Horse News

Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires restoration

by Craig C. Downer as published on The Record-Courier

“…these agencies have assigned outrageously low so-called appropriate management levels to those areas they claim will still have “healthy” herds, yet which are at genetically non-viable levels…”

Stallion of Antelope Valley HMA ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

I am writing you today as a wild horse and burro advocate and wildlife ecologist who is familiar with many of the herds throughout the West and has striven since boyhood to have these wonderful animals protected as viable populations in viable habitats.

I knew and worked with the legendary Wild Horse Annie and have studied and written a number of articles and two books about them. This year, 2021, will be the 50th anniversary of the unanimously passed Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but the current policies being enacted, hypocritically called “a path forward,” are hell-bent on practically eliminating the wild and naturally living herds and terribly altering the fitness and natural integrity of those non-viable vestiges that would remain.

The Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior together with the U.S. Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture are charged by the WFHBA to preserve, protect and defend, as well as manage, America’s wild equid herds wherever they were found in 1971, which means in their year-round habitats, on those lands under these agencies’ jurisdictions, yet the great majority of the legal BLM Herd Areas and USFS Territories have been “zeroed out,” i.e. officials have decided not to be managed for wild equids in these.

Then, very unfairly, these agencies have assigned outrageously low so-called appropriate management levels to those areas they claim will still have “healthy” herds, yet which are at genetically non-viable levels, and often administered fertility drugs that alter their fitness and ability to survive and suppress their individual well-being.

These agencies have even shamelessly approved of cruel ovariectomies in the field that would undoubtedly cause terrible suffering and death to the mares so mercilessly victimized. This is happening in the Confusion herd of western Utah today.

Section 2c of the WFHBA clearly states that the wild horses and burros will receive the “principal” resources in their legal areas, but all the opposite is happening as our public officials, in cahoots with the wild horses’ and burros’ chief enemies, persistently sabotage the true and noble spirit and intent of this wonderful law.

They are supposed to be protected and provided for as “integral” components of the public lands ecosystem and to be recognized as “contributing to the diversity” of species in our nation, which is abundantly proven and true.

As a native Nevadan who grew up riding a chestnut horse named Poco and searching out herds throughout the West, I possess a profound appreciation of naturally living horses and burros. I recognize that every horse or burro is “wild at heart,” i.e. much more natural than domesticated, or altered by us humans. As I progressed in my studies and observations, I realized that their ancestral roots trace back deeply – even millions of years – into North American history and that this continent is their evolutionary cradle.

Furthermore, as I acquired a deeper understanding of the unique biology and ecological niche of members of the horse family as well as other Perissodactyla (my specialty), I realized that horses and burros were very important in restoring balance in many North American ecosystems. One prime specific is that they provide a much-needed balance to all the many ruminant-digesting, cloven-hoofed herbivores, such as cattle, sheep and deer that are often foisted in excessive numbers onto public and private lands to be “harvested” – thus depriving the ecosystems that sustained them of what would naturally be recycled in the form of their mortal remains.

Furthermore, horses and burros restore soils by contributing less degraded organic matter in their feces, and also more intact seeds of a greater variety. This makes soils more nutrient-rich and water-retaining – which bolsters water tables and species diversity – and they do this to a superior degree when compared with the ruminants.

Also, of critical importance, is their role in reducing flammable vegetation and, thus, mitigating catastrophic wildfires, now alarmingly increasing due to global warming.

These equid species are natural healers and enhancers of ecosystems, and they must not continue to be cruelly eliminated from their legal areas, or nearly so, and imprisoned in spirit-killing corrals and holding pastures. These are real concentration camps of misery and death, as I have so often observed! My book The Wild Horse Conspiracy and my articles, including scientific and peer-reviewed, are available online or via my website,, along with my extensive reports and reference sources.

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

As a professional, I have elaborated a plan for restoring these wonderful animals at genetically viable population levels. This strategy would allow each herd to naturally adapt to its unique ecosystem and to harmoniously self-stabilize its numbers as its ecological niche is filled. I explain in my Reserve Design proposal how this can be done and why it would be the most humane and honorable “path forward.”

Reserve Design would truly fulfill the noble and progressive Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, rather than make a mockery of it as is presently happening.

This Reserve Design proposal is a Go Fund me project that I have been working on for several years, but it needs to become the policy of those agencies charged with upholding the WFHBA. If these agencies continue their perverse policies toward America’s last wild horses and burros, then an amendment to the law should be passed to create a separate, autonomous agency that would restore these magnificent “national heritage species” throughout the West in and around their legal areas, including through the formation of benign Cooperative Agreements permitted by the Act’s Sections 4 and 6.

Wild horse and burro herd and habitat restoration through Reserve Design needs to happen in 2021. This would give us all something to genuinely celebrate at the 50th Anniversary of this noble and life-restoring act. I have a Move On petition (Stop the Excessive Roundups …) that has now reached 15,000 signers that I am planning on delivering to Congress, pertinent BLM and USFS officials as well as to the president in 2021. America needs to restore, not continue to torture and obliterate, its naturally living horses and burros and over-exploit its habitats. The intrinsic value and majesty of these naturally living horses and burros are one with the very soul of America. We must not break our treaty with them.

13 replies »

  1. What happened to it in the first place. Now thousands of horses displaced and killed at the hand of man, is a horendous act That and you must stop it!!! Those horses belong to the people of this country, they are enjoyed by every state, bar some, who do not have a heart and like killing!!!! That Conn. Farm needs to be closed down to ANY ANIMAL. THEY ARE NOT CAPPABLE OF CARING FOR AN ANIMAL!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is an utter outrage, Rita! So please that you are aware of this and care enough to speak out. Now, the question before us remains: How Do We Change This Dreadful Situation?!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. EXACTLY, Craig! Thank you for this letter and the many years of dedication to our wild horses and burros. May we use parts of it to send OUR letters to our congressmen and to the media? The truth must be spread far and wide.

    Until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is forced to be truthful and fair and follow the law of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, the outlook for our wild ones continues to be dismal. BLM continually states biologically and mathematically impossible annual wild horse population rates and this fraud must be exposed.. WHY is this so important? Because these are the figures that BLM gives to not only the public and media but to Congress when requesting funding for wild horse and burro capture and management plans. BLM states biologically and mathematically impossible annual wild horse population rates and this shameful corruption must be stopped!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, indeed, GrandmaGregg: it’s up to those of us who care enough to follow through intelligently rather than just to let the slobs still have their terrible way. We can do it! We must believe enough to act and not be discouraged. it’s a new year and there’s new blood and a better vision of how to live in America and on Planet Earth

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Where can I read the Reserve Design proposal? And is there a way to support its making its way to the current members of Congress who sit on the committees that vote on funding proposals for BLM and Forest Service budget requests?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Numerous applicable Congressional Acts and court findings affect the 1971 Act that yet has been implemented to fulfill the mandates of the 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act. The 1976 Supreme Court (Kleppe v New Mexico) wildlife decision confirmed the wildlife horse/burro status. The Court ordered the RETURN of wild burros to the range. Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall stated the importance of the government’s interest in preserving herds IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT, yet BLM did not and still will refuse to add the known inventory all ranges or the basic migratory nature of FREE ROAMING WILD HORSE AND BURRO HERDS. Yet forty-five years following the Kleppe wildlife decision, the Secretary of DOI continually neglects to implement Congressional mandates to amend Resource Management Plans to increase and sustain/maintain grazing ranges or restore and re-wild heritage herd INVENTORIES. This cumulative effect is fatally flawed.

    The prohibited CONVERSION of government property was specifically detailed in the 1980 case United States v. Hughes (see Animal Legal & Historical Center › case › united-states-v-Hughes. Yet the capture, sale, and warehousing conversion of Wild horses and burros have created an entire cottage industry at a cost the taxpayer has rallied against.

    One out of every 10 acres of wildlife habitat in the United States is managed by the BLM National System of Public lands – approximately 245 million acres (380,000 square miles) in 23 states in addition to county and state multiple-use habitat designations and wildlife preserves are subject to the historic cultural preservation of wildlife. Wild horses and burros meet these criteria despite the earlier limitations of the 1971 Act. The order specifies that DOI bureaus prioritize “active habitat-management projects and funding that contribute to achieving wildlife population objectives” and to “review and use the best available science or other relevant projects to avoid or minimize potential negative impacts on wildlife.”

    Revenues generated from the 1937 Pittman Robert son Act excise taxes are apportioned to state wildlife agencies for their conservation efforts, (8) the term “wildlife-restoration project” includes the wildlife conservation and restoration program and means the selection, restoration, rehabilitation, and improvement of areas of land or water adaptable as feeding, resting, or breeding places for wildlife, including the acquisition of such areas or estates or interests therein as are suitable or capable of being made suitable therefor, and the construction thereon or therein of such works as may be necessary to make them available for such purposes and also including such research into problems of wildlife management as may be necessary to efficient administration affecting wildlife resources, and such preliminary or incidental costs and expenses as may be incurred in and about such projects.

    In May 2003 Proposed Nevada Test and Training Range RMP and Final EIS Comment 87, BLM Responded,
    “As to their special status, BLM states “The issue of a wild horse as an invasive species is moot since the 1971 WHBA gave wild free-roaming horses “special” status based on their heritage of assisting man settle the “west.”
    Subsequently, In Defense of Animals, v. U.S. Dept. Interior, #12-17804, May 12, 2014) the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also recognized wild horses as native species, explaining that BLM “establishes Appropriate Management Levels(AMLs)for populations of native species – including wild horses, burros, and other wildlife – and introduced animals, such as livestock”.

    The court in Mt. States v Hodel found that “In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife.”
    Therefore, Amendments to Resource management plans (RMPs) are necessary and imperative to correct habitat deficiencies, maintain and rewild herds. This is a basic process of redistribution and rewilding of warehoused wildlife.

    Most succinctly on the issue of management in her MEMORANDUM OPINION ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, District Judge stated:
    “BLM’s authority to “manage” wild free-roaming horses and burros is expressly made subject to “the provisions of this chapter[,]” 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a), including the provision that “[i]t is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture….” Id.§ 1331. It would be anomalous to infer that by authorizing the custodian of the wild free-roaming horses and burros to “manage” them, Congress intended to permit the animals’ custodian to SUBVERT the primary policy of the statute by capturing and removing from the wild the very animals that Congress sought to protect from being captured and removed from the wild. It is difficult to think of a “management activity” that is farther from a “minimal feasible level” than removal.

    Omitted from Resource Management plans is compliance with BLM and ESA special status species regulations, As a protected native special status species Wild horses and burros should have the same ESA available habitats for relocation, and, designated HMAs as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), managed by the Bureau of Land Management under FLPMA.,

    On Sep 28, 2011 (See Craters AR at 16698. Memorandum Decision & Order) The court addresses “sensitive” species pursuant to BLM’s 2001 Special Status Species Policy. This Policy requires that “sensitive” species be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA. It called on BLM managers to “obtain and use the best available information deemed necessary to evaluate the status of special status species in areas affected by land use.
    CRS Report: 95-778 – Habitat Modification and the Endangered Species Act: Land also may be acquired under section 5 of the ESA to prevent “modification of land that is not yet but may in the future become habitat for an endangered or threatened species.” (case law: Sweet Home Chapter)

    In achieving Standards for Rangeland Health, BLM must consider the numbers of all forage dependent wildlife as a priority substantiated by the Endangered Species Act. Refer to BLM manual Section which provides policy and procedural guidance on the identification, evaluation, and designation of areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC ‘s)in the development, revision, and amendment of resource management plans (RMP’s)and amendments of management framework plans not yet replaced by RMP’s. The materials are formerly found at .8 in Manual Section 1617. Annual Status Reports are required.

    Herd areas were reservations/withdrawals of public land defined by FLPMA that provide critical habitat for special status species. Similar purposes are provided by ACECs.
    Distinct population segments and/or evolutionarily significant units (ESU)

    What are CUs and why are they important? .
    “Broadly speaking, CUs are population units identified within species that are used to help guide management and conservation efforts. Identifying CUs is an essential first step in conservation so that managers and policymakers know the boundaries of the population units that they are trying to conserve.
    The two most commonly discussed conservation units are evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) and management units (MUs). Moreover, major intraspecific units, such as ESUs, are granted legal protection in many countries, including the USA (under the Endangered Species Act), Canada (Species at Risk Act), and Australia (Endangered Species Protection Act).”
    Robin S. WaplesCODIFIED 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.

    Genetically unique and isolated populations represent independent evolutionary units that contribute important diversity to the species as a whole, and thus merit individual protection. Genetic data plainly underlie the ESU; such information can simultaneously estimate the degree of reproductive isolation and evolutionary distinctiveness. Genetic data are not, however, a prerequisite for ESU identification. If direct observation or geographic separation indicates reproductive isolation and evolutionary distinctiveness, for example, the agency can designate an ESU with no genetic data at all.

    In Mar of 2016 stated, “ When and if available scientific information convinces the experts that determine the checklist of native species to North America that Equus caballus should be considered as an indigenous species, they will make the change in the next revision to the list.” YET to date, all responsible agencies have blatantly ignored the widely published mitochondrial DNA evidence of origin and geographic distinctions i.e.

    Consultation is the primary purpose of NEPA, a process that is systematically circumvented in major capture actions. Consultation and application of Programmatic Agreements are necessary and imperative to prevent the costly fatally flawed Resource Management plans. The following information from the BLM Federal Preservation Officer Ranel Stephenson Capron, Washington DC Office:
    “ Ms. Hayden, You may find the document on our webpage here: under the National Programmatic Agreement link. The 2012 document was signed by Robert Abbey, the BLM Director at the time.”
    Compare the cumulative cost of extraction, and warehousing of captured wild horses & burros vs re-wilding/relocation to MAINTAIN existing INVENTORIES as required by law.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kathleen, certainly makes perfectly clear that this so-called agency is doing the opposite of managing and caring for a native species. The comparison of costs between these lousy roundups & warehousing and MAINTAINING the genetics of our wild horses IN THE WILD is something that I’m sure these BLMers want shown to the public! Of course, we all have known this for years – many others have no clue.
      Sadly, far too many of our “representatives” have been told over and over and over! I wonder if its possible for this information to “come to light” now.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you so much Mr. Downer for all of the years and efforts you have spent/dedicated on behalf of our beloved wild horses and burros. I will share this article on my FB (public view). I am especially very interested in the part cited: “an amendment to the law should be passed to create a separate, autonomous agency ” I am so glad that you announced this. I have been wondering why this hasn’t been done already. The BLMs brutal assault against our wild horses and burros needs to stop now. I would really like to know how and when we could make this happen? And, yes, the Forest Service is as corrupt as the BLM.

    I applaud you. Thank you.

    I write letters to my congressional leaders; sign petitions; and have even gotten into a tit-for-tac, back and forth with emails (letters) with the BLM. I am all for getting our beloved wild ones out from under the BLM (Dept. of Interior) and the Forest Service (Dept. of Agriculture). How do we begin this path forward? I plan to visit your web site and read your findings/documents. This “new” agency would solely need to be dedicated to the preservation, saving of, defending of, and protection of our wild horses and burros; and not be influenced by welfare ranchers, oil, gas, and other horse hating entities.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for writing such a potent article. I can’t help but feel that contacting Congress, the BLM, Deb Haaland, etc is a fruitless enterprise. I tried it to no avail. It is obvious that a deliberate decision has been made to eliminate or grossly decimate wild horses. It is also obvious who is behind it. The cattle industry has certainly bought off Biden, who in turn has silenced his Sec of Interior, and Congress.

    If we want to help the horses, I believe we can do it, but not by anything I’ve heard so far. I believe that everyone who hears about the horses is outraged and may be willing to take action against the beef industry directly. If all the organizations who have signed on in support of the horses take action to pass the information down to their members (which they have not – think the Sierra Club, for one), we could generate enough anger to do a special kind of beef boycott that would not ask people to eliminate beef permanently from their diet. Since the beef industry is not in the best of shape anyway, the prospect of a boycott would be met with great concern. With the help of horse advocates, animal and environmental groups, it would not be that hard to pull off. I am intentionally leaving out some details, but this action is legal, fast, and would produce results before the next roundups start. It’s the best chance we have of getting results and is not dependent on waiting endlessly for a BLM or Congressional remedy that evidently not going to come.

    Liked by 1 person

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