Horse News

My Turn: Is BLM mismanaging wild horses?

OpEd by Paula King as printed in the Taos News

“The fate of New Mexico’s wild horses is at stake…”
photo by Terry Fitch

photo by Terry Fitch

How many New Mexicans realize the damage being done to our state’s wild horse herds by the Bureau of Land Management?

Of the two remaining Wild Horse Management Areas, Jarita has been managed to a point where it is no longer genetically viable. The proposed roundups at Jicarilla, New Mexico’s largest herd, will reduce that herd to a perilous level as well.

In 1971 Congress unanimously passed The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act which states: “… wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West … It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the areas where presently found (1971) as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

Unfortunately, over the years the clout of this progressive, ecologically balanced law has been thwarted by possessive people with strong economic power; 53.8 million acres were designated for wild horse and burro use in 1971; today only 31.6 million remain.

More than 50,000 wild horses and burros languish in long term holding, while some equine authorities estimate the number of free-roaming horses is 20,000.

The fate of New Mexico’s horses is at stake. The BLM Preliminary Environmental Assessment on the Jicarilla Wild Horse Management Area (JMA) proposes the round up of 272-333 wild horses in winter 2013.

Currently the herd is estimated at about 400 horses; BLM’s “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) for this herd is 73-128 horses. The BLM claims, “Excess wild horses need to be removed before an overpopulation compounded with other escalating problems such as drought severely degrade resources, induce suffering in wild horses and wildlife, and lead to an emergency situation.”

However, the scientific data on accurate population counts is questionable.

According to E. Gus Cothran, the leading equine geneticist, the minimum number of horses needed for a herd to be genetically viable is 150-200 adult horses.

The proposed use of helicopters for round up instead of bait trapping is also an issue of concern. Helicopter roundups are inhumane, traumatizing and life threatening assaults. Horses are stampeded over long distances at high speeds, across steep and rocky terrain.

Broken legs and necks are not uncommon. Foals are often run until their hooves separate from their legs. Family units are separated causing even further trauma.

The BLM says that horses will be put up for adoption, however, its fair to say that most of the horses will end up in long-term holding facilities which the BLM admits are already full.

The BLM claims that the round ups are necessary because of rangeland degradation, and place the blame on the overpopulation of horses. Yet, on the 108,000 acre JMA the wild horses share their legal home with 259 Cattle, 201 Elk and 1862 Mule Deer, 562 oil and gas wells, and 121 miles of associated access roads on the herd area. On average each well impacts 3 acres of rangeland. Oil and gas development will most likely increase.

The BLM is charged with balancing multiple uses on Federal Lands. But of the 245 million acres BLM manages, only 11 percent is designated for wild horses and burros, and on those lands only 2 percent of the forage is allocated to wild horses.

Obviously, on land designated for wild horses and burros,  other wildlife, livestock, and oil and gas have been given higher priorities. Our nation’s wild horses have become a scapegoat, victims of greed and special interests.

The Jicarilla Herd now faces the same fate as 160 herds zeroed out by the BLM since 1971. Jarita is already close to extinction. But there is still hope. Public outcry against the roundups is loud but needs to be louder and more widespread. Your input is needed.

Who is to blame? We can blame the BLM for following out-dated, unscientific strategies for population control and rangeland management; the Secretary of Interior for promoting the BLM assault against wild horse and burros; the oil and gas companies for their greed; the ranchers who enjoy the benefit of grazing their livestock cheaply on federal land.

But the bottom line is this.  If our state’s, if our nation’s wild horse herds are managed to extinction as many predict, we have no one to blame but ourselves for not speaking out and taking action.

Click (HERE) to visit the Taos News and to join the Conversation

28 replies »

  1. Thank you, Paula. It is very difficult to know the specifics on each Wild Horse and Burro herd and your insight really helps. Reading the BLM EAs only give the information they want us to know and you summed it up very clearly. Do I understand correctly that the USFS is tied up in this proposed capture and if so can you clarify a bit?

    Do you have the name and email of the field office manager and WH “specialist”? Many of us sent in formal comments on this HMA last week but perhaps further communication with this field manager might help? Any suggestions?

    I know many many people work hard to learn about individual HMAs and share their knowledge – ALL HMAs should have guardian angels like you. Thank you.


    • I wish I could be out there to keep an eye on them. The Farmington BLM office does not have a WH Specialist. The Range Management Specialist handles WH issues. His name is Jeff Tafoya and his email address is I think the more they hear from advocates the better.

      The Jicarilla Management area covers 108,000 acres. The BLM HA consists of both the Carracas Mesa Specially Designated Area, and the Rosa Community Allotment. The Jicarilla Wild Horse Territory is on Carson National Forest and covers 76,000 acres. We were out at Jicarilla on Tuesday with Jeff Tafoya from the BLM and Sean Kelly from Forest Service. Kelly told us that the Forest Service has already trapped 35 horses on the FS side.

      The Jicarilla JMA also borders the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the fences between the two are in bad shape so there is some crossing over.

      The Jarita Herd which I also mentioned is down to 60 horses – at least that’s what I’ve been told. The Forest Service was bait trapping in that area in October and they removed 70 horses.
      I am really worried about that area.


    • The helicopter roundup for the Jicarilla’s has been postponed until 2014!! This was told to Sandi Claypool of Monero Mustangs in Tierra Amarilla, NM. She said also that the bait trapping program was refunded so we are hoping that this also means that Brown’s Ranch in Farmington may be gentling the horses again.


      • I don’t think they’ll come to Bob Browning’s unless the Forest Service moves the pens, which are now in Bloomfield. The Alliance is having a work day at the San Juan County Sheriff’s Posse facility on the 8th to get things ready to receive 4 for gentling. They’ll probably be trailered from Bloomfield. I doubt if they’d come directly off the range to the Posse’s place. They calm down fairly fast once they start to get used to having people (and hay) around.


      • Comment continued (It’s been a looong day!): But I still wouldn’t want to take a chance on getting them before they’ve had a chance to settle.


    • Thanks R.T, for posting my article on your website. What an honor. Hope some folks will comment to The Taos News as well – I’m trying to get them to let me write a series of articles for the wild horse.


      • Everyone…click on the link aboveand swing by the Taos News. It’s all about getting the message out and the more paperboy/girls we have out there the better.


  2. Yes, this is where it is at. It is up to us and we need to develop every strategy we can. It is amazing how many horses have been taken in only a few years right under our noses. Being stonewalled has been difficult. Lawsuits, it turns out, are the slowest process and not thorough enough yet. But the West Douglas herd exists today because of a good and successful lawsuit which has been in place for 3 (?) years. Our wild ones are at risk from their range land homes to the long term holding pastures. None are safe.

    Wither goes the advocacy? I still say we must write new legislation so it is in hand and can be presented and pushed to get past the senate. We seem to have made friends in the house. But the senate is under the influence of powerful regional groups. So we need powerful friends and a sound strategy. If we can use lawsuits to slow the removal machine or stop it then we might have the time to create new law and make it effective and enforceable.

    The roundups have become a spectacle of blood sport. Treatment of the wild ones will not change while the special interests run BLM and the White House.


    • I agree that new legislation must be put in place but in the meantime we need to get out there and raise cain! People need to be educated. I can’t believe how few people have a clue as to what’s happening to our wild horses. Two years ago I didn’t. Linda Hanick enlightened me.
      We really need to get the news out there any way we can.


      • Paula, you have only told part of this story. Why? What about the new group formed who want to see these horses well placed when they come off their range? What about the Jicarilla shooting the horses? What about the the fence that is not going to be rebuilt? This is an HMA only an hour from me. If the horses remain and the fence is not attended to then more horses will been shot when they are on the cattle allotment. When the Forest Service relinquished the herd to BLM this past year and they decided to use the helicopter for a roundup they decided to spend money the program there could have used to do a better job as the Forest Service had been doing with Brown’s ranch and 3 trainers gentling the bait trapped horses and placing them. This was one of the best working programs going. It should not have been discontinued and these horses do need a better place as they will not be welcome when they are eating the tribe’s cattles’ forage.

        This was another elephant in the room and it was time to come out and say what has been going on. I am not sure why you avoided the real issues and did not recognize the people who have been giving you information, ASIDE FROM THE GOVERNMENT. What strikes me oddly is that anyone would want the horses to remain in an already life threatening situation. And I am only scratching the surface of the problems there. I do hope you will be working with the newly formed advocacy group for the Jicarilla wild horses. I intend to give them my support.


  3. The HLN report tonight has helped to get more of the general public informed. Being apathetic is not an option at this point. The more talk shows and news reports that can give more information, the more people will become disgruntled with the BLM and Salazar.


  4. Great job Paula! Your earnestness and willingness to dig and research the issues around wild horses have served you well. You are a fast learner and a tireless advocate that spurs us all to do more.


    • What we are seeing emerge over these past few and more years is that the wild horses and burros have the best chance of survival where the local people have become involved. I am not very pleased with BLM on anything but when the locals put time, energy and their funds behind the care and management of wild horses in their region then I feel that is a success. this has not happened everywhere and will not likely. But this is a way to save lives, bloodlines and wild horse range. In other wide circumstances the BLM is still the enemy. It may be that the answers are to be in each state and region. But the removals and the long term holding and the slaughter sales must end. Lives need to be saved and big decisions on range and horse management still need to be made. We need to be a part of this or we will lose many more horses before this can begin to change for the better. Preparing ourselves to do this is necessary. This is an emergency now.


  5. Mar Wargo knows exactly what she’s talking about. I’m well aware of the danger because I live in San Juan County, where the horses are located. Paula, I hope you remember what we spoke about at the meeting with the BLM. I invite you and other concerned New Mexicans and advocates from nearby states to learn about and support our newly-formed Jicarilla Mustang Heritage Alliance. Together we can create a cooperative program which will change the face of mustang management, training, and adoption in the future.


  6. This is a huge issue. It reminds me of the 7 blind men trying to describe the elephant but I don’t think anyone here is blind. Different people have different roles they can play, and I have to say that anyone in this discussion or on this website has one clear intent – the welfare of wild horses. I’m so new to all this and have much to learn. No one wants to see a horse injured, captured, starved or in any way mistreated. There is no way that one article can address ALL the issues and all the ramifications, but excluding them does not mean that those issues are not also important or ignored by the writer.

    Certainly I support anyone who labors to give mustangs a home. That’s a very important segment that needs to be addressed and I praise those who do. I wish I could take in some mustangs but don’t have the land. And I agree that local involvement is vital. I’d love to be out on the range every week or so to see what’s really going on. I can’t. What I can do is stay abreast of what’s going on, advocate in my writing, try to educate the public and harass my congressmen and the President.

    The Jicarilla Heritage Mustang Alliance does its share by giving a home to those horses rounded up and that in itself is a huge contribution and one for which I am very grateful.

    But let’s not lose track of the fact that the big problem that needs to be addressed is the Department of Interior’s mismanagement of the horses in the first place. I hope that in my lifetime I see Wild Horse Territories where wild horses are protected as endangered species, where they are the highest priority on the land set aside for them, and they are given the respect they’ve earned. I want to see them running free and wild as they should be, living out their lives in their family groups, in balance with nature. I think that’s something all of us strive for, no matter what path we take.


    • Thanks for replying Paula. The Jicarilla wild horses are between a rock and a hard place. If they are not gathered and the fence is not fixed and they remain on this range they are at risk of being shot. They have a unique set of circumstances. They need help and not destruction by BLM. It seems humanity is the biggest predator of these horses; BLM and Apache guns.


  7. I do love the fact that everyone is still in the fight. However, unless you can understand that Agenda 21 has deemed horses and even grazing horses on some privately owned land as unsustainable, then you will not stop the DOI or the BLM. This Agenda 21 was singed into executive order by several presidents – the latest being Obama in 2011 EO13575. The 1997 US Conference of Mayors for Sustainable Communities, The 2001 Governors Association endorsed “Smart Growth” (simplified laws to begin more implementation of Agenda 21, the State Department submission to the 5th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (; and the Trust for Public Land is under DOI with the idea that only their choices (who is their?) of wild animals will be allowed to live on vasts area of lands planned for future “sustainable” areas for farming and wildlife…yes, I am livid. The Senate, Congress, and Legislative Branches have practically accepted a castration because they can do nothing now to stop Agenda 21 unless they figure out that the U.S. has to stop the U.N. from completely making us the U.S. of the U.N. Ok, now, as to the horses, they will not be allowed. Even private property owners may have to give up their horses. If you research this, make sure you don’t accept something that is told to you to keep you from kicking and screaming while you pull the person through the telephone to …well, you get the idea. As to the DOI and the BLM, they are infact not answerable to the American people – and they do get a good laugh at our expense when they give notices and have the conferences. As you have noticed in the past, nothing that has been given to them that are facts has changed their minds. Now, change DOI and BLM and PLEASE PROVE ME WRONG. I don’t mind being wrong or even trying to stop these things from happening – and if they do change then I won’t have to every say these things again.


    • Would Agenda 21 allow people to keep and raise horses as meat animals? If so, that would apply to wild horses roaming public lands as well. Agenda 21 is all-pervasive. U.S. schools have to take it into account re:what and how they teach. The only reason it hasn’t been opposed more vigorously by ordinary people that few know its true implications.


      • Unfortunately, the government does not have to answer to anyone about how they are going to implement Agenda 21 nor how fast or what changes may be made. However, there is some concern over the cost of implementing some of the programs in the “Sustainability” areas. These are the areas that will concern the life and/or death of wild horses and just how fast they can remove them into the total destruction of the wild horse as we now know it. Fortunately, that give some people time to adopt as many horses as possible. But, the sustainability programs may even effect personal property if the government deems the property necessary for urban development. Whatever the heck that means…in other words, I suggest people buy these wonderful creatures, have some sort of farm land that is viable and considered needed for their stupid sustainability programs according to the UN agreement these politicians have made; and pray for the best that the government won’t need your land and you can keep your horses. It’s all about what their future ideas are: and just how they can strategically remove these horses without people kicking and screaming too much about the inability of any senate, congress, or legislative branch to actually stop it. They can defund the programs, but that is just a stalling technique. How they actually can stop it – in my opinion – is stop being a part of the UN program and make the UN understand the the U.S. and it’s allies can not support countries that have millionaires, billionaires and rich government officials while taking our country and selling it piece by piece no matter what the reason is. Also, the dollar is not based on gold any more – it’s based on gold. The stupid thing is the U.S. has sold any oil reserves and natural gas reserves to foreign countries…even if it’s Canada, that does not give us the use of the natural resources. These problems are effecting our horses and the ability to fight for their use of public lands and their migratory needs. These foreign countries are going to take what the gov. allows them to buy and they like the cattle and sheep ranchers, can kill at will, any horse or burro they find on their property. It is the final solution for the horses by a bunch of Naziesk idiots. If you find any answers, let the rest of us know. But do not be fooled, these programs will go forward unless the U.S. pulls out of the Treaties with other nations, and the land will be sold to anyone who has the funds to drill for oil and natural gas while we watch them kill our horses and savage our lands and then charge us for taxes and charge us high prices for the very oil and gas that is ours to begin with. This country has some of the most ignorant politicians I have ever red about. No other country has done this…as far as I know…except for maybe Spain which kills over 5,000 horses per month. As for killing the wild horse on private land that is bought from public lands, don’t be surprised especially if sequestration happens. There will be less money than now, and the horses will be disposed of that are in pens or on leased and private property. I have no answers on how to stop it.


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