The Force of the Horse

America’s Wild and Wondrous Burros are in Peril

by Mary Koncel & Charlotte Roe as published on The Washington Examiner

Among the most amazing animals of the desert are wild burros. Yet in the past three years, the Bureau of Land Management has removed more than 5,000 of them from their federally designated habitat. This year, it’s ratcheting up the assault.

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

What’s wrong with this picture? Lots.

Although the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 considers wild burros and mustangs as protected wildlife, the BLM still treats them like invaders and is bent on eradicating them — despite their immense value.

To say that our country was built on their backs isn’t an understatement. The consummate beast of burden, burros were the original all-terrain vehicles. Some who worked mining underground never saw the light of day.

Research now shows how burros are healers of the dessert. Wildlife biologist Erick Lundgren, along with a team of scientists, just released a study in Science on their water engineering feats in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. These sturdy equids dig wells that are lifelines for myriad plant and animal species. Besides increasing water availability in extreme heat and drought-stricken periods, the wells, when dry, become nurseries that facilitate the growth of pioneer trees and other vegetation.

The National Academy of Sciences sounded the alarm in its 2013 report on the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, recommending no removals for wild burros, whose populations were already small, fragmented, and at risk of inbreeding. A minimum population of 150-200 adult wild equids is essential to maintain genetic variability. Of the 29 herd management areas with wild burros, only three comply with this standard.

Disregarding the danger, the BLM continues massive burro roundups. Today, claiming some 15,000 wild burros remain on public land, the agency aims to reduce the population to its goal of just 2,600.

This summer, the BLM will eliminate wild burros from 1.7 million acres of public land in the Lake Mead area of Nevada near Lundgren’s study area. It started removing wild burros to “zero out” the populations in Centennial and surrounding areas — the last large herds in California. In Arizona’s Black Mountain Herd Management Area, BLM roundups will remove another 500, leaving only one burro per 1,300 acres.

The National Park Service is following suit. Declaring burros are “alien” to desert ecosystems, it will soon rid the Grand Canyon and Death Valley of its long-standing wild burros.

Wild burro captured by BLM ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Helicopter roundups are brutal for burros, as they tend to freeze in place or scatter. Many do not survive the long chase, which often comes as foals have just been born. Captive burros are warehoused in crowded holding pens until adopted or sold. Although new owners must vow they won’t send the animals to slaughter, there’s no enforcement after title is transferred, and many end up in kill pens. Skin traders are waiting at the other end as the demand for ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine derived from donkey hide, is growing worldwide.

What’s behind the drive to extinguish wild burros? Powerful lobbies promoting taxpayer-subsidized livestock ranching and mining and gas encroachment on public lands. Spuriously, the BLM scapegoats wild horses and burros for the failing health of the rangelands and riparian areas that livestock use in far greater numbers, often with devastating effects. The ultimate absurdity can be found in the 2021 appropriations bill now before the House. Seeking $35 million to round up tens of thousands more wild horses and burros, the BLM even claims they contribute to climate change. The bureau knows better.

It’s time to press the reset button. Protecting wild equids and their habitat from commercial exploitation must be a key feature of the Biden administration’s “30 x 30” climate initiative. The BLM is mandated to manage wild burros humanely, not to manage them to extinction.

Solutions are at hand. Place a moratorium on wild horse and burro roundups. Demand a congressional investigation of the BLM’s deeply flawed management policies and practices. Make the Black Mountain Herd Management Area, where vital fertility control research is underway, a wild burro range where livestock are prohibited. Repatriate captive equids to zeroed-out herd areas. And pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act to prevent all horses and burros from being transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

Mary Koncel is a program specialist for the American Wild Horse Campaign and a faculty fellow at the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts/Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Charlotte Roe is an adviser to the Cloud Foundation and the founder of the Wild Equid League of Colorado. Both have adopted wild horses and burros.

8 replies »

  1. The BLM needs to stop, go away, become non existent!! They need a major overhaul that is years overdue!! Why can’t they be stopped!? And, the National Park Service needs a major overhaul as well. There are alternative population control methods on range, if needed, instead of removing most if not all our NATIVE wild horses AND burros.


    • I AGREE, these are God’s creatures, not unlike ourselves. Where do we have the right to remove them from their natural lands & home territories? We don’t; it’s just human greed & power that like everything it touches, destroys our natural lands, habitats & landscapes, all the while bringing all animal species to extinction! IT MUST STOP!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So why do “we” think no one is investigating the BLM or it’s horrendous annihilation of OUR Wild Horses & Burros? I personally think too much $$$$ has exchanged hands. Cattlemen as we know have their big lobby in DC and spend lots of $$ on contributions to lawmakers. Would you want to loose all that for horse & burros-hell no!
    Now the rest of us that love these fabulous, iconic, historic, made this country what it is today, are innocent of any wrong doing, faithful, smart, good for the environment and generally make people feel wonderful just to see them in person know they belong on the range to run free. The range [ public land ] that was basically deeded to to them by federal law. They are to be federally PROTECTED by this LAW! They are NOT to be HARMED in ANY way! So it seems to me there should be a BIG investigation into what the hell is going on and why the US Government is complicit in this horrendous deed against OUR beloved Wild Horses & Burros. Why can’t Anyone get passed the BLM to save OUR horses? By the way the Wild Horses & Burros belong to the American people & we have every right to have our opinion on what happens to them NOT the Cattlemen’s Assoc
    Please more people raise your voices loudly for these wonderful animals so they may forever roam our, oops, their lands! They deserve to live in peace! Contact your Congress persons & tell them to save the Wild horses & Burros. It’s easy to do. E-mail from their website, go to this web site, they’ll show you what to do. Just help! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. OK – sent this little hummer to my 3 “representatives” – want to bet I’ll get any kind of productive reply? It appears that polite requests just dont get read? or comprehended???? Anyhow, did I go too far?

    Once again into the breach!! I have lost track of how many letters, comments and emails I have sent regarding our Wild Horses and Burros. Apparently, not one out of the three of you nor your staffs have actually done due diligence where these animals and the BLM are concerned. IF I get a reply – as I do from Sen. Schumer’s office – its the standard BLM propaganda which I guess most of the Congress takes as gospel truth. It is NOT! There seems to be NO attempt to do research into exactly HOW this so-called agency of our government is “managing” these wild animals – NATIVE wild animals, as a matter of fact. But for you to be aware of that – there would have to be some investigation into the reason that this agency – land management agency – is more engaged with enabling the livestock industry than managing wild horses. If perchance there were actual oversight on this agency – questions would arise as to why the range is so devastated. Certainly not from a few thousand Wild Horses or Burros – possibly the millions of cattle and sheep might raise a few eyebrows. The BLM’s only solution is to do more roundups – more warehousing of horses & burros and THEN to turn out more livestock in the same area. Oh yes, also, now the they want to SPAY Wild Mares! That procedure is very seldom done on domestic mares – certainly not on wild ones. Perhaps a little curiosity might be appropriate as to why in heavens name that experimental surgery would even be thought of for a wild animal. Even someone with no domestic or wild horse experience might question that.
    I realize the lesser of two evils seems to be darting with contraceptive (PZP). But really is the answer to the devastation of our public lands and national forests AND Wilderness areas eradicating Wild Horses? Perhaps there should be more examination of the grazing allotment system itself. The rate these livestock producers pay: $1.35 per cow/calf pair per month is the same rate paid back in the 1930s! Add to that the subsidies & predator culling, fencing, water “rights” – all to produce about 3% of beef eaten in this country. Not a really productive business model – at least not for us, the taxpayers – who make up the difference between that $1.35 + and the actual cost of the allotment program.
    But then, I guess no one in DC cares to examine that.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Hit the nail on the head, if only anyone besides us PRO horse people were listening. It’s all about the $$ and not one of the creeps in DC care about the HORSES including our President Mr. Biden! So disappointed in him & new Sec. of Interior Deb Haaland. No help there at all!

    Liked by 1 person

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