This blog is contributed by my daughter, Barbara Jagoda, a retired school teacher living on her 44 acre ranch with her horses. Over the years she has rescued 9 horses either from auctions where the horse was bound for slaughter, sanctuaries, or from private facilities where horses were found to be emancipated and starving.
The Management and mismanagement of our American wild horses and burros has concerned and disturbed me ever since the mid 1950’s when a girlfriend and I heard the story of Wild Horse Annie. On her way to work near Reno, Nevada, Annie noticed a horse trailer leaving a trail of blood on the road, Being concerned, she followed the truck until it stopped at a slaughterhouse, and discovered to her horror a load of terrified wild horses so crammed together that one of them had been trampled to death on the floor of the trailer. My girlfriend and I were appalled and instantly became followers and fans of Wild Horse Annie.
In today’s world of multiple problems and injustices, the issues surrounding wild horses may seem insignificant to some. However, at the heart of this matter lies the basic principles of respect and responsibility that we as earth’s most intelligent life form should demonstrate and honor in preserving the multitude of amazing creatures and features that our planet so generously affords.
It has been argued that because wild horses and burros are not native to North America, they should not have the same rights and protections as native species. On the other hand, a large part of our western heritage and attractiveness is due to the aura surrounding these animals. Like the bison, wild horses and burros are considered American icons.
Since it’s inception in 1946, the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has been the overseer of our western lands and resources. Harry Truman actually created the BLM at that time by merging the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. Wild horses were generally considered pests so they were legally hunted in any manner available including from four wheeled vehicles and from aircraft. When wild horse numbers decreased dramatically, public outcry accounted for a 1959 act called the Wild Horse Annie Act that forbade this practice. Annie and the public were not satisfied that this protected the wild horse enough, and in 1971 succeeded in getting the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act passed which was designed to manage, protect and control these herds. Legislation included in this act also gave BLM authority to remove excess wild horses from the range in order to sustain the health and productivity of public lands. To accomplish this, the BLM established an “AML”(Appropriate Management Level) for each state and management area.
Today the BLM manages 247.3 million acres of which ranchers lease 155 million acres. There are 31.6 million acres of wild-horse-herd areas of which the BLM supervises 26.9 m. acres. In 1971 wild-horse-herd area was 53.8 m. acres and the BLM supervised 42.4 m. acres, so there has been a dramatic drop in wild horse herd acreage. As of August, 2016, the wild horse and burro (wild h&b) population was estimated to be 67,027 animals. The AML was estimated by the BLM to be 26,715 wild h&b. These facts supported the BLM’s position of helicopter round-ups to remove excess wild horses and burros. Records show that in the 4 years from 2012 until 2015, 18,107 wild h&b were removed by BLM round-ups. As of August, 2016, the total number of wild h&b held in holding corrals, off-range pastures and Eco-sanctuaries was 45,661 animals. In 2015 alone, the cost for maintaining these wild h&b was estimated to be $49,000,000. Another estimate shows that it costs $50,000. to hold each horse for the rest of it’s lifetime. This is all paid for by tax-payer dollars.
The BLM continually pushes for more round-ups. They are pressured by their job description which is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Pressure also comes from ranchers who hold nearly 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing, from oil, gas, mining, and timber interests (there are 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands), by wind farms eager to capitalize on the new renewable energy push, by hunters wanting more land opened up to hunt, by groups and individuals clamoring for more land to hike, ski, 4 wheel, boat, and bike on, and the list goes on.
Just last month, the BLM advisory board passed an emergency resolution to euthanize 45,000 wild horses that were in BLM holding pens. This plan was to be presented to Congress when the Cloud Foundation and the AWHPC (American Wild Horse and Burro Campaign) caught wind of it and filed a lawsuit to stop the BLM from proceeding with such an atrocity.
In recent years, the work of the BLM has become more transparent due to the diligent work of wild horse preservation groups. In the past, the BLM reigned supreme and many wild horse roundups showed little compassion for the welfare of the wild horse. In recent years, the BLM wild horse round-ups have been monitored, photographed, and reported to the public. Videos of round-ups taking place in the heat of summer months have shown dead foals and old or injured mares lying exhausted and left behind to die after miles and miles of relentless helicopter harassment and herding. Stallions and mares have been photographed severely injured trying to escape dangerous and/or crowded enclosures. Terrified horses have been shown with heads hanging and sides heaving and dripping with sweat.
This past January, the BLM proposed horrendous, barbaric sterilization experiments on captured wild mares at a BLM Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Oregon. The experiment involved “ovariectomy via colpotomy”, an extremely dangerous surgical procedure in which a veterinarian makes an incision in a mare’s vagina, inserts his arm into the vaginal cavity, manually locates the ovaries and RIPS THEM OUT using an “eraseur”, a rod-like device with a chain on the end. The mare is then released to heal on her own in spite of 4-7 days of post-surgical care known to be required. Mares that do not die from the acute trauma of the procedure would most surely die from post surgery infection.
Because of the above events and much more, wild horse preservation groups have gained a lot of public support. A recently planned round-up for this past October 18th of 500 horses from the Checkerboard in western Wyoming was stopped in it’s tracks when AWHPC efforts resulted in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the BLM broke 2 federal laws when it rounded up horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard in 2014, which also made the 2016 round-up illegal. The Cloud Foundation and the AWHPC also filed successful lawsuits to halt the barbaric sterilization experiments reported above and the euthanizing of the 45,000 horses held in BLM holding pens discussed earlier in this blog.
Wild horses herds left unchecked, can double their population every 4 years. There is only so much land and so much grass and water. The land must support other species also. The eventual crisis is clear and inevitable: malnourished horses and eventually death by starvation or lack of water. How can a rapidly increasing wild horse population be humanely and wisely monitored to stay in balance with the resources of the land? BLM round-ups are far too cruel and result in captured horses penned up in holding pens which are completely foreign to these wild, free roaming, creatures. Also, the expense of maintaining these horses is breaking budget limits.
One of the answers has been to offer wild horses up for adoption, but this too has it’s flaws. Only a small portion of horse lovers or possible adopters know how to deal with a wild horse. Also, in spite of regulations supposedly set in place to prevent adopted horses being sold for slaughter, in 2015 Tom Davis, a livestock dealer, bought 1,700 wild horses from the BLM and sold them for slaughter in Mexico. The worst of crimes against our federally protected wild horses had just occurred. Not only were these poor creatures slaughtered, but they endured horrific transportation ordeals into a country that has little respect for animals bound for slaughter. How many more tragedies like this occur that we never learn about?
Eco-sanctuaries intent upon offering a safe haven for wild horses have provided a home for some of the BLM horses. The Deerwood Wild Horse Sanctuary covering 4,700 acres of private ranch land west of Laramie is actually the first BLM certified sanctuary. This beautiful ranch supports a herd of 300 wild horses. The BLM, to it’s credit, has actively involved selected ranchers with providing large private-protected grazing areas for wild horses. Many ranchers are quite sympathetic to the plight of wild horses and this is publicized too little, I believe.
For various reasons, some Eco-sanctuaries have not been as successful. Madeleine Pickens (Iraqi by birth and ex-wife of Boone Pickens who was a wild horse advocate himself and also owner of champion racehorse, Cigar) has invested millions of dollars and a great deal of time and effort, attempting to provide a protected haven for the surplus of wild horses that the BLM claims over-taxes the range and it’s holding pens. With the initial blessing of the BLM, Madeleine purchased 2 large ranches only to be told that they were not acceptable. She then purchased more ranch land and proceeded to implement all of the requirements the BLM laid out for her. She also built the very deluxe and popular tourist attraction, Mustang Monument, which offered beautiful, furnished Teepees and wild horse safaris in an effort to help her herds become self sufficient and literally pay for their keep. It was a plan that would save tax-payers million of dollars and alleviate the BLM of many of it’s problems. However, the BLM has thwarted her at every turn. They have not allowed her to adopt a single wild horse from their lands or pens. The most terrible of tragedies occurred this year when a criminal trespass of her Spruce Mountain Ranch in Elko County, Nevada, saw a number of wild horses Madeleine had rescued from slaughter houses die a slow and agonizing death from lack of water. Trespassers had cut her fences and turned off, or destroyed, all water sources.
The ISPMP (International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros) in South Dakota was founded in 1960 by Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston) and was home to 650 wild horses. It has just been charged with claims of 30 wild horses enduring unthinkable-tragic deaths from starvation. Many more wild horses were found to be severely suffering from neglect. What Wild Horse Annie had founded as a safe haven for wild horses became after her death an uncontrolled, free-breeding, operation that resulted in too many horses and not enough money to feed them. Sometimes even the best of intentions need monitoring.
PZP (porcine zona pellucida) is a vaccine that was developed to prevent pregnancy in mares for approximately one year. Although this seems like a viable option for controlling wild horse populations, the problem is that it is a vaccine. How do you vaccinate a population that is wild and roams over an extensive area? More round-ups? Although catch pens using grain or hay as bait have been suggested, how many mares could be caught up? If this needs to be a yearly process, the magnitude of the operation and the trauma to wild horse herds, the locating and catching enough wild horses, the man hours and expense required etc all seem too formidable.
There doesn’t‘ appear to be any easy fix. There is only so much land and so much grass and water. Cattle are allocated 5 times the public grazing lands compared to wild horses and ranchers pay a mere $1.69 per cow-calf unit per month. Should ranchers deserve less land and/or pay more? Predators are nature’s way of population control, but there aren’t any. Man has determined that. Why not bring wolves back and restrict hunting on cougars so at least a partial balance of nature could be re-instated? The BLM needs an overhaul, new blood with environmentally friendly ideas, and more transparency. They have meeting after meeting only to try the same approach over and over again. What they say in public doesn’t seem to match what they do in private. Why are they really opposed to Madeleine’s proposal and what involvement does the county and ranchers have in the BLM’s stance? Would Madeleine’s proposed sanctuary just postpone the inevitable starvation problem if uncontrolled breeding is allowed? We definitely need more monitoring of Eco-sanctuaries etc to make sure Wild Horse Annie’s good intentions don’t go astray.
We have to continue to explore new avenues and options and discuss the pros and cons of each. We also need to be realistic. There are limitations. There is only so much land, only so many resources. (Does this sound like an issue we humans also face?) Can we attain a balance and if so, how? We need open minds. Communication lines need to be encouraged and be respectful among all wild horse factions. No easy task to be sure. But, perhaps in trying, we can be an example of co-operation and positive direction, something that is much needed these days.