The politicization of the plight of wild horses and burros in America

Wild horses at an ecosanctuary in Wyoming.
Wild horses at an ecosanctuary in Wyoming. © Jana Wilson/BLM

It’s is truly sad to see the current plight of America’s wild horses and burros today, which have suffered setback after setback since they were protected in 1971 by the Wild Burro & Horse Protection Act.

In the preamble to the Act, Congress stated: “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming 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. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

As we examine the history since the Act was codified by Congress, we clearly find that there has been government malfeasance in the caring for wild horses and burros under the Act. 

Some of the most important intentions of the Act were stated with these words: “wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death”.

It’s shocking to learn that people working for and at the BLM have either condoned (by inaction) or participated in deeds that are diametrically opposed to the foregoing law, and have allowed or engaged in the ‘capture, branding, harassment and death’ of wild horses and burros. The evidence is staggeringly clear and would convict anyone of such violations in any just court of law.

This video provides a prima facie case of a violation of the Act and of professional misconduct and malfeasance by the BLM and its contractors:

Having seen just this one video of many available, it’s no wonder that many people become emotionally driven to stop what may now be widespread abusive tactics in wild horse and burro management.

Clearly, today there are diametrically opposed forces that have faced-off in what some folks see as a type of ‘war’, which has been and continues to be composed of many battles. Individual advocates and non-profit groups have faced-off against the government and even each other at times. For instance, there are heated divides between pro-PZP and anti-PZP birth control measure for wild horses.

In another example, the wild horse and burro advocacy is aggressively opposing the advocacy for the livestock industry, which also has many supporting organizations who would like more cheap grazing rights on public lands. In the world of business, who could blame them? All businesses strive and compete to reduce the cost of goods produced, and in this instance, meat for the markets. The competition for all land, both public and private has increased and will continue in years to come, so the future for wild horses and burros is under pressure, regardless of the 1971 Act. The government on the other hand has to answer (to some extent) to the people for how taxes are used, while also balancing public resources and industry; not an easy task by any means, even in a perfect system, which we do not have.

Among the wild horse and burro advocates, divides and factions have evolved and formed over the past 46 years to what we have today. The fractionation of the advocacy has evolved over those decades for several reasons.

Given that many tens of millions of Americans love horses and burros, it’s no wonder that these aficionados can be found across all political designations; Republican, Democrats, Libertarians, etc.

And among all of the reasons for the deep divides within the wild horse and burro advocacy, politics creates the most animosity between advocates. The political rancor between horse and burro advocates is often converted to simple minded name-calling of individuals, some of who are officials that control the fate of wild horses and burros.

Cattle grazing in South Dakota.
Cattle grazing in South Dakota. © BLM

I had taken some advocates to task by posing this question: “If a man is holding a gun to the head of your loved-one, do you start calling him names? Or, do you remain calm and negotiate with the gunman?”

Unfortunately, some of the advocates to whom I posited said question, missed the lesson completely.

Of course then there is the competition for donation-dollars in regard to the wild horse and burro dilemma and controversy. It’s just a fact that there are only so many donation-dollars available, and some of the non-profits compete, at times quite aggressively, for that money. This alone creates divides in the advocacy, where each organization tries to create and maintain a higher ‘status’ within peer groups, which at times is done at the expense of other groups or people who are seen as possibly diverting, diluting or eliminating the need for funding.

It’s important to note that thousands of jobs have evolved around the myriad of non-profits that address the wild horse and burro controversy, either directly or indirectly.

One question that may be weighing-on some of these non-profits is; what happens if a holistic solution for all of the wild horses and burro was enacted tomorrow?

What happens to these non-profits and all the jobs that are based solely on the plight of wild horses and burros? If such a hypothetical holistic solution began tomorrow, do all these non-profit organizations happily declare the ‘war is over’ and go home like soldiers from a war?

If so, how do the people at these numerous organizations pay their own personal bills if they lose their employment, noble or not?

Of course many ranchers who once raised cattle are now making a good living off the BLM caring for wild horses as a result of the issue. What happens to them if a holistic solution were to be enacted tomorrow? Could they even go back to raising beef from scratch? Maybe not.

Wild horses in northern Wyoming. © BLM

By way of these examples we can begin to understand the economics that can color the views of advocates and organizations on both sides; people’s livelihoods are intertwined into the issue and its outcome. So regardless of what people will openly admit, there is some monetary conflict of interest on all sides of the controversy.

Is there truly any solution that can be accepted by every person on all sides?

Probably not, but maybe for a majority of people on all sides; there will always be a few people who for personal or business reasons fight against any particular solution, regardless of merit, and regardless of how many others it may help.

My wife and I are without doubt horse enthusiasts. So much so, that we have allocated our life savings to secure lands for horses to run wild and free. We live among wild horses and are inspired by them. Some people may assert that through such continuous and close contact with the wild ones, we have established ‘resonant coherence’ with wild horses, leading to a much deeper understanding of them. This in turn has attracted my attention to the larger issue with America’s wild horses and burros.

As someone who has soberly offered a holistic solution to the advocacy, I have come to learn about these factions, especially those who are driven by rabid political beliefs, where all of the negativity is converted into angry rhetoric, much of which is littered with profanity and personal attacks directed at anyone who may openly disagree with their views.

© BLM

They like to employ a technique that amplifies their bullying of opposing opinions, whereby the opposing opinion and author is ‘called-out’ using ad hominem attacks on an email thread with as many of their own like-minded people copied to the thread openly (listed, not BCC). The idea here is to make the reader believe that everyone on the email is against that person, and it also provides an arena where many email avatars will happily pile-on for the mutual admiration. Many of these people use multiple email accounts to make one person seem like three. Of course the goal of this is to drive-out any ideas or opinions that don’t serve their agendas, or increase their own power. Any ideas or concepts, which have the potential to weaken the optics of these groups or reduce their donations is met with treachery.

In business, when any solution to any issue is contemplated, the process involves analyzing the current state of the art, pointing out (criticizing) the weaknesses or places where improvement can be made, and finally, offering a potentially better solution or product.

As in my own case, in the process of analyzing and criticizing past methodologies and tactics (not people) used by the wild horse and burro advocacy in regard to addressing the big-picture of the wild horse and burro controversy, it’s clear there has been no meaningful progress. The evidence of this is the fact that we are now all bracing for the possible slaughter of wild horses, and that should be a wake-up call to all of the advocacy groups.

History shows anyone who will look; after 46-years since the passage of the Act to protect the wild horses and burros in America, the advocacy, as it is, has not achieved what is needed; a final holistic solution that saves the horses and burros from the atrocities we have all witnessed over the few past decades.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems with that documented history leading to where we are today with horses in America facing slaughter, advocates would surely embrace any solution that offered hope for the horses and burros? Shockingly and sadly, there are a few who are more about the fight and process, than a final result.

Even with all of the foregoing yellow and red flags, I took it upon myself to draft the concept for the Wild Horse Brigade (#WHFB) which could be the first step of a two-phase program to save all the wild horses and burros.

Clearly step one is intended to offer a way for the BLM to save money (their goal) and to release horses and burros into the wilderness where they belong; as opposed to slaughtering them (goal of the advocacy? Let’s hope so!)

Of course the cattle lobby has logical concerns about releasing horses out onto any public lands where there may be livestock grazing or where ranchers may be eyeing future grazing permits. Of course we all understand, nobody, not even the cattle industry gets everything they want. And there are other stakeholders who have much bigger financial axes to grind in regard to annual catastrophic wildfires; that is the insurance industry.

One adult wild horse eats about 30-pounds of dry grass and brush daily. So for instance; if 40,000 horses were released into carefully selected areas that would not conflict with grazing permits, those areas would without any doubt have less ground fuel (grasses and brush), with a reduction rate of 1.2-millions pounds of fuels abated daily.

© Laura Simpson

Less fuel mean less fire, and less fire means less fire suppression and related costs. This is the essence of the Wild Horse Fire Brigade concept as described further in this article: ‘Fighting wildfires with wild horses – an untapped equine fire brigade’.

Of course as some folks may have read in my most recent article titled: ‘Wild horses have potential to stem killer toxins on American rangelands’, I discuss a most interesting connection that I stumbled upon when studying the decline in our local deer populations in regard to the increase in catastrophic wildfires. I now believe that the mismanagement of apex predators combined with a prion-based Chronic Wasting Disease (‘CWD’) is likely involved in the plummeting deer population of California.

And much to my amazement I learned that unlike cattle, sheep and cervids (deer, elk and moose), wild horses are conveniently immune to prions (CWD), which are believed to be transmitted into cervids via contaminated grass and brush, causing CWD. And when these prions manifest in cattle, it is called ‘mad-cow’ disease.

As we begin to see, excess grass and brush is the genesis for much more than just wildfire.

Could it be that wild horses, which evolved in North America, developed their immunity through an evolutionary process as a part of their mutualism with grasses and other animals? I think this could explain their natural immunity. And since prions are a toxin, it is believed their ability to infect cervids (and potentially cattle) may be dose related.

Did pre-industrial revolution equid mutualisms play a role in limiting excess grasses and brush? That much seems very likely.

And being objective and even-handed in my critical observations; the record proves that in addition to being an invasive species, cattle and sheep have over the past two centuries done extensive damage to our American range and forest lands.

Here’s an excerpt from one article on grazing rights by Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D.

“Were the Forest Service to announce that every single acre of forest was suitable for logging, the public would probably shriek. But the BLM has made an analogous decision for range-lands – grazing is still authorized on the vast majority of the BLM’s 177 million acres in the lower 48 states – and the public has responded with indifference. How has the ranching industry kept such a muscular grip on public policy and resisted new views of land use so successfully? The answers to this question include social, historical, literary, and – above all – political perspectives. Formidable cultural forces have worked to maintain the status quo of livestock grazing on public lands.”

My revelation about mitigating the potential spread of CWD using wild horses and burros benefits the $10-billion annual hunting industry in America. And when combined with the Wild Horse Fire Brigade (#WHFB) concept, the monetary savings to the BLM and the insurance industry provides benefits to many stakeholders. The list of benefits is worth repeating!

Wild horses Smokey, left, and Slater, part of Wildhorse Ranch's bachelor band.
Wild horses Smokey, left, and Slater, part of Wildhorse Ranch’s bachelor band. © Laura Simpson

Let’s examine the benefits of harnessing the natural abilities of wild horses to once again serve mankind by using them instead of killing them:

1. Releasing the 40,000+ wild horses from BLM corrals into selected wilderness areas where there are no current livestock grazing permits saves the BLM ~$50-m/annually in costs related to keeping the ~40k horses corralled; and,

2. Mitigated wildfire fuels saves the insurance industry hundreds of millions of dollars annually in losses as a small fraction of their current multi-billion dollar losses; and,

3. Less fuel means less fire, and less fire means less fire-suppression costs to the USFS (USFS spends half of their budget on fires), and savings to USFS and BLM-DOI translates to taxpayer savings; and,

4. Grass and brush abatement by wild horses (immune to prions) may alter prion disease vectors and prevent introduction into game animals (deer-elk-moose) that are now succumbing to the prion caused chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is great news for hunting lobbies ($10b annually).

Having the immune wild horses abate excess grasses and brush may also may provide some fire-walling against transmission of emerging prion diseases into domestic livestock herds from deer and elk, which may in turn potentially inhibit prions from infecting humans. Releasing wild horses back into the wilderness and creating a pilot program to study their affect on CWD may also lead to some insights and methodologies for protecting livestock and cervids long-term; and,

5. Last but not least, Wild Horses & Burros provide highly beneficial symbiotic mutualisms to all of their historical ecosystems and add to the aesthetics and tradition of the American wilderness. This final statement is consistent with the Congressional preamble to the 1971 Wild Burro and Horse Protection Act.

However, as it turns out, offering any civil criticism of the methods and tactics of some advocates and organizations that have resulted in thousands of wild horses and burros being in the pickle that we currently see is not well taken by some, who for whatever reason internalize critical observations as personal attacks. I would strongly advise people like this to avoid being a writer of books or screenplays, where your passionate works of art are torn to shreds by editors and then handed back with a ‘no’. The vast majority of writers are never published because they take it personally, when it wasn’t, and many become bitter from the experience.

© Laura Simpson

I have seen many cases where advocates address the officials who are literally holding the lives of horses and burros in their hands, using profanities and ugly innuendos. Usually this is done along political party lines, which is just obtuse, since wild horses and burros have suffered equally under all political parties. The short memories of advocates fail them in this regard; Democrats have been just as bad as Republicans when it comes to wild horses and burros.

One of many examples is Ken Salazar, a Democrat appointed by president Obama as the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. This report from the Huffington Post is damning:

On Friday, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a damning report about the Bureau of Land Management’s mismanagement of wild horses. The report concluded that agency officials did nothing to prevent a notorious livestock hauler from acquiring nearly 1800 wild horses and burros over a four-year period and handing them over to kill buyers who sent them to Mexico to slaughter for human consumption. The OIG report exposed the behavior of a Colorado hauler between 2008 and 2012 – overlapping closely with the tenure of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, long criticized for his poor oversight of the nation’s wild horse program. According to the OIG report, the hauler, Tom Davis, allegedly “had farming and trucking connections” with Salazar. The OIG report notes that Davis began gathering horses from the BLM after Salazar took office as Interior Secretary (the BLM program is part of the Department of the Interior and therefore was under Salazar’s control).

Bottom line; why are we where we currently find ourselves and our beloved wild horses and burros?

In my opinion, there are far too many chefs in the kitchen, each with an agenda, each an ‘expert’ on the process, and each with a slightly different recipe in mind …

William E. Simpson

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions - Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary. » Read Bill's profile

3 thoughts on “The politicization of the plight of wild horses and burros in America

  • July 20, 2017 at 2:12 pm
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    Although your fire brigade solution is ingenious, there is another solution. RESTORE AND OBEY THE 1971 LAW.

    Reply
  • July 21, 2017 at 6:01 am
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    The Bureau is a prohorse slaughter operation, its supposed to be protecting horses and burros. The video above is exactly how they treat what is supposed to be protected. Why? prohorse slaughter in America is one of the Worst Industries condoning violence against horses. I know this first hand. The Cattoors which used this helicopter to Attack the burro in the above video by maneuvering until it was unable to move is a proslaughter supporter and they shared their support of horse slaughter plants by blatantly advertising on the UH website for years. The fact the BLM has people proslaughter working directly with protected animals shows the blatant disregard for their protection. The BLM amassed these horses as they were interviewed in the Archived Chicago Sun stating in hopes of restarting slaughter in America and having a way to dispose of these wild horses that was 2006. The history of the BLM led me to other interviews where a BLM employee named Sally stated she thought the slaughter of the horses was the best thing as they are useless to anyone. This is not how you advertise to adopt horses. In fact, the relationship between proslaughter in America documented online his various trips and conversations with the BLM encouraging his followers via email and facebook to cast doubt on adoptive ability of the horses, claiming they were unwanted, encouraging use of the term feral and encouraging his followers to bash the Advocates attempting to help the horses. The facebook and emails encouraged followers to comment in every article and to attempt to destroy the Wild Horses by humane processing was not only encouraged but he demanded. Wild horses are NOT starving, they are not eating the lands however an email the proslaughter propaganda mill out was telling people to say they were, its the push to reopen slaughter in the US and the wild horses are fattened and ready to go. The fact is, this dilemma was created to reopen plants in the US. They are also in the middle of a land grab and the horses being reverted back to the States mean the States would profit off their slaughter instantly. This is a money game. The Bureau is using the Wild horses as a pawn. They need to be up for adoption 365 days a not a 3 strikes your out program. That means each animal in the course of 3 times being online isn’t adopted its put in holding indefinitely to live out its life. NO wonder the Bureaus a FAILURE at adopting, but that an excuse to kill horses. They knew how to appear as though they are offered as adoptions and were remaining unwanted appeared to Congress theres no way to adopt them out, when in fact its manipulating the process. 365 day a year adoptions conducted by outside agents capable of adopting horses would be the best scenario. They must require 501 c proof of no connections to horse slaughter and place horses where they can be followed upon within the year. No slaughter is not an option. The abuse above wasn’t either but it happened. Lets stop and allow Congress to know whats deceptive at the Bureau

    Reply
  • July 25, 2017 at 1:57 am
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    Greetings readers:

    Since my article on this subject, I have received many email replies and some phone calls that agree with my general observations about some of the wild horse & burro advocacy. Some respondents have said that they had already come to the same conclusion I have sometime back and had experienced what I have recently experienced, and since then they had pulled their support of some orgs. One respondent wrote:

    “I too, made mention on numerous occasions that the “advocate groups” were no more interested in a real solution than “cancer research” is interested in a cure for cancer. They make a good living on the controversy and will always pick a fight over a solution every time.”

    Bill

    Reply

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