Call of the wild horses in Idaho: Preserving an American icon

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Wild horses running free.
Wild horses running free. © Wild Love Preserve / Andrea Maki

The iconic wild mustang is pure Americana, a symbol of unbridled freedom, power, determination, and the Wild West, and US woman Andrea Maki has undertaken a mission to protect and preserve native wild horses in their desert environment of Idaho.

Back in 2010 Maki, a contemporary visual artist, founded Wild Love Preserve (WLP) to protect and preserve native wild horses in their environment. Her aim was to nurture the legacy of  indigenous ecosystems as a whole, in a sustainable way. Kindness, mutual respect, science and education are paramount to the mission.

Wild horses © Wild Love Preserve / Andrea MakiMaki began knocking on doors to introduce herself in her push to bring stakeholders together.

While many said it would be impossible, even dangerous, she took a boots-on-the-ground approach, armed simply with an open mind, respect, kindness, patience, and a desire to find common ground in a region previously locked in opposition. Now, Wild Love Preserve has become a model in co-existence among stakeholders that benefits wild horses.

Central to the preserve is the Challis Herd Management Area (HMA) in Central Idaho, home to numerous bands of the Challis Wild Horse Herd. This unique expanse of multi-use public land encompasses 154,150 acres of high desert wilderness rich in native wildlife and habitat and outdoor recreation, as well as grazing allotments for livestock.

“While there exists a mixed array of wild horse bloodlines and regional history, universal evolution reveals that the North American continent is the original birthplace of equus, making wild horses a native species. Most notable being the Hagerman Horse of Idaho,” Maki says.

U-Haul's graphic: The Hagerman Horse grazed Idaho's ancient savanna over three million years ago. Fossils indicate this zebra-like species continued to evolve until 10,000 years ago, when all traces of the creatures suddenly vanished.
The Hagerman Horse grazed Idaho’s ancient savanna over three million years ago. Fossils indicate this zebra-like species continued to evolve until 10,000 years ago, when all traces of the creatures suddenly vanished.

The Hagerman Horse is a North American species of equid from the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods, first appearing 3.5 million years ago. Hagerman fossils, discovered in 1928 by an Idaho rancher, represent the oldest widely accepted remains of the genus Equus and are proudly recognized as the State Fossil of Idaho. Before the extinction of North American horses 10,000 years ago, many had drifted across the Bering Land Bridge to Eurasia, which proved fortunate for man. The horse’s return to indigenous soil came with European explorers by sea.

“To be sure, the horse has been instrumental in humankind’s survival and development, and we owe great debt, respect and gratitude to our four-legged partner,” Maki says.

Wild Love Preserve makes use of public and private lands for wild horse conservation on home turf. It also carries out collaborative work on the range, and accounts for wild horses permanently removed from public rangeland by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Wild horses in the high desert of Idaho.
Wild horses in the high desert of Idaho. © Wild Love Preserve / Andrea Maki

Now, there are about 200 wild horses roaming free on the Challis HMA, while WLP has 130 as result of their mass adoption (and purchases) following the 2012 BLM Helicopter Roundup of the Challis HMA. Instead of being shipped out of state to taxpayer-funded longterm holding facilities, these 130 Idaho wild horses will remain together and free on WLP native wild expanse in their home region.

Andrea Maki with a new BLM sign on the Challis HMA. The sign acknowledges Wild Love Preserve for its volunteer work.
Andrea Maki with a new BLM sign on the Challis HMA. The sign acknowledges Wild Love Preserve for its volunteer work. © Wild Love Preserve / Andrea Maki

Non-profit Wild Love Preserve is supported by private grants and donations versus federal funding. As result of WLP programs on and off the range, this grassroots organization has saved US taxpayers $3.5 million dollars since 2013, and greatly benefited the local economy, in addition to saving wild lives. Interestingly, WLP’s greatest challenge has been in raising full-project funding to fully implement their programs, not in conflict or controversy with regional stakeholders.

Wild Love Preserve’s all-inclusive approach to managing native wild horses on home turf involves constructive measures with the BLM, ranchers, environmentalists, wildlife biologists, wild horse advocates, and local communities. This project nurtures a lasting legacy of wildness, and supports healthy, genetically viable native herds and ecosystems, for future generations to equally experience, nurture, and treasure.

By design, collaborative conservation efforts offer a feasible option to existing BLM helicopter roundups, integrate total range health, balance with indigenous wildlife, and livestock where applicable.

www.wildlovepreserve.org

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