Horse News

Groups seek protection for North American Wild Horses under Endangered Species Act

Misclassification of wild horses as a non-native species is politically, not scientifically driven,”

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

June 10, 2014 – Friends of Animals (FoA) and The Cloud Foundation have filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list North American wild horses on public lands as threatened or endangeredunder the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WHBA), which was passed in 1971, has failed to protect our wild horses. Six states have already lost their wild horse populations—Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Misclassification of wild horses as a non-native species is politically, not scientifically driven,” said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “Wild horses are severely endangered but without recognition of current scientific evidence of their native status, they could become extinct.”

In the early 1900s, two to five million wild horses freely roamed across America, says Jenni Barnes, staff attorney, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.

“Now there are less than 35,000 on public lands, where they are supposed to be protected,” Barnes said. “The petition states that these few remaining horses are divided into even smaller herds, whose populations are so low that they are susceptible to being wiped out completely by a chance event or change in the environment. Instead of protecting these horses, or just leaving them alone, a government agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), plans to remove even more horses from the range with expensive and cruel tactics, such as helicopter driving.”

BLM is obligated, under WHBA, to protect wild free-roaming horses as an “integral part of the natural system of public lands.”  BLM claims that wild horses need to be removed from public lands to protect rangeland health. However the vast majority of public lands is open to livestock grazing, which causes far more damage to the land.

“The tragedy of horse roundups exists because the BLM appears devoted to turning arid western public lands into feedlots for cows and sheep to appease cattle producers,” said Priscilla Feral, president of FoA. “Friends of Animals finds this morally and ecologically reprehensible, as wild horses are driven off lands to leave the bulk of water, forage and space for two domestic animals owned by ranchers. 

“We oppose the BLM’s scheme of privatizing wild horses and insist all roundups end.”

Most people do not realize that instead of protecting these horses, BLM has rounded up—forcibly driven off the land and put in holding facilities—more than 200,000 horses since the WHBA was passed. And this is not just an issue of importance to American’s living out west.

“Everyone’s tax dollars contribute to the animal abuse caused by roundups and fertility control,” Barnes said. “In the 2013 fiscal year, BLM spent $4.8 million on gathers and removals and spent $46.2 million on holding costs. A report by the National Academy of Science concluded ‘the continuation of business-as-usual practices will be expensive and unproductive for BLM.’” 

From the holding facilities, the horses are not supposed to be sent to slaughter. However, there have been reports that indicate that is what happens when some of them are “adopted.” There is also mounting fear, Friends of Animals says, that the government will start to kill horses in holding facilities, yet another threat pushing wild horses toward extinction.

“Every time the government restricts their habitat or takes them away from the range, it disrupts horses’ social bonds and damages the overall fitness of the herds,” Barnes said. “However, saving wild horses in North America and letting them roam freely could bring balance back to our ecosystems. For example, wild horses can reduce fire risk by eating dry shrubs and help disperse and fertilize plant seeds through their droppings.”

 Friends of Animals and The Cloud Foundation are asking their supporters to contact Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and tell her wild horses on public lands should be listed and protected under the ESA.  She can be reached at Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington DC 20240;

To read the petition, click on the following link:

Petition to List a North American Distinct Population Segment of Wild Horse (Equus caballus) under the U.S. Endangered Species Act

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24 replies »

  1. This is BRILLIANT. There are numerous ‘species of concern’ listed in North America with dwindling numbers that are two-to-three times higher than wild horses. And as little concern for the variant species of wild burros numbering less than 4,000 across the Western states.
    There is a inherent tendency to dismiss wild equines because they are closely identified with – and therefore easily replicated from – their domestic counterparts. Little official study is done that acknowledges their behaviors or social structures and how that contributes to reproductive restraint; that’s left to the ‘average’ citizen – and just as easily dismissed.
    This may be exactly what’s required to compel these agencies to stop the roundups, flip the Program back toward range monitoring and protection, rather than removal as the sole tool of ‘management’.


  2. I really hope it works. Just finished reading the very sad article about the Yakama tribe’s betrayal of their wild horses. That was one of the most horrifying articles I have read in a while. Especially, although not exclusively, the havoc wrecked on the foals. It made me sick to my stomach.


    • When Secretary Salazar resigned, President Obama praised him for his work with the Indian people. Guess this is what he meant.


      • Unfortunately, Obama was appreciative of the work to bring the Indian tribes “into the modern world” by infusing them with white businessmen, government and corporate connections. MOUs for hunting preserves, mining of natural resources, gambling venture capitalists etc.


      • What I see is that Obama is finished what President Clinton put into place through treaties that did not go into effect until President Bush’s term. I don’t know whether President Bush knew there was fraud involved in the treaty or what. This treaty was not ratified until 2000, but President Clinton & Gore knew what would be in it as early as 1996.


      • Yes, work was started, stalled and then with Obama’s nod, gates opened to the flood of casinos, resource brokering and placement of white businessmen on tribal boards and councils as advisors and lightning rods for white and European investors. .

        Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


  3. Please do not leave out the ruthless gelding and proposed experimental spaying of all horses taken off the ranges, fiurther degrading the genetic diversity which only wild horses contribute to the global horse genetic pool. Also add the destruction of adequate records for study of thehorses and their envirpnment and lineages. And thank you for doing this.


      • The actual situation has been reported as it happens at Yakima Orphan Foal Project. This is the group that has solely been responsible for intervening for the sake of the horses as best as they could and getting those babies into solid homes. Join if you are so inclined. Scott Beakstead of HSUS also sparked a huge wave of support last week. Work is ongoing to keep the conversation going. It is important that we keep these efforts to help the horses as close as possible. The larger groups tend to take over and conversations go silent. That is not good.


  4. Secretary Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture will be the critical agency head since the 1997 International Plant Protection Conveention, redraffted by the FAO in 1996 for the purpose of included UN CBD Article 8 (h) within this treaty. Certainly, FWS Director Dan Ashe would be key as well. There are some interesting changes in the 2014 Farm Bill which may mean that the USDA has already altered the listing of the horse as non-native. However, this did not show up in the BLM’s NAS Report, and it should have been there.


  5. Wonder why we simply do not petition to USDA and FWS to remove the horse from the non-native, alien, invasive, animal species of plant pest per international treaty. The treaty is supposed to be based on “sound science” but even at the CABI, their scientific source for the horse being non-native is Hope Ryden’s 1978 Book—which I am sure is good but it is not the level of quality that exists in the gene and taxonomy sites. It is not original research although the non-native horse mythologer may have schooled her about what to write.

    He has been coaching FWS.


  6. Here is part of the problem:

    Adapting to Climate Change on Western Public Lands: Addressing the Ecological Effects of Domestic, Wild, and Feral Ungulates (Excerpt)

    Robert L. Beschta,
    Debra L. Donahue,
    Dominick A. DellaSala,
    Jonathan J. Rhodes,
    James R. Karr,
    Mary H. O’Brien,
    Thomas L. Fleischner,
    Cindy Deacon Williams

    “Excess abundance of native ungulates (e.g., deer or elk) and feral horses and burros add to these impacts.”


    • Louie C this is exactly what I have been warning people about.

      The environmentalists want all horses and other domestically manged animals out of the wild. If they removed the equines they can ban us too. Then no one would actually know what was going on with any of the natural resources.

      I’m not sure we can begin to ever have wild horses declared endangered. One reason is that they would have to be below 2,000 in population world wide and the other is because so many domestics are still being let loose into some of the more accessible herds. If one mare stays on a range for 3 years and has a foal two of those years, then there goes the gene pool. Right now the scientific trend is leaning toward genetic proof as the reason to declare horses wild. When each horse on the range is testing 80% to 90% identifiable known breeds then it is going to be really hard to prove they have a right to be there as wildlife. The Environmental movement knows this. I think the people who set up the Wild Horse and Burro Act knew it to some extent even though true genetic testing was just coming into its own in the 1970s. This is why the wording of the act was “because of their Historic Significance” not because they are a unique subspecies.

      I’ve been researching some of this since last year. One of the things we know is that even if there were true wild horses living on the North American continent continuously since the beginning of time… we don’t have the DNA yet to prove that any of our current wild horses are direct descendent’s. That is the scientific problem. Just recently I found out that the horse most eastern European horses descended from was a Tarpan type horse, including the Prezwalski’s horse. How do they know this? They found the frozen remains of a 10,000 year old horse that threw a monkey wrench into all known theories on wild horse origins. ( April 2014 issue of Equus) Before anyone and everyone was taught that the only wild horses left in the world was the Prezwalski’s horse. But now the genetic truth is out and it has been extinct in the wild since 1996. Now because only zoos and breeding farms are working to preserve this horse it also might be a target if it is released back into the wild.

      I think wild horses need to be saved for a lot of reasons, one of which is that there might be, and probably is, a genetic proof out there that horses brought to the Americas may well have interbred with local wild horses that had no Spanish blood.
      If we remove or kill them all that data could be lost for ever. Even the testing now done on many mustangs by the BLM to determine breed and parentage does show a percentage of unknown or unidentifiable breed origin. It might be enough to actually recover what was once here.

      Making wild horses extinct or nearly extinct for the purpose of preservation will indeed undermine that.


      • Have you read about the Sorria horses? check out Reinhold Oelke’s book, (Hardy Oelke) “Born Survivors…..” It is an older book, and you may disagree with some of the info provided to him by the BLM regarding reported populations, but it is still worth reading and mulling over. That an ancient strain of horse survives in the American West with unique traits.


  7. Why wasn’t this done a long time ago? Why did they wait do long? Do you really expect Salty Jewel to help ore do anything? She has condones this all along. Are the herds still viable?


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