Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wild horse (and burro) population riding off into the sunset

Wild horses may not be dragging anyone away – they are too busy being slaughtered and harassed, advocates say. They are also pretty tangled up in a debate about their fate.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

While more than a million mustangs used to prance around our plains less than a century ago, the number has dwindled to fewer than 40,000. Some put the estimates at 37,000 or so, while Jody Blaylcock, lifelong horse owner and equine advocate, says it’s even lower.

“There are only 15,000 horses left in the wild in the United States (despite false and misleading numbers being circulated by the Bureau of Land Management),” she wrote in an e-mail.

Two camps are clearly drawn in the wild horse debate.

One side consists of animal advocates, like Blaylock and organizations such as the Cloud Foundation, who say wild horses should continue to roam free in the West.

The other side, which supports a recent proposal put forth by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, wants the horses moved East and Midwest where they say the population can be better cared for and controlled.

What is Salazar’s plan?

The $96 million proposal is to buy two ranches and contract with five other private ranches to house the wild horse population, according to a report in USA Today. No locations were given for any of the ranches.

Salazar supporters say wild horses will do better in this controlled environment where they won’t conflict with cattle and don’t have the threat of starving to death.

This plan, although expensive, is also supposed to save money in the long run, as keeping horses out in the West is costing a pretty penny. Or several million of them.

This year’s horse program’s price tag has been estimated at $50 million, most of which goes for food, care and moving many of the horses from the 29 million acres of federal land to private accommodations in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Kansas, the USA Today report said.

The report also quotes BLM spokesman Tom Gorey saying the wild horses should be neutered so no more than 17,500 are in the breeding population and the overall herd size should be dwindled to down 26,600.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Those opposing the plan have already seen the havoc wreaked by BLM, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Late this summer, using helicopters, (BLM) rounded up most of the herd, 146 horses, but then let 89 go, keeping 57 to auction off,” Jonathan Storm wrote in his piece: What Menaces the Mustangs.

“Strong lobbying from ranchers, who want the federal land for their 3.2 million sheep and cattle, keeps pressure on the puny population of mustangs,” he said. His article was a review of the TV show Challenge of the Stallions, which featured wild mustang Cloud, for whom the Cloud Foundation was formed.

Animal advocates also fear what fate awaits the remaining horses.

“If the BLM gets its way the remainder will soon all be shipped to Mexico (where they are being slaughtered in the most horrific ways imaginable) or broken apart into genetically unviable herds as per Ken Salazar’s recent plan,” Blaylock said. “The ROAM act (S-1579) is before the house right now, and if passed would reinstate the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, offering some protection to those animals who are left.”

What is the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act?

I’ll let the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, which mentions wild horses on public lands are outnumbered by cattle 200 to 1, answer that one:

In 1971, more letters poured into Congress over the threat to our nation’s wild horses than over any issue in U.S. history, except for the Vietnam War. And so Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, declaring that “wild horses and burros are 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 these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) were appointed to implement the Act. Most herd areas are under BLM jurisdiction.

Fast-forward thirty years: in 2001, after decades of failed herd management policies, the BLM obtained a 50% increase in annual budget to $29 million for implementation of an aggressive removal campaign; in 2004, the 1971 Act was surreptitiously amended, without so much as a hearing or opportunity for public review, opening the door to the sale of thousands of wild horses to slaughter for human consumption abroad.


The entire fiasco is yet another example of man versus nature, with nature losing no matter which way you turn.

Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Learn more:

Jody Blaylock, who is speaking out for horses on her own behalf, is also a member of the Pima County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, which is its search and rescue group; the Tucson Saddle Club; and the American Quarter Horse Association. She grew up in a cattle ranch in western Oklahoma and has owned horses her entire life, including the three she now owns.

Blaylock will be giving a presentation as part of Ignite: Tucson
What: Wild horse presentation as part of Ignite: Tucson
Where: The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.
When: Thursday, Oct. 29 – Doors open 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m.
How much: $5

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