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

The 2010 Animal Law Moot

David Cassuto

I’m in Boston — well, Cambridge actually — at a cute little law school tucked away in a modest, unassuming university they have up here.  This year marks my seventh consecutive year judging the annual Animal Law Moot Court Competition, an event staged by Lewis & Clark’s Center for Animal Law Studies in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Continue reading

Wild Horse Protection Bill Makes it Through the House

horsesAs usual it wasn’t pretty (the term “sausage-making” seems disturbingly apt), but H.R. 1018, a federal bill to protect wild horses and burros from commercial sale and slaughter and also from wholesale government-sponsored killing, made it through the House. The vote was 239-195.  Among other things, the bill directs BLM to make wider use of fertility controls  and to let horses occupy more of public lands.  The hope is that if this bill makes it into law, it will prevent any more situations like that of last summer when BLM announced plans to kill 30,000 wild horses, only to have Madeleine Pickens (wife of T. Boone) announce that she would underwrite the horses’ continued existence (see post here), only to have that too not come to pass.  If this bill passes, we can cross off at least one ridiculous governmental fire drill (with potentially disastrous consequences) from the list of things we need to worry about.

–David Cassuto

Advocacy, Rights, & More Dilution of Language

I want to say a brief word about animal rights.  Or rather I want to say a brief word what they are not about.  The media often brands advocacy organizations opposing the mistreatment of nonhumans as “animal rights groups” regardless of the groups’ actual purpose or philosophy.  For example, here discussing opposition to the proposed “euthanization” of thousands of wild mustangs, the Washington Post lumps the American Wild Horses Preservation Campaign (among others) under the rubric of animals rights groups.  The AWHPC is an umbrella organization for 45 groups, most of which are far more concerned with horses not dying than with the nature and scope of horses’ moral or legal claims.

Furthermore, the WaPo also tells us that Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire oilman, T. Boone Pickens, intervened and pledged to save the horses.  I feel confident opining that Ms. Pickens does not consider herself an animal rights activist.  My guess: she just likes horses.  Not being animal rights-oriented doesn’t make Ms. Pickens a bad person or the AWHPC a bad organization anymore than not being a pear makes an apple a bad fruit.  They are just different.

I intend to write more about how animal advocates of all stripes as well as the causes they champion get routinely marginalized through this type of careless rhetoric.  If animal rights are to mean something, they cannot mean everything.  Codifying what animal rights do mean, however, is a post for another day.

David Cassuto

Update, March 2009: It is not looking good for the Pickens-funded sanctuary.