Horse News

Ginger Kathrens: Wild Horses & Burros groomed as scapegoats for public land destruction

as published on The Salt Lake Tribune

A spending bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 31 offers the Bureau of Land Management a $35 million appropriation to reduce wild horse and burro populations in Western states by two-thirds.

Ginger filming Cloud and Family, May 2014 ~ photo by R.T. Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States laud the extra funding as a measure to prevent slaughter by funding a “non-lethal” fertility control program, but there are serious flaws in this thinking.

To date, no funding is specifically designated for humane, targeted fertility control, an approach supported by the vast majority of wild horse advocates.

This means BLM can spend the allocated funds to pursue its long-term goal: rounding up and removing wild horses to extinction levels, perpetuating this never-ending cycle at enormous expense to the American public. This is wild horse persecution, not protection.

BLM Acting Director William Perry Pendley has pulled no punches. Speaking recently to the Society of Environmental Journalists in Fort Collins, he denounced wild horses and the “havoc” they cause as the biggest “existential threat” facing public lands. His absurd comment reflects a disingenuous and deeply biased policy approach.

Wild horses occupy less than 12 percent of BLM-managed lands. Livestock graze on 88 percent of BLM lands and vastly outnumber mustangs and burros, thus their impacts are exponentially higher. Why, then, are our horses and burros almost solely blamed for rangeland degradation?

The answer can only be that it’s a diversionary tactic with the objective of distracting the public and Congress from the real threats to public lands: poorly regulated oil and gas drilling, mining, overgrazing by taxpayer-subsidized cattle, the diversion of water resources for these activities and the administration’s gutting of environmental safeguards for wild lands and wildlife.

Our public lands are singed, denuded and devastated by droughts and wildfires associated with global warming. Overuse by for-profit activities have robbed them of their resilience.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, initiated the BLM plan in collaboration with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, agribusiness groups and two domestic animal welfare organizations with little on-the-range experience. Their “plan” would reduce wild horse and burro herds to below 27,000, a level that, when enacting federal protections in 1971, Congress unanimously agreed was tantamount to their “disappearance from the Western landscape.” It would triple the wild equines warehoused at taxpayer expense, with no financial provision for their long-term safety.

The plan also does not rule out the BLM’s preferred method of “fertility control,” sterilization through a procedure called ovariectomy via colpotomy. The National Academy of Sciences warned against this dangerous surgery due to the high risk of bleeding out, trauma and infection.

Despite losing two legal battles, facing public outcry, and having two universities withdrawing from the experiments, the agency seems determined to push ahead with this inhumane, archaic procedure.

In October, the House and Senate acted without debate, oversight or receipt of the BLM’s overdue annual Report to Congress. Lawmakers were led to believe wild horse advocates supported the plan. Dozens of wild horse and burro defense groups publicly opposed the extinction plan. More than 100 equine and animal welfare organizations signed on to a document proposing alternative solutions for on-range, sustainable management of America’s wild horses and burros.

The bottom line is that our wild horses and burros are facing a smear campaign of epic proportions. They’ve been scapegoated as destroyers of our Western Rangelands so that the true causes of rangeland degradation can take place out of the public eye, and profit can continue uninterrupted and unopposed. Wild horses are, in fact, central to the preservation of public lands. They are the only wildlife species that is defined by the land on which they live. Remove them from the land, and the land will be more vulnerable.

Acting Pendley has long favored selling off federal lands, and the administration is now opening up even more public acreage to oil, gas and mining development.

The writing is on the wall. BLM’s new “management plan” benefits those who seek to further industrialize our public lands and expand publicly subsidized cattle grazing. Congress has a chance to make amends when House and Senate appropriators meet in conference. If we care about the preservation of our public lands, we must insist that they pay attention this time.

7 replies »

  1. Excellent , Ginger.
    Public needs to know the truth but BLM propaganda is even on PBS radio saying there is an over-population.
    Until there is an over-population no fertility control is needed. There used to be 2 million wild horses and grass was stirrup high , then cattle were introduced. 80% of herds are not even genetically viable .
    Wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems in many ways. They must be saved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Research is arming advocates with weapons of mass information to take to your elected officials. Start with a personal visit to your Supervisors or Commissioners, state reps and fed reps and inform them that historic preservation of our American native wildlife is required by the 1966 Historic Preservation Act sec 106, and the Endangered Species Act. Our rightful concern is the loss to us now and all future generations. We were guaranteed under the Constitution and we hold our electeds to their oath of office. In the 1976 Kleppe v New Mexico, the US Supreme Court determined the wildlife status management of Wild Horses and Burros. Subsequently, fossil evidence proved them to be native to N. American. Wild horses migrated over the land bridge into Europe. They were domesticated 5000 yrs ago and we reintroduced to the Americas in 1500. Left to forage for themselves they revert to their wildlife nature. The evolution of reversion in diverse geographic locations produces distinct population segments. Distinct population segments and/or evolutionarily significant units (ESU) What are CUs and why are they important? Genetic data are not, however, a prerequisite for ESU identification. If direct observation or geographic separation indicate reproductive isolation and evolutionary distinctiveness, for example, the agency can designate an ESU with no genetic data at all.
    Robin S. Waples codified the ESU in the administrative context in 1991, defining it as a population unit that, first, “[i]s substantially reproductively isolated from other conspecific population units,” and, second, “[r]epresents an important component in the evolutionary legacy of the species.”” Though the biological literature has elaborated the ESU into several related concepts, Waples’s 1991 definition has remained in force at NMFS National Marine Fisheries Service. 4 Genetically unique and isolated populations represent independent evolutionary units that contribute important diversity to the species as a whole, and thus merit individual protection.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The most important issue is the corruption of the BLM agency that continues to produce fraudulent wild horse and burro “over-population” statistics and then feed those lies to the public and the media and congress. There is no “over-population” therefore there is NO reason to capture/remove/sterilize (chemical or surgical) any of our wild horses and burros.

    The recent National Academy of Science (NAS) institute report lent credence to accusations that the bureau [BLM] has been ignoring science and grossly mismanaging the wild equines, and that it pursued policies that favored corporate livestock grazing interests over the interests of the wild horses and burros. That, it said, was in direct contradiction to the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

    “The NAS findings clearly state that the BLM has failed to provide accurate estimates of the nation’s population of wild horses and burros. Therefore, the NAS cannot conclude that a state of over-population exists and or [cannot] provide a recommendation for artificial management considerations such as fertility controls to control populations for which the complex population dynamics are currently unknown.”

    This National Academy of Science [NAS] report reviews the science that underpins the Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of free-ranging horses and burros on federal public lands in the western United States and the report goes on to say, “The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on rangelands.”

    THAT is the REAL issue … BLM corruption.



    William Perry Pendley was “dismissed” from Reagan Administration’s Department of Interior after having “led the charge” for the highly-controversial Powder River Basin coal lease sale. The sale, then the largest sale of federal leases for coal, was marred by the leak of a confidential memo with information about bid amounts that ended up in unknown hands. Pendley was later criticized by the commission assigned to study the sale for sending a “clear signal” to potential lessees that DOI would accept low bids.

    Pendley was serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energies and Minerals when 32,000 acres in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming went up for bidding on April 28th, 1982, marking it as the largest sale of federal leases for coal at that time. In May 1982, it was reported that a confidential memo was leaked with information about bid amounts although it was unknown who had received the data or had released the information.

    In 1983, William Perry Pendley’s nomination as DOI’s Assistant Secretary for Energy and Minerals failed after Pendley was questioned in his nomination hearing about DOI politically screening scientists advising the department about oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.

    According to, on August 4th the confirmation was reported as failed for confirmation under “paragraph 6 of Rule XXXI of the Standing Rules of the Senate.” Rule XXXI is “EXECUTIVE SESSION – PROCEEDINGS ON NOMINATIONS” and paragraph 6 states that should the Senate take a recess of more than 30 days then any pending nominations that were not acted upon at the time of adjournment would be returned to the President. The nomination was returned on August 8th, 1983. Pendley left Interior in March 1984.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pendely would never pass vetting by Congress, which is why he is only a temporary appointee. How temporary remains to be determined, but however long he is “in the saddle” his conflict-ridden decisions will be lasting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is beyond ridiculous for our paid government officials to scapegoat a few thousand slowly reproducing NATIVE wild horses and burros when we are facing an epidemic of INVASIVE feral hogs. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you:

    Feral Pigs Are Invasive, Voracious and Resilient. They’re Also Spreading
    The destructive swine are expanding their range in the United States and appear to be encroaching from Canada

    “…within the continental United States, feral pigs are expanding their range rapidly. As Mary Bates reported for PLOS Blogs in 2017, research has shown that feral pigs are moving northwards at an accelerated rate. “If this trend persists, invasive wild pigs are predicted to reach most U.S. counties in 30-50 years,” Bates explained, “but likely faster if a southward expansion from Canada continues.” …

    “…In an effort to curb the estimated $1.5 billion in damages that feral swine inflict each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced $75 million in funding for a pilot program to eradicate and control feral pigs.”


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