wild horses

“Give me liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry (Founding father and slave owner)

In the spirit of having to one-up nature, humans have invented a horror greater than anything the natural world has to offer – prolonged captivity.

Ask any “good” American what values our red, white and blue flag represent and at the top of the list will be freedom.

Why then are two icons of the American West – cowboys and wild mustangs – pitted against one another in a struggle for the quickly deteriorating open federal lands of 10 U.S. states?

Wild mustangs, commonly believed to be descendents of the first horses Spanish explorers brought with them to North America, are one of the last remaining symbols of the world’s love affair with the legends of the Wild West. But like the once great herds of buffalo, mustangs became a casualty of the U.S. government’s Native American extermination policy and were slaughtered in an attempt to provide the natives no easy escape from reservations.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – charged with managing public federal lands, under the Dept. of the Interior, ignores science and humane alternatives by continuing its program of chasing herds of terrorized mustangs with helicopters into corrals where they are sorted and auctioned off, with only a lucky few being selected for re-release.

Most recently, an Arizona congressman, Rep. Raul Grijalva, and quite a few horse advocacy organizations, are going public with their disgust at the BLM’s decision to round up wild horses in northern Nevada at the height of foaling season and the summer heat.

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According to the Associated Press (AP), Grijalva wrote “June is the height of foaling season, meaning that BLM will be stampeding tiny foals, heavily pregnant mares and other horses that may already be compromised by lack of adequate water and forage,” in a letter sent to BLM Acting Director Mike Pool.

While the BLM contends that stampeding newborn foals over miles of hot desert is necessary to save them from drought conditions in the area, horse advocacy organizations are skeptical.

“The BLM is using the drought as an excuse to clear out wild horses while risking their death,” Anne Novak of Protect Mustangs told the AP. “They are leaving livestock on the same allegedly drought-afflicted land to graze, so BLM’s actions don’t make any sense.”

Actually, their actions make a lot of sense. Mustangs are just another casualty of the dirty livestock industry most Americans know only by the neat, plastic and Styrofoam packages of chilled cuts of beef stacked in our local supermarkets.

The Government Accountability Office reports that $144 million of our tax dollars goes every year to managing private livestock grazing on public lands. Damn. Even by happily avoiding the purchase of dead flesh I am still supporting the extermination of millions of animals by various government agencies to ensure ranchers line their pockets with blood money.

“Of the millions of dollars that taxpayers spend annually to subsidize public lands grazing, perhaps $5 to $8 million is dedicated to killing ‘predators’ to protect livestock grazing on federal lands,” Wild Earth Guardians reports in Fiscal Costs of Federal Public Lands Livestock Grazing. “Native wildlife killed to protect livestock include coyotes, bobcats, wolves, mountain lions and bears.”

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The absence of predators exacerbates the havoc livestock are wreaking on wild public lands, leading to further desertification of the West and poorer habitat for mustangs and other wildlife. So far, reports clearly show that the BLM has purposefully prevented scientists from including the effects of livestock grazing as part of their regional analyses in trying to figure out why western ecosystems are changing. Read the NY Times report.

But while the landscape changes for the worse, government management of the situation remains largely in favor of livestock interests. More than four million cattle and sheep occupy Western rangelands, offering “conscious” consumers their share of free-range meat, but at a price to animals most Americans cringe at the thought of eating.

Only 27,000 mustangs are allowed on public lands. This means that the BLM rounds up around 10,000 horses a year, offering them to private adopters. Another 23,000 older, unadoptable animals are held in lifelong captivity at taxpayer expense.

Also, many of these mustangs are known to have been sold to slaughter, meaning these once wild animals with freedom still pulsing through their veins are loaded onto trucks, left without food and water for the drive to Mexico or Canada, where they are unloaded, forced into a “kill box” slippery from the blood, urine and feces of the terrified animals that went before it, shot in the head (hopefully) with a bolt meant to immobilize it, lifted by its leg by a chain and gutted while its still-beating heart pumps any memory of freedom into the filth below.

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So American consumers choosing free-range beef are unwittingly condemning other animals they would never think of eating to horrific deaths.

And it all starts with these roundups where helicopters drive herds of newborns and elderly horses alike to severe exhaustion and often death.

Being lucky enough to be born human in the First World, we often take our freedom for granted. The horses in this video remind us how precious freedom is, and how devastating it is when it is taken away.

Banning livestock from public lands would leave more resources for mustangs, and until that is a viable option, birth control methods should be employed to control populations. Please visit Save our Wild Horses to take action.

Sources and further reading
Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.

11 COMMENTS

  1. An excellent article, Tina. Our wildhorses and burros have been under attack by the BLM and ranchers for at least 40 years now. Many that are adopted go to slaughter as well as some sold by the BLM .
    Visit http://tinyurl.com/4evvefn for the estimated pop. chart. May be less than 12,000 now. Who knows since BLM often over estimates?

  2. 27,000 mustangs allowed on PUBLIC lands (BLM mismanaged lands)? 51 million acres in 10 western states are mustang/burro legal domain. There is no where near 27,000 horses left in the wild. 70% of few remaining herds are below genetic viability. $41 million tax dollars being spent on fertility control for an endangered/protected species is ludacris. Burro populations are even in more serious danger. BLM is committing genocide on OUR PUBLIC lands for ranching, mining, and other special interests that are plundering, contaminating, raping OUR PUBLIC lands. They operate outside the law and get away with murder.

  3. The better part of western BLM lands have been badly denuded as a result of overgrazing, to the detriment of native species. You correctly identify livestock as the heart of the problem, but seem to have missed the obvious point that horses are no different than cattle in this respect. They are a non-native species, introduced by Europeans, and play no healthy or necessary role in our western ecosystems. Why is it that those arguing to save the horses always ignore this fact, while otherwise appearing to cite a science-based rationale to continue their existence? By resisting, for decades, effective means of managing mustang populations, horse “advocates” now share responsibility for the program currently in place. The real crime is that it required the destruction of western lands and wildlife to make it happen.

  4. Thank you Mark for bringing up an excellent point, one I wanted to touch on in my article but due to space constraints had to leave out.

    Something that must be kept in mind is that there are few species MORE native to North America than the horse. It evolved here starting about 55 million years ago and persisted until humans made their way to the continent. There’s little doubt that humans played a major role in the disappearance of horses in North America through over hunting that led to fragmented populations more susceptible to disease and the effects of climate change.

    The Spanish unwittingly RE-introduced horses to North America about 10,000 years after humans first wiped them out. It seems it’s never too late to right past wrongs.

  5. Actually Tina, I would have to disagree with you on that one.

    Climate change was THE major factor in killing off the horse in North America. The human population at that time was far too sparse and far too small to make any drastic change to horse populations. They existed at the same time and they were hunted by humans, sure – but you cannot (with present evidence anyway) say that their hunting was a ‘mjaor’ factor in the collapse of an entire species.

    Quite simply, horses would have died off alongside other mammals, with or without humans hunting them.

    • Humans and Climate Contributed to Extinctions of Large Ice Age Mammals, New Study Finds

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111102161041.htm

      “The genetic history of six large herbivores — the woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, wild horse, reindeer, bison, and musk ox — has shown that both climate change and humans were responsible for the extinction or near extinction of large mammal populations within the last 10,000 years. The study, which is the first to use genetic, archeological, and climatic data together to infer the population history of large-bodied Ice Age mammals, will be published in the journal Nature.”

      “Although it is clear that climate change drives the dynamics of these species, we, as humans, have to take some of the blame for what happened during this most-recent cycle. It seems that our ancestors were able to change the landscape so dramatically that these animals were effectively cut off from what they needed to survive, even when the human population was small,”

      Remains Show Ancient Horses Were Hunted for Their Meat

      http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/05/0511_ancienthorses.html

      “In the past, we could really only attribute the demise of these ancient horses to climate and environmental changes,” said Brian Kooyman, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary and the lead scientist at the dig.

      “There has been suggestive evidence at other sites—Lubbock Lake in Texas, for instance—that early peoples were utilizing horses,” he said. “But this discovery raises the very real possibility that overhunting by the Clovis people played a significant role in the extinction.”

      “European explorers reintroduced horses to the New World several thousand years after the ancient ones died out. ”

      “Environment and climate change were definitely factors in the extinction event, but there had been numerous instances of glaciers advancing and retreating during the Pleistocene, and this is the only time we see a megafaunal extinction. The arrival of humans is the only real new factor,” he said.

      • Are these people CRAZY. What in the h…. are they thinking. Horses are to love
        and respect not to eat and torture. These are GOD’S CREATURES, NOT OURS.

  6. PLEASE, PLEASE WHOEVER is in charge, all who can change this unbelieveable horror STOP THIS MADNESS!!! I became a vegetarian years ago because of this very thing! And because of the horror these pigs,chickens,cows etc go through in factorys and farms because of the meat industry. We have enough animals that have already been on the menu for many,many years WHY ON GODS GREEN EARTH does ANYONE need to eat horses…next is America going to start slaughter houses for dogs,cats and other domestic animals. Horses are domescit animals and the wild ones need to be LEFT IN THE WILD and the domestic horses need to either live their lives out in a sanctuary or at the homes of their owners after a long life of being a pet….OHHHHH I HAVE GOTTEN TO THE POINT THAT I JUST CAN’T STANT IT ANYMORE :((((((((((((

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