Horse News

Who’s Afraid of Wild Horses?

“The 88,000 wild horses and burros are dwarfed in the millions by cattle and sheep…”

William Perry Pendley, acting chief of the Bureau of Land Management, is warning of a fearsome herd. Wild horses and burros, he says, are an “existential threat,” and the “havoc and destruction” they wreak is the biggest problem facing federal public lands.

Curiously absent from Pendley’s apocalyptic vision is the fact that wild horses and burros don’t exist on 90% of BLM land. Yet public lands continue to deteriorate. His rant against wild equines seeks to deflect public attention from the real forces ravaging America’s lands: livestock overgrazing, intensive oil and gas drilling, mining, deforestation, and the rollback of federal protections for publicly owned lands. It also aims to build congressional support for funding the agency’s new, draconian management plan.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed unanimously by Congress in 1971, states these “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” shall be protected “in the areas where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of public lands.” From the start, private interests set out to undermine the intent and terms of the Act.

The BLM reduced wild equid habitat from the originally designated 53 million acres to the present 26 million. The 339 free-roaming herds designated for protection shrunk to 179. Most herds are now managed below the level required for genetic sustainability. The 88,000 wild horses and burros are dwarfed in the millions by cattle and sheep.

Now the BLM has proposed a bold extinction agenda. Championed by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, the National Cattlemen’s Association, and corporate allies as well as two animal welfare bureaucracies, HSUS and ASPCA, the new management proposal would remove up to 130,000 mustangs and burros — far more than the present population — to reduce wild equid herds to 26,000, or roughly 1,000 acres per wild horse or burro. The number mirrors that of 1971, when Congress recognized these iconic animals were “fast disappearing from the Western landscape.”

Supporters of this scheme call it a “non-lethal” way to address overpopulation and avoid slaughter. This is wishful thinking. It would accelerate helicopter roundups and removals, a practice that National Academy of Sciences found “expensive, unproductive” and not in the public interest. Still, the BLM spends the majority of its budget —$56 million in FY 2018 — to remove tens of thousands of wild horses and burros and incarcerate them in grim, costly holding facilities.

The BLM plan refers to “humane” methods of “population suppression,” but its preferred method is cruel and life-threatening. Despite numerous court challenges and withdrawn university support, the BLM prioritizes sterilization of captured wild mares using ovariectomy via colpotomy in a nonsterile environment. The archaic procedure involves inserting a rod and chain into a mare’s vagina to crush and tear out her ovaries. The NAS warned against using it on wild horses due to risks of prolonged bleeding and infection.

Dozens of animal welfare and wild horse advocacy groups oppose the new management plan. More than 100 organizations united behind a statement of principles and alternative solutions for on-range, cost-effective management of America’s wild equines that includes PZP fertility control, rehoming to closed out herd areas, and protection of natural predators.

The anti-wild horse lobbies won two rounds, but the battle persists. Without debate, the House and Senate Appropriations committees approved financing the BLM’s new plan with $6 million and $35 million, respectively. The full Senate, then a House-Senate Conference, will soon take it up. Concerned citizens are urging rejection of this expanded mismanagement plan and opening a conversation about real reform.

Why do wild horses and burros matter? They are protected wildlife, and their age-old presence on the land helps balance ecosystems and reduce dry, fire-prone vegetation. Their beauty and inspiration draw resources to struggling rural communities.

It’s no accident that the BLM’s chief of land management has advocated selling off our federal land for ideological reasons. Scapegoating free-roaming equines instead of fixing the real causes of rangeland degradation is foolish. We can choose a barren, climate-scorched Western landscape — or a drive to restore the diversity and health of America’s wild lands. Only those contributing to the problem should fear the wild horse.

5 replies »

  1. Thank you Charlotte and Mary for a thoughtful and very well-written article that exposes the real reasons behind the BLM’s continued persecution and removal of our wild horses and burros. I am sickened by how many people are jumping on the “management plan” championed by the ASPCA and the HSUS, thinking that if these “animal welfare” groups are behind this plan, then of course it has to be a good thing. These groups have the money behind them, unfortunately, but a light needs to be shone on the insidious reality of the removals of these animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. VERY good informative article! Hope it might inform people who dont understand what is being done to our public lands and the wildlife – as wild horses are – and habitat that so far remains there. Not hearing much from RTF these days! I cannot comprehend how the ASPCA and the HSUS can put their reputations on the line for these pro-slaughter agenda politicians!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Top ten list of Worlds killer animals came out Great Whites and Wild Horses did make it! While I’m making a joke it’s TRUE Most other species actually do kill yet wild horses are Not. The meat from them may very well kill. The lies and cover ups that’s involved in wild horses plus slaughter are egregious. We need as many facts from our side pulled out in front of Congress now.


  4. First the Wild Horses & Burros…then the ranchers…NEXT?

    How BLM really feels about move West

    Leaked audio is filled with fumbles by leadership, disapproving rumbles and derisive laughter
    By Nick Bowlin High Country News
    Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

    The audience was not convinced. Throughout the 80-minute session, the details of which were first reported by E&E News, agency staff condemned the move’s impact on their lives and families and, in particular, the lack of transparency surrounding the decision. The Washington BLM staff, who packed the room, questioned the wisdom of the move, as well as its underlying motivation.

    Audio of the meeting obtained by High Country News offers an intimate glimpse of the confrontation between BLM leadership and agency staff – highlighting Pendley’s inability to justify the move to the people most affected by it.


  5. Pendley has wanted our horses gone for a long time as have some of his cronies. Forget the lies, we all know they are lying. Big oil BP and Gov. are calling the shots here. They want the land for pipelines. Of course they also want it for cattle and sheep etc. We are getting royally screwed along with our wonderful horses. We are supporting the cattlemen to the tune of billions of dollars. If you want to know where some of your tax dollars go this is it! Also these lands, by law were given to the horses and no one else. These people are breaking the law, but in the age of Trumpism I guess it doesn’t matter. Just something to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

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