Editorial: Can the Bureau of Land Management help the wild horses?

Following the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been placed with the responsibility to “protect, manage and control wild horses and burros” and “ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands”. Those mission statements are taken from their website, www.blm.gov.

Has the BLM really done its job? Or have they been taking actions that will devastate wild horse herds for good? Data from the Cloud Foundation, a group of wild horse advocates, support the latter claim.

Numerous legal battles against the BLM, which can all be found on the Cloud Foundation website at http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/news-events-and-media/legal-battle, show evidence as far back as 2005 to support claims that the interest of the horses ranks below the use the land in the eyes of the BLM. An important legal battle began in July 2011 by the Cloud Foundation, regarding the Kiger Mustang herds in the Burns and Riddle Mountain areas of southwest Oregon.

According to the BLM, these particular mustangs are the closest remaining descendant of the original Spanish Mustang, making their preservation extremely important as the original mustang serves as a positive symbol to many people. In the 2011 case, wildlife ecologist Craig Downer found that herds had been captured to the extent that they are now “genetically non-viable,” with population levels as low as 33 for Riddle and 51 for Burns.

Why would a group dedicated to the “healthy herds” try to eliminate the most important breed left?

The Kiger Mustangs are not the only herds the BLM has tried to eliminate. According to data from The Cloud Foundation website, the wild horses in the West Douglas area in Colorado have been targeted multiple times since 2005. The first time, the BLM proposed to zero-out (clear the land of) all mustangs, both inside and out of the West Douglas area. They were denied on the grounds that not all wild horses in the area could be considered “excess.” The BLM, however, refused to give up. In July 2012, they again proposed total removal, claiming that the horses and land were both suffering from drought. However, upon inspection of the herd, this was not the case.

In an article on the Habitat for Horses website, Don Moore, a Colorado Veterinarian who went to survey the area, states, “…in areas where horses are found there is plenty of fresh water flowing. Some of it flows underground but comes up aboveground in seeps.” He later goes on to report, “I observed fresh feces… the horses were not dehydrated.”

One must wonder why the BLM would be so determined to wipe out this entire herd that they would completely overlook the evidence in their attempts to find reasons for capture. One possible answer is their plans to use the land for their own purpose, like in the July 2011 case. In this case, the BLM planned to zero-out Jakes Wash in order to move thousands of head of livestock in to graze the land.

Another possibility to explain the actions of the BLM is the amount of money they make off of these mustangs by selling them by the hundreds to men such as Tom Davis, a well-known horse slaughter advocate who has bought thousands of mustangs that have since disappeared. When Davis came around, the BLM was in trouble due to excessive capture and nowhere to put their horses. They could not sell them off fast enough and were going to lose money.

Desperate for a solution, they took up Davis’ offer to buy the mustangs for $10 a head, and soon were sending truckloads of hundreds to his farm. It saved them money, but one must wonder, what happened to all of those horses still being sold Although a contract was signed not to sell the horses to slaughter, and there are supposed to be rules about it, none of the BLM employees seem to be able to answer the question, what did Davis do with the horses? When asked in an interview, he refused to answer.

The BLM has admitted they have no idea where the horses are; only that some of them ended up in Mexico and some of them are still in Nevada. What is the point of the laws and contract they put in place if it is not being reinforced and the horses are not being tracked?

In 1971, there were 339 wild horse and burro herds in the United States, as opposed to the 179 herds left today. Only 44 of the remaining herds have the appropriate management levels above 150, the minimum number of adults required for genetic viability. The BLM intends to further decrease the amount of wild horses and burros, and allow the land that has always been for the horses to be taken over by approximately 280,000 head of livestock, allowed to graze without worry! Instead of the land being grazed by tens of thousands of horses, it will now be grazed by hundreds of thousands of livestock. How will the land be able to keep up with such a large herd?

Does the BLM do what they say their mission is? Are they really doing what is best for the land and for the animals? It doesn’t look that way once one looks at the facts. Whether intentionally or due to ignorance, the BLM is hurting the wild horses it has vowed to protect in order to use the land for their own. The BLM could be useful; the wild horses do need to be managed due to lack of natural predators. However, maybe it is time we look for new management, before the mustang becomes just a memory.

By Michelle Todd
Corner Post Staff Writer