Wild horse advocates are petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the nation’s mustangs as threatened or endangered.
Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Cloud Foundation are arguing for the declaration under the Endangered Species Act since the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, passed in 1971, had failed to protect wild horses.
The groups say six states have already lost their wild horse populations – Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“Misclassification of wild horses as a non-native species is politically, not scientifically driven,” said Ginger Kathrens, who is executive director of the Cloud Foundation.
“Wild horses are severely endangered but without recognition of current scientific evidence of their native status, they could become extinct.”
In the early 1900s, between two million and five million wild horses roamed America, said Jenni Barnes, staff attorney for FoA’s wildlife law program.
“Now there are less than 35,000 on public lands, where they are supposed to be protected,” Barnes said.
“The petition states that these few remaining horses are divided into even smaller herds, whose populations are so low that they are susceptible to being wiped out completely by a chance event or change in the environment.
“Instead of protecting these horses, or just leaving them alone, a government agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), plans to remove even more horses from the range with expensive and cruel tactics, such as helicopter driving.”
The groups argue that the BLM is obligated, under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, to protect the horses as an “integral part of the natural system of public lands”.
They argue that while the BLM claims that wild horses need to be removed from public lands to protect rangeland health, the vast majority of public land is open to livestock grazing, which causes far more damage to the land.
FoA president Priscilla Feral said: “The tragedy of horse roundups exists because the bureau appears devoted to turning arid western public lands into feedlots for cows and sheep to appease cattle producers.
“Friends of Animals finds this morally and ecologically reprehensible, as wild horses are driven off lands to leave the bulk of water, forage and space for two domestic animals owned by ranchers.
“We oppose the BLM’s scheme of privatizing wild horses and insist all roundups end.”
The groups said the BLM had rounded up and put in holding facilities more than 200,000 horses since the act was passed.
Barnes commented: “Everyone’s tax dollars contribute to the animal abuse caused by roundups.
“In the 2013 fiscal year, BLM spent $US4.8 million on gathers and removals and spent $US46.2 million on holding costs. A report by the National Academy of Science concluded ‘the continuation of business-as-usual practices will be expensive and unproductive for BLM’.”
“Every time the government restricts their habitat or takes them away from the range, it disrupts horses’ social bonds and damages the overall fitness of the herds.”