoring of wild horse ranges, and the evolution of equids.

    In recent years,
    molecular biology has provided new tools for working out the relationships
    among species and subspecies of equids. For example, based on mutation rates
    for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Ann Forstén, of the Zoological Institute at the
    University of Helsinki, has estimated that E. caballus
    originated approximately 1.7 million years ago in North America. More to the
    point is her analysis of E. lambei, the
    Yukon horse, which was the most recent Equus species in
    North America prior to the horse’s disappearance from the continent. Her
    examination of E. lambei mtDNA (preserved in the
    Alaskan permafrost) has revealed that the species is genetically equivalent to E. caballus. That conclusion has
    been further supported by Michael Hofreiter, of the Department of Evolutionary
    Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who has found that
    the variation fell within that of modern horses.



    Chinese government money is buying one of U.S.A.’s biggest mines
    December 7, 2010 by ppjg
    Debbie Coffey Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
    This small group of our farmers and ranchers didn’t sell out for money offered. They’re standing strong. They use words like “community” and “our future” when talking about this issue. If you’d like to support them:
    Attend a meeting on Dec. 9 and 10, 2010 (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.) at Nevada Dept. of Water Resources, 901 S. Stewart Street, room #2002, Carson City, NV 89701
    “It’s ironic that this mining deal involves the words hope and liberty, because what this really represents is that we are losing both for our country. You can see it on the faces of the farmers and ranchers at this meeting.”






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