Keep Wild Horses Wild

Ruth Toporoff

What was Intended?

There are more than 30,000 wild horses roaming freely on Government owned and managed land in the USA. The BLM manages more than 245 Million acres of US public land across 10 western states, 26.9 million acres are used for the protection of wild horses.

In 1971, Nixon signed a law called The “Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (.pdf).”(Public Law 92-195). The law unanimously passed by Congress declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” It stipulates that the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have the responsibility to manage and “Protect wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death. Further, the law stated that wild horses and burros were to be considered an integral part of the natural system of the public lands. The BLM was tasked with the management and enforcement of this law. This meant that BLM would be responsible for the thoughtful and humane management of the horses and burros. Additionally, they would have to prevent the overpopulation and overgrazing of the land.

What is actually happening?

Instead of protection, the BLM has grossly mismanaged their authority by implementing cruel and costly practices that are based on many factors that do not include what is in the best interests of the wild herds they are mandated to protect.

Famously inhumane, is the cruel practice called helicopter roundups with “Helicopter Cowboys”, or low flying helicopters that brutally stampede, capture, and remove wild horses and burros by the thousands. The helicopters chase them sometimes over 20 miles while the horses run at full speed, breaking legs, and falling. Some mothers die and get separated from their foals. Once caught and captured, the horses get packed into pens. Wild horses are not used to being so close together leading them to be stressed, frightened, and longing for the millions of acres that they once lived on. The horses who survive this traumatic experience are stockpiled in government holding pens where they will spend the rest of their lives. It they are not adopted or auctioned off then they are sent through the slaughter pipeline to Canada or Mexico where they become meat or pet food.

The largest helicopter cowboy, Cattoor Livestock Roundup, captured over 200,000 wild horses and burros for the BLM. From 2008-2018, the Cattoors have made $20,462,928 through 159 contracts with the BLM. In addition to the cost of capture, there are costs associated with holding and feeding. Estimates indicate that the overall cost to taxpayers for the federal grazing program could be as much as $500 million annually.

The BLM is highly influenced by the commercial livestock industry. While the BLM claims there are 88,000 wild horses on our western public lands, recent Congressional reports state that there are between 700,000 to 1 million domestic cattle that are permitted to graze. Taxpayer-funded livestock grazing is authorized on over 155 million acres of public land where wild horses are completely absent. Wild horses and burros are authorized to roam just 27 million acres of public land.

By the 1990s, the abuses under the BLM’s adoption program were well known. Undercover articles documented how the BLM had falsified records so officials could sell horses to slaughter by the truckload, circumventing the four-horse-per-person limit. There is little evidence that BLM Management priorities were ever developed to protect wild horses and burros as Congress intended. On the contrary, the defining calculations used to establish population limits and the need for roundups are based on a deep-routed prioritization of ranching and other commercial interests on public lands.

Is there a Solution ?

There are solutions. Proven fertility programs exist that also promote healthy ecosystems by protecting predators and strengthening habitats.  

There’s a birth control vaccine called Porcine Zona Pellucida – PZP, it is a perfect solution to this entire issue. Fertility control programs, using the PZP vaccine provide a safe, humane, cost-efficient and effective alternative to the current wild horse management approach of roundup. It’s used in wildlife populations all the time. The horses get darted once a year and then they would not get pregnant.  Despite this, the agency continues to fail to use it on a scale that will make a difference, and has actually reduced the use of PZP since 2011, choosing instead to spend their money on helicopter roundups. PZP costs $30 a year per horse. 

Currently the BLM spends less than 1 percent of its budget on humane fertility control, while spending at least 72 percent to roundup, remove and stockpile horses. Every year, kill buyers funnel more than a hundred thousand wild horses  into the horse-meat trade for slaughter outside of the US.

PZP is used today to successfully manage 20 wild horse populations in the U.S. and has achieved zero population growth in many of them.

Organizations like the American Wild Horse Campaign that have been fighting for years to save America’s wild horses. They and other boots-on-the-ground wild horse advocacy groups have successfully collaborated on fertility control efforts for years, bringing these programs to several areas across the West. They have implemented the world’s largest fertility control program right here in the U.S. on Nevada’s historic Virginia Range. Their volunteer-based, collaborative program is proof that this fertility control model is effective for humanely managing large wild horse populations in expansive habitat areas.

The government owned land is our land – Mine and yours – to treasure and preserve for generations to come. We control its fate, its existence. When polled, over 80 % of the American public all over the USA, say they want to keep wild horses and burros living free on this land. While there are challenges, for years the BLM have made horrific choices in their  management. Instead of putting provisions in place to protect these horses, they have caused increasing harm and trauma to the herds. These horses were supposed to be protected. Instead they are treated in ways that are inhumane, unsustainable, and makes no financial sense whatsoever. The BLM has forsaken their duty to protect the nation’s treasured and magnificent animals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: