Carol Walker: “Seeing these horses out in the wild and then seeing them in a holding pen, it will break your heart,”
“FYI, we do not agree with the numbers or BLM propaganda that appears here but we hope that the comments made by Suzanne and Carol speak to the hearts and souls of the American public.” ~ R.T.
CAÑON CITY, Colo. — The herd of wild horses clopped cautiously toward the strangers in their pen. A chestnut mustang leaned in for a closer look, sniffing and snorting curiously. Another inched backward, her black eyes flashing with fear.
For many, this would be their first outside human contact, beyond the workers who feed them at this 80-acre holding facility 100 miles southwest of Denver.
“They have all their needs met here. Except their freedom,” said Fran Ackley, who oversees the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program in Colorado. “I can’t say if they want it or not.”
Long an iconic totem of the American frontier, the tens of thousands of wild horses who roam across forgotten stretches of the rural West are at the heart of an increasingly tense dispute over their fate.
The bureau says their numbers continue to grow at an unmanageable rate, despite years of removing wild horses from the range to enclosed pastures so that wildlife and livestock can share the land.
Horse advocates contend that the government’s approach has not only failed, but is also needlessly cruel. And they say the horses should be able to live out their lives freely.
Despite deep differences on how the animals should be managed, both sides agree on one thing: The situation has reached a tipping point.
These days, the temporary holding facilities and long-term pastures where many wild horses end up are nearing capacity or full. And the cost of caring for them has ballooned over the past decade.
“We’re looking at critical mass,” said Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the bureau. “The fact is we can’t be in a position of gathering horses that we can’t take care of. The capacity issue is staring us in the face.”
The question of what to do with the animals — descendants of United States Cavalry horses, workhorses and horses brought here by Spanish settlers — has confounded the federal government for decades.
In an effort to maintain a stable population, while also preserving public land, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, allowing the bureau to remove “excess” wild horses from the range.
But with virtually no natural predators, herds typically double every four years. Currently, about 37,300 wild horses and burros roam across federal rangeland in 10 Western states, about 11,000 more than what the bureau deems manageable.
Each year, the bureau conducts roundups to thin the population. Low-flying helicopters drive the animals into traps before they are taken to holding facilities and permanent pastures.
The roundups have long been criticized by horse advocates as inhumane and dangerous.
“Their entire approach is wrong. The B.L.M. puts all its emphasis on removing and stockpiling horses as opposed to managing them on the range,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “There needs to be a more humane way, a more cost-effective way of managing these animals.”
Photos taken by advocates of a recent roundup in northern Nevada appear to show several confused horses stumbling into a barbed wire fence. Another shows a wrangler with a foal slung across his saddle. Advocates said the animal collapsed after being stampeded for miles. (continued…)
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