Where Have All the Wild Horses Gone?

horses 700x467 Where Have All the Wild Horses Gone?
Credit: Laura Leigh © 2014

Did you know that in the last 40 years 50 percent of the world’s wild species have been decimated? Wiped off the planet. Never to be seen again except in books or on the Internet. In one word, extinct. It is a fact. Another fact, the decimation is still going on now, taking its toll on the wild horses and burros roaming freely on the ranges in 10 U.S. states by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Department of Interior (DOI). These are the very same government departments that are suppose to manage the public lands for diversity and multiple use. The public lands. The very departments tasked with protecting and preserving the wild horses and burros and their freedom to exist on public lands unharassed according to The Wild Horse Annie Act of 1959 (TWHA Act) and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRH&B Act). The latter was signed into law by Richard M. Nixon, our president at that time.

Both the Wild Horse Annie Act and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act were put in place to stop aggressive and inhumane roundups of these wild animals while granting them the legal right to live freely, unharassed, on public lands. So what went wrong? The BLM produced its own video to justify these brutal roundups. According to the video, in the 1950s they employed small planes. TWHA Act of 1959 effectively banned the use of small planes to conduct the roundups. A few short years later — and currently — helicopters are being used, replacing small planes, to continue the roundups. These helicopters are owned by private individuals, contracted by the BLM at exhorbitant rates, paid for by the taxpayers, you and me. Statistics reveal there are more wild horses and burros in short-term holding pens than exist freely in the wild. These captured horses are being sustained by the almighty tax dollar as well — amounting to millions every year.

To add insult to injury, the WFRH&B 1971 Act was recently amended in the eleventh hour by Senator Burns who slipped an omnibus clause into it without public input, knowledge or approval. This clause states that captured wild horses and burros can be sold “without restriction.” Those two words changed the intention and purpose of the WFRH&B Act and opened the door for “kill buyers” to purchase the once free roaming wild horses and burros for slaughter and human consumption overseas. Yup, people in parts of Europe and Asia eat horse meat. Although there are no horse slaughter houses in the U.S. yet,  the kill buyers figured out a way around that one. They simply pack the horses and burros like sardines into huge trucks, with poor or no ventilation, and drive them across the borders of Mexico and Canada to slaughter for profit and human consumption overseas.

Per the BLM’s own website, in “Fiscal Year 2012, out of 10,350 wild horses and burros gathered, a total of 80 animals, or approximately three-quarters of one percent (0.77 percent), died or were euthanized during gather operations; of those 80, 22 animals, or about one-fifth of one percent (0.21 percent) of the gathered animals, died or were euthanized because of acute injuries. Acute injury deaths include all animals that died or were euthanized because of acute injuries, such as spinal cord or head injuries, fractured limbs, or other severe injuries that occurred during gathers. Total deaths include all animals that died or were euthanized for any reason during gathers, including acute or sudden injuries or illnesses, as well as chronic or pre-existing conditions that required euthanasia (such as limb deformities, lameness, and poor body condition).”

These are stale, dated statistics from 2012. Although the 2015 roundup schedule is posted on the BLM website, current mortality rates are not for the years between 2012 to the present time.

Logically, and alternatively, none of these wild horses and burros would have had to die if they weren’t being harassed and chased at high speeds by helicopters. Young foals cannot keep up with the herd and end up snapping their own legs off, left to die on the range. Pregnant mares abort their unborn foals under this stress and duress. Wild horse advocates have witnessed these roundups first hand. They have photos and videos of helicopters clipping the horses as they run in fear, at unsustainable high speeds for miles over rugged terrain, while being pursued within inches by the helicopters. Further, and it’s a matter of record, advocates have been barred from viewing these roundups on public land. Public land. Begs the question, why?

If you watch this BLM video, you’ll hear the voice-over saying these wild horses are living on “millions of acres of public land.” Millions of acres. You will see healthy, beautiful herds of wild horses roaming freely on a landscape of “millions” of acres while the voice-over expounds on their beauty and value as historical treasures. Yet, at the same time, the BLM claims the wild horses and burros are overpopulating as they have no natural predators.

On that note, the wild ones’ natural predators are mountain lions and wolves. Need I remind you, mountain lions and wolves are “trophy” hunted yearly. Its called “hunting season” condoned by the BLM and DOI. Yet another travesty the BLM justifies by claiming these animals are overpopulating as well. A highly effective broad stroke by the BLM. But I digress. So, yes, the wild horses and burros have few natural predators on millions of acres of public lands.

Simply stated, the BLM has some clever public relations people on board.

The BLM bases the removal of the wild horses and burros on what they have named “Herd Management Areas” (HMA) and “Appropriate Management Levels” (AML). But who is determining those numbers? The BLM and the DOI. That’s like having the cat babysit the canary. I think we all know how that will turn out.

Horses have existed on this planet for millions of years. Well before humans. Their equine ancestors, according to fossils found in North America and around the world, were much smaller with cloven hooves. As a matter of survival, they evolved into the modern-day horse of which we are all familiar. Strong, big, sentient, hoofed animals able to carry double their own weight on their backs. Early man and horses have coexisted for millions of years. Horses and burros were domesticated to serve mankind for centuries. We have employed them in our wars, to build our railroads, as transportation to move us from the east to the west to settle new frontiers. A person could be hung for stealing horses in the 18th and 19th centuries. And, yes, we have eaten them in times of famine and war. Today horses are used for sport, pleasure and companionship. Cars have “horsepower” and trains, during the Industrial Revolution, were called “Iron Horses”.

Wild horses and burros travel up to forty miles a day natively for survival. They stay in one spot for a very short time. As prey animals, it’s inherently in their best survival interest to roam. Their roaming nature contributes to our eco-system. Their droppings carry seeds they have ingested to new areas miles away where these seeds then grow into plants and foliage. Horses only eat the tips of the grass never pulling up the roots. In contrast, cattle stand all day in one spot eating the grass right down to the dirt, roots and all, leaving nothing but barren land.

So what is really going on? Follow the money. Cattle ranching, fracking, urban development, mineral and metal exploitation, hunting and corporate greed have all taken their toll on the wild horses and burros on public land. Frankly, on all of nature and its inhabitants, including humans. The wild horse and burro advocates are up against strong opposition and pro-lobbying groups for the NRA, the cattle and meat industry, corporate oil drilling and natural gas fracking, which, I might add, uses millions of gallons of water to keep the boring drills cooled off, along with uranium mining to produce plutonium. You do know that plutonium is a radioactive metal, produced from uranium, and used to manufacture nuclear weapons? And that both plutonium and uranium are nuclear reactor fuels? And that both are extremely radioactive and deadly? All of these groups are very powerful and very well-heeled.

The wild horse advocates have no lobbying group and very little financial strength to hire one. Most spend and donate out of their own pockets to support the wanning, but needed, legislative changes. Meanwhile back at the ranch, our government continues to ignore and violate existing laws, in place for years, to protect the wild horses and burros to live freely and unharassed. Getting the picture now?

Wild horse and burro advocates are constantly on guard and on roundup sites in protest. Petitions run rampant on change.org and other petition sites demanding an end to these inhumane roundups. But the roundups continue ad nauseum.

Yet, wild horses are considered American icons, even by the BLM. Much like the American Bald Eagle who came very close to extinction. It is, and has been for years, a felony to kill one bald eagle.

Against all odds, the wild horse and burro advocates continue to fight the good fight. One some believe is a loosing battle. These dauntless folks are the only voice for the protection and preservation of these majestic animals to live freely and unharassed.  So they press on with the belief that the price of freedom is constant alertness and the willingness to fight back. Most times in doing so, tragically, lives are lost; the lives of the mighty wild horses and burros.

And their freedom is lost with it.

CONTACT: Wild Horse Education