Horse News

Unmasking BLM Apologist, Ben Masters

By: Suzanne Roy, Executive Director, American Wild Horse Campaign

“…Masters is no advocate for wildlife or wild horses…”

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Ben Masters made a movie about riding mustangs on a long-distance journey through the West. It’s an apt metaphor, not only for the place of the mustang in the history of America – the horse we literally rode in on – but also on Masters’ career trajectory. He’s using the mustang as his free ride to national attention. Even National Geographic has bought in to his carefully curated image.

But Masters is no advocate for wildlife or wild horses. He’s stated that the only reason he used mustangs in his film, Unbranded, is because they were the cheapest horses he could find that would get the job done. And get the job done they did – carrying him successfully on his 3,000-mile trek from Mexico to Canada and providing him a ticket to his 15 minutes of fame.

To Masters, mustangs are a disposable commodity. That’s why he now advocates for the mass killing of nearly 90,000 of them. Masters’ plan would decimate wild herds, leaving behind the number of wild horses that existed in 1971 when Congress declared these iconic animals to be “fast disappearing” and in need of protection. And it would cause massive suffering…. Tens of thousands of innocent, intelligent and magnificent wild horses would be massacred, entire families could be gunned down

As anyone who has owned a horse knows, there is no way to humanely kill wild horses on this massive scale. “Euthanasia” isn’t a “tool in the toolbox” for wild horse management. It’s a weapon, and Masters and his allies – big game hunters, the National Rifle Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and others – are aiming it right at America’s historic and beloved icons of the West.

Their agenda: to reduce the wild horse population down to extinction levels to maximize grazing for livestock and hunted species on our public lands. This lethal plan is opposed by 80 percent of Americans, while only 6 percent of Americans hunt, and only 2 percent of American beef comes from cattle grazed on public lands.

Here are the top five clues to Masters’ real pro-livestock, pro-hunting, anti-mustang agenda:

Clue #1: Masters refuses to acknowledge the faulty scientific basis of wild horse overpopulation claims.

The claims of wild horse overpopulation are based on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM imposed wild horse and burro population limits, misleadingly called the “Appropriate” Management Levels (AMLs)). Masters and others repeatedly and misleadingly refer to this as the carrying capacity of the land for wild horses.

Carrying capacity is a scientific term for the number of horses the land can sustain. But there’s no science behind the BLM’s AMLs. Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), in a 2013 report, said about the subject:

  • “The committee could not identify a science-based rationale used by BLM to allocate forage and habitat resources to various uses within the constraints of protecting rangeland health and listed species and given the multiple-use mandate” (p. 267).
  • “How AMLs are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change” (p. 11).
  • “AMLs are a focal point of controversy between BLM and the public. It is therefore necessary to develop and maintain standards for transparency, quality, and equity in AML establishment, adjustment, and monitoring” (p. 11).

In reality, AMLs have nothing to do with carrying capacity of the land for wild horses. Instead, these population limits represent the number of horses the BLM has decided to allow to live in designated areas of public lands after allocating more than two-thirds of available forage to private livestock. Masters has a degree in wildlife science, but you won’t hear him talking about the lack of science behind his wild horse overpopulation claims.

Clue #2: He scapegoats wild horses for range damage caused by livestock.

Here are some facts about livestock and wild horses that you won’t hear Masters utter, even though they have been brought to his attention numerous times:

As wildlife biologist Erik Mulvar once said, “Suggesting that wild horses are a problem for sage grouse [threatened western bird], while ignoring the comparatively massive impacts of cattle and sheep, is a bit like suggesting that the captain of the Titanic should be worried about the ice cubes in his passengers’ cocktails rather than the icebergs floating in the North Atlantic.”

The West doesn’t have a wild horse overpopulation problem. It has a cattle and sheep overpopulation problem, but you won’t hear Masters, a self-avowed conservationist, utter a word about that.

Clue #3: He misrepresents the viability of alternative management options.

Predators: Masters and his hunting and ranching/hunting allies repeatedly claim that wild horses have no natural predators. But their mantra is  disproven by science. As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Philipps writes in his new book, Wild Horse Country, “Horses do have natural predators, and mountain lions can have a significant impact on wild horse populations.”  But in most areas of the West, mountain lion populations are decimated by sport hunting and the ranching industry, which benefits from a free federal predator-killing program that removes mountain lions, coyotes, and other native carnivores from public and private lands where livestock graze.

Masters aims to restore “a thriving natural ecological balance” on the range by rounding up and slaughtering tens of thousands of wild horses and burros. But as anyone with a basic knowledge of biology knows, there can be no thriving natural ecological balance in the absence of predators. However, you won’t hear Masters – the self-proclaimed wildlife advocate and environmentalist — pressing for their protection.

Fertility Control: In 2013, the NAS recommended that the BLM use fertility control as an alternative to its current practice of rounding up and removing wild horses from the range and storing them in holding pens and pastures. The NAS called that practice “expensive and unproductive for the BLM and the public it serves,” and concluded that the roundups were making the situation worse by “facilitating high rates of population growth,” which “maximizes the number of animals which must be removed through holding facilities.”

The PZP fertility control vaccine has 30 years of peer-reviewed science showing that it is 97 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in inoculated wild mares. Yet, in a recent article, Masters claims the vaccine’s efficacy is just 20 percent.

Clue #4: He claims that wild horses are an invasive species, despite established science showing that the horse is a native, reintroduced North American wildlife species.

The ancestry of wild horses inhabiting the remote areas of the West today can be traced  to the horses brought to this continent over five centuries ago by Spanish explorers. Hunters and ranchers use this history to slap the “feral” label on mustangs in an effort to delegitimize their presence on the Western range. But according to renowned paleontologist Ross MacPhee, Curator of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the term “feral” has no biological significance. It is not a scientific term; rather, it describes a species’ relationship to humans.

Dr. MacPhee says that the fact that wild horses’ ancestors were once domesticated “doesn’t change the fact that all horses today are the same species” – and that the species evolved on this continent. He continues, “There is (no mammal) more American, that is still with us today, than horses.” In correct scientific terms, wild horses are a native, reintroduced North American wildlife species, but you won’t hear Masters, a self-proclaimed wildlife expert, acknowledge that fact.

Clue: #5 He thinks killing tens of thousands wild horses “is not a fun topic to discuss” but advocates for it anyway, against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans.

Masters stands behind his recommendation, as a member of the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, that the agency kill or sell for slaughter many of the 43,000 wild horses and burros in holding facilities and the 46,000 (wrongly) considered to be “excess” on the range. At this month’s Advisory Board meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, Masters made a recommendation that the BLM phase out long-term holding pastures for wild horses in three years. What would happen to the 32,146 wild horses currently housed in those pastures? “They would be destroyed,” he replied. But when he attempted to explain his recommendation in an online post, Masters declined to discuss how his recommendation would be carried out. How exactly does one kill 32,146 wild horses? Instead of facing up to the ghastly implications of his recommendations, he punts, moving on because it “is not a fun topic to discuss.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothes

Ben Masters fancies himself a conservationist in the tradition of Robert Redford, while he promotes the anti-environment agenda of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Rifle Association, and Safari Club International. But we all know Robert Redford and what he stands for. Of America’s horses, Redford states:

“America is the home of the horse. People come to America to find freedom, and the horse helped us build this free nation. We are not a horse-eating culture; we are a horse-loving people. To kill the horse is simply un-American. We as a people are ready to implement solutions for the challenges facing our wild iconic mustangs as we provide education and sanctuaries which support respect and a good life for all of America’s horses.”

Ben Masters is no Robert Redford. He’s no horse whisperer. As a mouthpiece for the ranching and hunting industries, Masters puts an appealing face on the horrific plan to destroy tens of thousands of American mustangs. But if you look behind the carefully crafted image, his real agenda becomes apparent. It’s not the agenda of the American public. Nor is it the intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act , a unanimously passed Act of Congress, that designated America’s mustangs and burros as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” to be protected “from capture, branding, harassment, or death” as “an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

Note of thanks to Ellie Phipps Price, AWHC board president and founder of Montgomery Creek Ranch Preserve, and Kat Wilder, Colorado writer and wild horse advocate, for their contributions to this piece.

12 replies »

  1. Its so appauling and disgusting! I am not surprised when Trump and the others approve the mass killings of mother bears and their.babies as they sleep in their dens! This Adminstration along with its dim whitted group of Thugs are destroying OUR country! Why are the VOICES of 80% of Americans not heard while the minority dictate the death of our animals and our environment? How the hell did it get this way? Well a check of our voting records tells it all!
    If every animal advocate got to the polls and took 1 other person we might nit be here! So what are OUR options?

    1. Fight like hell for our horses and their environment!

    2. Call our illustrious Congressional members OVER and OVER (especially those in Red states) demanding a reversal of these murderious actions! And don’t take NO for an answer! They work for US we do not work for them!

    3. VOTE Democratic if your rag head Republican supports these mass killings! WE MUST change the tone in Washington all the way down to the states and local governments. Sound like a hard task? Just think about the animals to be murdered for the will of the minority. This is not at all what our fore fathers envisioned!

    Wake up America its your choice! Its all in our hands! To let live or die!


  2. Wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems but Masters ignores this basic fact. 70% of the herds are not even genetically viable . There is no over-population–just BLM BS . PZP is not necessary and has not stopped roundups-they must be stopped. Roundups are against the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. For years many have called for a Congressional investigation of the BLM, it is way past due. Who in D.C. would have the courage ?


  3. This should be news to anyone, I was one of the fist to screen that so called documented “Branded” I walked out of it within 20 minutes. It was nothing more then another endeavor to highlight abusive natural horsemanship’s lack of skills, horse abuse to the highest degree and what I found out later even the death of one of the horses on the trip. He bases his income out of the University of Montana Bozeman who has has one of the largest groups of anti wild horse advocates in the country. Even this article gives him more undeserved publicity then he deserves.


    • Considering the lies & falsehoods handed out by not only BLM, but the FS – how likely is it that there ARE 4,000 wild horses in Devils Garden – PLUS the 5,000-6,000 cows? I know this is not a small area BUT thats an awful large number of animals plus any wildlife! Its interesting that only 192 have been rounded up – after how many days??? I hope this herd has good places to hide!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is not possible to achieve a “thriving natural ecological balance” that includes non-native introduced livestock, period. Everything else is smoke and mirrors, blood money and blood-stained hands.

    Anyone who could vote to kill thousands of “protected” animals should be required to watch as every single one dies and the public (who pays for all this) watches them on live cameras.

    That Masters knows better is even more repulsive.

    (PS it’s Erik Molvar, not Mulvar, and it’s important to recognize that Sage Grouse and wild horses co-evolved on this continent. Fences harm both species in well-documented ways. Removing livestock and their endless cross-fences on public lands would improve conditions all around).

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Great expose about Ben Masters and his sinister plot to destroy America’s last relatively few remaining wild horses and wild burros IN THE WILD, i.e. living naturally on our public lands and adjacent appropriate habitats. There is just one item I do not go along with and that is the use of PZP, as it has many detrimental effects both on the short and long term survival of the equids who are darted that should not be ignored. As many of you know, I advocate for Reserve Design and for restoring the wild equids to a much larger and more truly appropriate long-term viable habitat and reducing the bullies’ stranglehold on the public lands and their grazing, water, and other resources necessary for the wild horses and burros to make a comeback. Check out my website that has a link to my Reserve Design project.


  7. Great essay on the Ben Masters ruse. It should also be noted that he is supported by Protect the Harvest the overall funder/supporter of all of these cattlemen endeavors, they are in the credits for his so-called documentary.


  8. Thank you Suzanne (et al), for this excellent statement. It may be time for ‘torches and pitchforks’ soon… what’s it going to take for these morons to turn around?

    I would love to see a Nationwide campaign demanding that all of OUR wild ones be returned to the lands that belong to US…. the almost 27 MILLION acres that are being stolen from the wild ones, and from you and me, and the millions of Americans who PAY these a**holes for their “stewardship”.


    How about that for a slogan. ZERO tolerance for murderers. They will reap the whirlwind.


    • Well, if we only had 27,000 horses left (as was estimated in 1971 when the protections were enacted), that would mean one horse for every one million acres. I suppose even that is too many for some so-called “range scientists” who cannot see apples and pies together in a single view.


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