Horse News

The Feds Unnecessarily Round Up Wild Horses, Then Complain About Costs

Story by ANDREW COHEN as it appears in The Atlantic

After ridding Western lands of thousands of wild mustangs at the request of corporate interests, the Bureau of Land Management now is worried about the price of its programs

It surely cannot be easy these days being Joan Guilfoyle, the (relatively) new director of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. On the one hand she works for a federal agency, the Interior Department, which is largely beholden to the powerful industries it is supposed to regulate. And on the other hand, she is responsible, under federal law and policy, for ensuring the survival and management of the nation’s wild horses at a time when relentless political and economic forces threaten to decimate the herds.

“It’s tricky, and it’s hard,” Guilfoyle said last fall in an interview shortly after she assumed her post. “There are a lot of emotions around it, a lot of different opinions.” Indeed, there are. The ranchers and farmers and miners and oilmen see the wild horses as feral pests that should be gone from public and private land. Wild horse advocates see the herds as victims of faulty science, special interests, and spineless federal and state officials. There is, they say, plenty of public land out West where the horses could freely, and safely, roam.

As regular readers of this space know (Click HERE), the problem of what to do with the nation’s horses is a complex one. Complex — but not impossible. There are some practical people who think they may have long-term solutions. There are some reasonable proposals on the table. But it is going to take many acts of political and bureaucratic courage over a long period to steer the horses out of harm’s way, to reduce their financial imprint upon taxpayers, and to achieve the sort of ecological balance most Americans would agree makes sense in the circumstances.

Does Guilfoyle have what it takes? More broadly, can an Interior Department led by an unrepentant rancher, Ken Salazar, ever be an honest broker here? Not bloody likely. Having implemented a policy that has driven tens of thousands of horses from their native ranges to grim holding pens, having enabled “welfare ranching” by creating “welfare horses” by shifting the cost of the wild horses from land owners to the general public, Guilfoyle last week said, “Where are we going to put these animals? We only have so much money.”


The Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met last week in Reno, Nevada. Designed by the Wild Horse Act of 1971 to be the people’s voice on horse management, the Board has devolved insteadover the years into a partisan group where the warring factions incessantly argue with one another — and the Bureau of Land Management — over what should be done with and to the horses. Think of the rough and tumble bar scene in Star Wars — only with ranchers, farmers, horse advocates, and bureaucrats warily criticizing one another across a hotel conference room.

There were two headlines from last week’s meeting. First, the BLM announced that more wild horses than planned might have to be rounded up this summer — by helicopter stampede — due to what officials believe may constitute “emergency” drought conditions out West. By labeling the drought this way, federal officials may attempt to minimize the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, which generally require the feds to justify their roundups, in advance, and to make their plans available for public comment.

The other big news was the renewed push by livestock advocates to resume the slaughter of wild horses. The argument goes something like this: Since the BLM now has “stockpiled” nearly 50,000 wild horses, and since the federal government is responsible for housing these horses at public expense, the prudent course is to get rid of the “excess” horses by selling them “without limitation” to the highest bidder. “Without limitation” is a deadly euphemism for slaughter. The sold horses would quickly end up at rendering plants.

Here’s how one horse advocate, Deniz Bolbol, of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, sees the essence of last week’s meeting:

As part of its strategy for reform, the BLM had promised Congress that it would reduce wild horse removals from 10,000 to 7,600 for Fiscal Years 2012 – 2014. For 2012, the agency already anticipates exceeding the removal number promised to Congress, with 8,909 wild horses targeted for removal from the range, inclusive of 1,035 horses to be removed from Forest Service lands. Now the BLM is indicating that it will use drought as an excuse to round up even more horses from the range. Alternatives to these removals, such as temporarily hauling in water for wild horses and wildlife; restoring and protecting spring heads; significantly reducing livestock grazing over the long term; and addressing major consumptive users of water on public lands, such as mining operations; do not appear to be under consideration.

Tom Gorey, a BLM spokesman, offered this response Tuesday afternoon via email;

The BLM doesn’t use drought as an “excuse” to round up horses. When we see a need for emergency gathers, we respond rather than let horses die at the decree of Mother Nature. One of the proposed answers to keeping more wild horses on the range — removing cattle – – is a red herring. This prescription ignores the fact that cattle grazing has declined by more than 30 percent since 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Those who oppose livestock grazing on public lands, on which the BLM carries out a multiple-use mission, should seek a legislative answer to their political objective.

And what does Guilfoyle say? Last week, according to the Associated Press, she said this: “Drought conditions are a big concern. Adoptions are still down. Long-term holding space — we are having a challenge getting enough of it. Short-term holding space is expensive because gas and hay is rising.” In other words, she’s now complaining about a problem the BLM itself helped create by ratcheting up the pace of its forced roundups while refusing to implement less drastic measures to cull the herds. That’s just not going to get the job done.


Take, for example, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse herd in southern Montana. It is one of the most famous and visible herds in the country — and it is home to a stallion named Cloud, who is probably the most famous wild horse in the world. As such, the Pryor Mountain herd is as useful a symbol as any both of what the BLM can do, and what it refuses to do, in managing the nation’s wild horses. And the current fate of the herd — which today is very much in doubt — offers lessons about the extent of industry control over BLM policies.

On the one hand, the BLM has laudably chosen to avoid those awfuldangerous, helicopter stampedes as it seeks to “manage” the size of the herd. Instead, federal officials are content to use “bait trapping” (where horses are lured by mineral blocks and water) and PZP (a contraceptive injected into horses) to manage the herds. Most wild horse advocates, especially those who recognize that the herds must be managed to some extent, approve of these measures as among the least onerous around.

On the other hand, however, the BLM’s local managers now plan to remove from the Pryor Mountain management area anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of the herd’s young mustangs, a forced diaspora that wild horse advocates say would critically damage the herd’s ability to survive as a genetically-viable group. An easier solution, these advocates say, is simply to open up for the herd’s use some 3,650 acres of “administrative” pastureland at the base of Pryor Mountain, public land, which is … in the control of the BLM and currently unused.

There are other solutions that involve a re-allocation of public land. For example, Ginger Kathrens, of the Cloud Foundation, says the BLM can “push to expand the herd’s designated range into the Custer National Forest at the top of the mountain.” She says that federal and state officials can also try to limit the hunting of mountain lions, who see the wild horses as natural prey. And she’s also in favor of a “phased removal,” which would “avoid genetic compromise” and the trauma the horses face when they are chased and penned.

You get the idea. Portrayed as zealots by BLM officials, harried by livestock lobbyists, most wild horse advocates concede that the horses must be managed to reduce overpopulation. They acknowledge that the herds cannot be allowed to breed without limitation. And they point to many reasonable ways in which the wild horses can be fairly and adequately managed on the range to save taxpayers the cost of holding them in brutal pens. But it takes two to tango. And the BLM won’t force the powerful cattle industry to come to the dance floor.


The main reason so many of America’s wild horses are on the public dole today is because the industries who want to maintain their “welfare ranching” privileges have put pressure on federal and state lawmakers and bureaucrats to rid the range lands of the herds. That’s why Guilfoyle sounds so trite when she complains about the cost of keeping the wild horses penned. The horses wouldn’t be penned to begin with, and they wouldn’t cost much at all to maintain, if the BLM simply stood up to the industries it is supposed to regulate.

Doesn’t this scenario sound familiar? Federal and state policy and priorities, fueled by corporate influence, have essentially created a new form of federal beneficiary, the nation’s beloved wild horses. And the very same people who have created this class of welfare recipients now are complaining about the costs of protecting the class from destruction — or are actively seeking to destroy the class by making horse slaughter an American institution once again. This is raw political and economic power at its worst.

What do you suppose would happen if Salazar, Guilfoyle, and company mustered up the courage to say to the ranchers and miners and livestock lobbyists: “You can’t have it both ways. You cannot reap the economic benefit from grazing on cheap public land — a form of corporate welfare that Washington doesn’t talk much about — without bearing the economic costs of protecting reasonable herd numbers or of caring for the horses that must be dispossessed of their native range lands.”

What would happen would be nothing. Not without new leadership at the Interior Department. Not with livestock advocates masquerading as neutrals on the Advisory Board. Not without a renewed legislative commitment to protect the horses. The fact is there are millions of acres of available land upon which the horses may roam, our mustangs represent a tiny fraction of the animals that graze upon that land, and the American people are now being forced to pay for the results of a corporate welfare policy they neither agree with nor know much about.

Click (HERE) to visit the Atlantic and to Comment

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for 60 Minutes. He is also chief analyst and legal editor for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation’s leading legal analysts and commentators. More

20 replies »

    I listened to most of the two days of the WH&B advisory board meeting and heard over and over that they are planning for wide-spread “emergency” round-ups of the wild horses and burros right away because of the drought conditions that have supposedly caused widespread forage and water issues on the HMAs. Basically these “emergency” roundups are just a front/excuse to round up as many WH&B as they want, when they want without public input or even notification (this is historically documented). These supposed emergency drought roundups were a MAJOR topic at the meeting.
    So… knowing that the BLM has proven in the past that they do not understand numbers, I thought I would research for myself the historical precipitation data of the mid-Nevada area and picked Winnemucca since that area is near the center of the state and near the upcoming proposed Jackson Mt. HMA wild horse capture. Here is what I found on the National Weather Service (NOAA) website.
    2012 current precipitation is 75% of “average” (normal).
    2011 164% of normal
    2010 96% of normal
    2009 86% of normal
    2008 73% of normal
    2007 74% of normal
    2006 128% of normal
    2005 109% of normal
    2004 67% of normal
    2003 90% of normal
    2002 73% of normal
    In order for anything to be considered normal or average there must be ups and downs and 75% of normal with two more months of precipitation ahead of us (see NOAA) is not a drought. If there are any forage or water shortages on the HMAs it is because these resources have been sold right out from under the noses of the legally designated Wild Horses and Burros (and you and me) by guess who … the BLM.
    PS Today I took another look at the NOAA site and the precipitation through April – it is up one point to 76%. Willl BLM ever learn that one plus one does not equal eleven?


    • Grandma Gregg,
      Several of my friends who are volunteers working to help our beautiful wild mustangs and burros in their fight to survive, as well as thoroughbreds and other ht orses in danger of being sent to slaughter. We love your comments here and would love to have your assistance at least with regards to the wild mustangs. We are a group who met on Zenyatta’s Diary and found we are all passionate about saving horses in peril. You could check us out on our web page, or facebook or e-mail me.

      Sincerely hopeful,
      Doris McQuiddy, Vice President
      Equi-Army-No Days Off (EANDO)
      http://www.equi-army-no days
      facebook: Skip EAN (Skip is our President)


  2. They complain about everything!….and in the last ditch effort of justification for murder of our wild equines, other wildlife, water and public lands….they have the arrogance to b*tch about the costs to get the final solution….sloppy mass euthanasia, pit graves and slaughter for profit resulting in NO MORE WILD EQUINES and those PESKY ACTS like the WHB ACT of 1971.

    The cow town priests and land sucking trollz have been butchering the Act, wild life and OUR land ever since Nixon signed it.


  3. There is a very specific reason Guilfoyle, Salazar et al, picked Callie Hendrickson to this board–she is to be the one to push forward the slaughter agenda for our wild horses in holding. And I bet she is also gonna be pushing for a lot of “emergency” removals too.


  4. Tom Gorey states that cattle production is down 30% since 1971…wild horse numbers are double that and maybe even triple…in 1971 we had 65,000 free roaming wild horses in 10 states…We here all know the facts. But for those who don’t, many of those states don’t even hold horses anymore and what is out on the range in NV (home to most) is near 8,000! WHAT A FARCE! No one is buying the propaganda anymore…with the advent of the internet we can share information faster than a NY minute whereas before the internet it took weeks and often it was too late by the time other advocates found out, weeks or sometimes months later…

    BLM’s agenda always has been….. in this order….. Protect welfare ranching for rolex cowboys, clear out areas for mining and oil exploration, move horses out of area’s that have water so livestock can have it, get rid of horses AND BURROS (TX) and replace them with big horn sheep for the hunting factions that contribute heavily to the GOP can you say Safari Club international, and sneak as many to slaughter as per ‘estray’ labeling, and when that fails involve the Dept of AG, and Fish and wildlife services to do your dirty work!

    Oh and lets not forget the feed bill. While the price of hay and gas continues to rise, by having these horses out on the range would drop the hay for domestic horse/burro and livestock owners. I don’t know about the rest of you but I have long since been tired of being slapped in the face and raped over the coals! I don’t buy into BLM propaganda and trust them about as far as I can spit…and that ain’t even 3 feet!


  5. http://thecloudfoundation.file
    Draft – For Internal Use OnlyBLM Wild Horse and Burro ProgramAlternative Management Options“The hypocrisy of the BLM Advisory Board continues with the appointment of Callie Hendrickson,” states Hilary Wood, President/Founder of FRER. “This isn’t a case of the fox guarding the hen house. It’s the fox in the hen house about to cause more death and destruction.”Hendrickson joins James Stephenson of south-central Washington, a consultant for the Yakama Nation who, in June of 2011, was appointed by Secretary Salazar to represent Natural Resource Management on the Board. At the October Board Meeting, Stephenson spoke in favor of horse slaughter for the Yakama Indian Tribe and for wild horses removed from their homes on public range lands in the West by the BLM.“Is BLM paving the way for the massive destruction of wild horses in holding?” asks Susan Sutherland, economist and wild horse adopter. “It appears they are stacking the Advisory Board with people who may be quite willing to support the killing of healthy animals currently in holding areas. It’s clear they’ve been thinking of doing this for years.”Sutherland refers to the minutes of secret meetings held by BLM officials in 2008. Minutes of these meetings came to light in 2009 when Dr. Pat Haight, President of the Conquistador Equine Rescue and Advocacy Program, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to acquire the documents.BLM officials talked of ways to avoid NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) compliance, clean water standards, and Congressional oversight. The need for psychological counseling for employees ordered to kill healthy wild horses was raised as well. When asked about these meetings, BLM denied any plan to destroy wild horses in holding.“Instead of releasing wild horses back to their legal homes, BLM seems to be setting the stage for a lethal solution,” states Craig Downer, lifelong wild horse advocate and author of the just released book, The Wild Horse Conspiracy. “The agency needs to stop the senseless and costly helicopter roundups of the last of the mustangs and come up with a sustainable plan that includes the return of horses in holding to areas emptied of all horses over the past 30 years.”


  6. It seems like a wild horse advocate, perhaps Carol Abel, Debbie Coffey, or Cindy McDonald, already pointed out that there are fewer cows on some ranges; however, the ones that remain are being kept on the range longer outweighing cows in the past by some 300 to 400 pounds. These super cows need a lot more forage.


  7. mr. cohen is one of my heros. God bless him and Mr. fitch too! i feel as if my country has been invaded by a foreign power with the blm,doi murdering, imprisoning and tormenting our wild horses. it seems so hopeless to me right now.


  8. Andrew Cohen has written an intelligent and well researched article. It screams the truth about the BLM and the ridiculous excuses that they use to have roundups and to continue to decimate our wild horse and burro herds.
    Thank you Mr. Cohen for your advocacy on behalf of the horses and burros!


    • Yet nothing can be done or is done while the murderous US equine chomping machine rolls merrily along?….I watched a documentary on the plight of the European Jews during WW2 and how American Jews tried to get Roosevelt to pay attention and just DO something. ABSOLUTELY TRAGIC!

      I realize humans are more important than animals, but I tell you….the political BULLSH*T is EXACTLY the same….same abhorrent, immoral human behavior by our leaders and government.

      Will we collectively EVER learn the lessons of history?


      • I’m as frustrated as you are Denise. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get our law makers off their butts to do anything about anything.


      • The BLM has a tragic history in our nation’s history. It is a flawed organization from their origins and unfortunately they have never been on the side of wild horses. I see no sign they plan on changing anytime soon. Think of an obstinate, old cattle rancher–that is the BLM.


  9. If the wild horses had been left them alone in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Proper management could have taken this in an opposite direction, one with less cost while protecting the future of our herds. Disgusting how the freedom of our wild horses are being lost, while insulting the taxpayers to pay for their actions. Where is our voice and why isn’t it being heard?!


  10. Comments are needed at THE ATLANTIC. The anti-WH&B crowd are commenting. We need to speak up and speak out….just like Declan.


  11. “It’s tricky, and it’s hard,” Guilfoyle said last fall in an interview shortly after she assumed her post. “There are a lot of emotions around it, a lot of different opinions.” Indeed, there are. – Not so tricky if the LAWS were obeyed. The Free Roaming Wild Horse/Burro Act clearly states : 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, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands. The law has been broken, ignored, circumvented (along with NEPA laws!) and these welfare ranchers, and other corporate interests that are decimating OUR PUBLIC lands forget that these lands belong to the American people, not them. These horses are not overpopulated, they don’t have years to be political pawns, they ARE IN DANGER OF GENETIC VIABILITY. NOAA precipitation data proves this talk of “drought” in Nevada is a lie and if the mustangs weren’t cut off from THEIR water sources on THEIR legal domain there would be no water problem. DOI/BLM’s mission is genocide and the justice department turns a blind eye. The American people are being robbed of their PUBLIC lands and heritage species. Fossil evidence proves these horses are native species, they were here forever, nurturing the land and roaming free. Salazar needs to be fired not only for this genocide but his complicity in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the BLM needs to be dismantled, investigated, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – they are in violation of their mandate and worse. The future of these wild horses/burros needs to be turned over to qualified advocates that come from scientific background not a bunch of pro-slaughter rancher mouthpieces and Salazar’s puppets. 7 million welfare cattle (only 1.5-3% of nation’s beef supply)/sheep grazing and destroying OUR PUBLIC lands (GAO reports prove this) are taxpayer subsidized to the tune of $500 million annually, along with BLM’s 1.1 billion dollar budget is ludacris ($41 million on fertility control for an endangered species!). It’s hard alright. Hard to swallow the squandering of our tax dollars used for genocide and prospering of special interests raping our PUBLIC lands. Wild horses/burros in the wild cost the taxpayer zero and PUBLIC LAW 92-195 says that’s were they are supposed to be!


  12. the lonely expanses of wild lands are just waiting for our wild mustangs to be RELEASED back out there where they belong, far enough away from traffic and meddling blm. they will find the water as long as blm and their cattle cronies don’t lock them away from it for the cattle.


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