BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program in a Death Spiral

Open Letter by Author Terry Farley

“BLM’s wild horse and burro math is statistically bizarre…”

As a journalist, I first interviewed BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program staffers in 1976, shortly after I moved to Nevada. Since then, I’ve followed the program’s death spiral.

Those who say wild horses and burros ruin the range claim there are too many of them, and yet there’s little agreement about how many wild equines remain on America’s public lands.

BLM’s wild horse and burro math is statistically bizarre. Even the National Academy of Sciences, charged by BLM to analyze the program (2013) concluded: “The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros …”

NAS warned “continuation of business-as-usual practices will be expensive and unproductive for BLM and the public it serves.” Worse, NAS pointed out that BLM’s lack of science has actually backfired on its stated goal of protecting the range.

BLM’s reaction? Keep paying independent contractors to chase, trap and corral the West’s remaining wild horses and offer $10 million to anyone who found a new means of mustang birth control.

BLM asked for a new method because PZP “didn’t work,” ignoring recent science and BLM personnel who admitted that — counter to instructions – contraceptives are not always kept frozen or even cold in the field.

Band dynamics: During round-ups, family bands are shattered, routinely divided into stallions, mares and contractor-determined weanlings. Horses are prey animals. They know safety is with the band and the resulting cacophony and blood of these separations is haunting. Fewer than 2 percent are ever reunited.

Injury: Compare injection site abscess to BLM documentation of a single round-up in which 113 mustangs died. Death from shattered pelvises, broken necks, skulls and spine were sometime attributed to natural causes or pre-existing conditions. Those diagnoses would strain my credulity even if I hadn’t been there.

If you still oppose contraception, please consider this: Proponents of selling wild horses without limitation have made in-roads at BLM and those who’d destroy mustang captives as they stand in government pens have visited the White House.

The extermination of a Western icon is near, and your choice can hasten or slow its approach.

PZP is reversible. Death is final.

12 comments on “BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program in a Death Spiral

  1. Thank you Terry Farley for writing on this topic after last week’s trouncing article of PZP. Common sense must prevail and advocates must come together before mustangs are gone forever because advocates worked AGAINST each other. This is not the time to dig your heels in and not budge when a simple step to meet in the middle is needed. The undermining of advocate groups that are actually out on the range using the time and means to keep mustangs free is truly heart-breaking. The Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocate Group is one example of the damage that a large well known entity put these particular herds at risk for round-up and now this advocate group is fighting to reverse the decision that put these horses at risk. The advocates of the Pine Nut mustangs are all trained to dart, they are expert marksman as many of their prior professions demanded it as part of the job description. They are horsewomen and men, they keep records of the horses, they educate the people living in the area as well as educate many around the world. SWAT is another example of a dedicated advocate group as well as the Salt Water River Horses group, Pryor Mustang Center and Oregon mustang photographers that know these herds inside and out. We should all respect these groups as they are ACTIVELY ENGAGED in advocacy for the mustang. I know there are others out there that I’m not aware of as well as well as individuals tirelessly day after day not wanting glory but there only goal is keeping mustangs wild. So those of us that are far from these scenes should respect these women and men (but mostly women) and the knowledge and expertise they have all accumulated by their hours on the ground fighting for this worthwhile cause.
    Maybe others can name groups I haven’t mentioned or individuals as well. So thank you again Terry Farley for advocating common sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s very sad to see the state of this country deteriorate so quickly. And the Wild Hoses and Burros are front and center at the deterioration of that Freedom. We do not need roundups or birth control for our Horses and Burros on BLM land! What we need is honest people working in the offices of the BLM. The horses and Burros were given the rights to over 33 million acres of that land in 1973! Similar to the Indian tribes being given reservations! What the BLM is doing is against the law of that designated land, it’s as simple as that. The Horses and Burros have the first rights to that land. Not the contractors and global multi national businesses that want to exploit the lands resources for personal profit. I think that we need to look into to suing the BLM for not following the law passed in 1973. Further it is very important that birth control not be used on wild horse and burro bands. The research that I have been doing shows that the damage to the mares fertility is massive, as well as affecting the cohesiveness of the family band. It’s clearly a bad idea. I have spent time in the desert lands camping and have noticed there are less horses and burros every year. It is my guess that the numbers are skewed. In the natural world animals will only breed and survive within the limits of available forage and water. From what I can see there are not too many Hoses and Burros but instead too many cattlemen and multinational corporations who want to profit from the land designated for the Horse nd Burro bands. Additionally I think that it is entirely possible that where ever cattlemen are supplementing their cattle with hay on the BLM Horses and Burros range, the Horses and Burros are being inadvertently “fed” which would lead to the Horses and Burros staying in that area of the range! Hence it would look like there were more Horses and Burros on the range itself than reality. I love this country and the spirit of the original law was that the Wild and Free Horses and Burros represented the Freedom of all Americans to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness!

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    • Jamie, it is important we all understand that our wild horses and burros were not “given” land in the way you described, but rather allowed to exist in some areas only generally described in 1971, and in those areas only they would be protected and allowed “principal” but not exclusive use of the resources they need. Pretty much all public lands (BLM, USFS, NPS etc.) are to be managed for “multiple use” to varying degrees, and this does include extractive industries and livestock grazing as well as pathways for federal agencies to sell off lands as they see fit and can justify.

      Feeding livestock on permit areas as you mentioned should be documented and reported, it isn’t supposed to happen without express (more or less emergency) permission.

      Our public lands are in the crossfires from all sorts of private, for-profit interests right now, so “we the people” must dig deeper and consider the degree of importance public access to public lands (and the public resources including wildlife and wild horses and burros) are to each of us, and stand up and speak up at every turn for what we believe is important.

      For example, take a look at the feral hog problem in the US — there are over 6 million feral hogs running rampant in every state but two now, and causing many millions of dollars in damages. They reproduce very quickly (a single sow can produce more piglets in a single year than a horse can in a lifetime) yet where is the outcry against these undeniably feral, dangerous, disease-carrying and rapidly expanding omnivores? Under 100,000 total wild horses on and off the range by even the highest estimates are in the crosshairs even on their legal homelands, and yet 6,000,000 feral hogs get almost no attention. Why? Does anyone reading this want to travel to see bands of wild hogs in the woods instead of wild herds on the range? If you do, stay close to your car!

      Stand up and speak up, and soon. The stakes today could not be higher.

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  3. I wanted to add that unfortunately the current President Donald Trump is looking into making the National Parks smaller! The current President is a developer, it looks like he wants to allow developement on lane he decides is no longer part of the National Park system! Hence the Horse and Burro bands staying on the land is incredible important to We The People! There is no way the the Peoples National Parks or BLM land should be taken away from US All. Our Wild Horses and Burros are literally guarding the gate for us right now. Once they get rid of them, the land will be exploited by multinational companies mining and developement. We have only to look at the Canadian mining company bringing no jobs to the pristine upper peninsula of Michigan but destroying the beauty and grabbing the resources of that beautiful land. There are small lakes and woodland animals are risk as well. Who benefits from this? Not the people, animals, waterways of Michigan or the a people of the United States!

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  4. The Bureau of Land Management management appears to be not only anti-mustang but anti-science. This is astonishingly stupid. There is no justification for a round-up program.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is what happens when a federal program is run on apathy. I love how some BLM employees insist that PZP “doesn’t work”. Of course it works when used properly. The thing is it requires people to manage wild horses on the ground as opposed to behind a desk or in a helicopter. It is actual WORK. If you can find time to operate a cattle ranch you can take out a few hours to accurately document herds (instead of using guesstimates) and dart a few mares if deemed necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Terri, once again you shot straight and true. It’s time to put this childish argument about PZP behind us. Either you support the groups on the ground helping to keep mustangs on the land, and support on-range management sense which includes fertility darting, or else you need to take responsibility for the death spiral of failed “sancuaries”, BLM roundups, removals and eventual slaughter of our beloved wild equines. Here’s the answer to the false facts about PZP: http://www.animalfertilitycontrolvaccine.org/fact_checking_false_alarms_about_wildlife_fertility_control

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  7. PZP has been and continues to be used in the Little Bookcliffs wild horse area in western Colorado. It is administered by trained volunteers. They rarely gather (do you ever see horses from this HMA on the IA’s?).

    The horses look healthy. Their bands wander peacefully together across 36,000 acres of sagebrush and juniper.

    It is CERTAINLY better than imprisoning them for life in corrals.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have been reading today as much info as I can find on the bill that is changing the law which protects our wild horses and burros. By categorizing them as work animals and therefore changing their destiny is unacceptable. It seems as though this is a back door method of eliminating many wild horses and burros instead of them living as they have for many, many years, wild and free. I will call those in Washington who have added this Section 116 to the spending bill, and tell them that this section needs to be taken out of the bill immediately. I was heartened when I read info from HSUS yesterday, thinking our animals, the wild horses and burros, were finally going to be left alone to live their lives freely in our western states, and no longer be subjected to horrendously cruel helicopter round-ups resulting in their ultimate demise. Enough is enough, let our wild horses and burros alone. Their population does not need to be “managed” by our government, it needs to be protected from them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • How is a wild animal a “work” animal? Where is the demand for wild “work” animals and how large is it? If it even exists, why isn’t the demand shared among deer, elk, bison, and moose as well? A tame bison would surely be a more useful work animal for many if one spent the significant time needed to tame one. One also has to wonder how many draft horses are running free in our wild herds? Answer: practically none, only mix bloods created when people intentionally released draft stock into the public herds.

      Burros work the world over, but there are only a few thousand left in the American wilds, they reproduce slowly, and can be remarkably unwilling to be trained. Again, where is the demand, and who is hoping to profit by this?

      Commodification and commercialization is directly opposed to both the intent and letter of the 1971 Act. The 1971 Act prohibits commercial use of wild horses and burros or any products made from them, so how can this even be legal?

      I am astonished this curious idea is getting any traction at a national level when there are much more pressing matters of grave concern for our country going unaddressed.

      Liked by 1 person

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