Where Are Our Wild Horses?

Gillian Lyons

 When contemplating American Icons, mustangs inevitably come to mind.  In fact, in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, Congress stated that wild free-roaming horses are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management is currently removing, via controlled round-ups, this symbol of the American spirit from their habitats throughout the western United States. Two such round-ups currently in the news are occurring in Colorado and Wyoming (a round-up that aims to remove 2,000 horses from rangelands).  After these round-ups, BLM plans to either auction captured horses or to house them in government owned corrals.

 According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Director, Bob Abbey, the reason for these round-ups is that the Western rangeland is currently home to 38,400 free-roaming population horses and burros, which exceeds by nearly 12,000 the number of horses and burros that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.  Animal welfare organizations, however, disagree with these calculations and policies, and claimed in a unified letter signed by 120 organizations that: Continue reading

Thinking About Wild Horses

Bruce Wagman

Lately I have been thinking about wild horses.  I discovered the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1340 (Wild Horses Act), when I was collecting materials for the first animal law class at Hastings College of the Law in 1996.  Like several laws written for animals, on its face it looked like it would actually protect the covered animals, and that the legislators were very concerned about the horses’ well-being.  Congress actually said that wild horses were “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that [they] are fast disappearing from the American scene.”  It sounded like a set-up for protection to me.  What a letdown when I eventually discovered that while the law arguably provides some protection, it has also been used to herd these independent beauties with helicopters and worse, then to pen them in corrals where they are unable to run or engage in any semblance of their normal lifestyles, and then to either warehouse them for years (the federal government currently keeps over 30,000 in long-term holding) or, if they are old or infirm, sell them for slaughter.  During the “gathers,” horse are obviously frightened, they may die, and once captured, spontaneous abortions of foals is common.  And if they live, they often slowly die from starvation, lack of activity, and other causes.   Continue reading