Wild horses capture the American public’s imagination like no other animal. The image of magnificent mustangs running wild on the vast Western range embodies the best of America – our independent, free, and untamed spirit. America’s mustangs and burros are even protected by an act of Congress that recognizes them as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” that “enrich the lives of the American people.” So why are these animals being systematically eliminated by our government today?

The answer lies in the power of special interest lobbies whose interests are consistently placed ahead of the will of the people. Responsibility for managing the nation’s wild horses and burros lies with the Bureau of Land Management  (BLM), an agency of the Interior Department. For four decades, the BLM  has waged a war on America’s wild horses.

Even though wild horses occupy just a small fraction (12 percent) of public land available for livestock grazing, ranchers who influence BLM policy view wild horses as competition for cheap, taxpayer-subsidized livestock grazing on public lands. They want them gone, and the BLM has been only too happy to comply.

Using low-flying helicopters to stampede and round up wild horses, the federal government removes them by the thousands from public lands in the West each year.

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Once removed, the horses are warehoused in holding facilities. The BLM now stockpiles nearly 48,000 wild horses and burros in government holding facilities and fewer than 48,000 wild horses and 11,000 burros remain free on the range.

The approach is costly, both to the taxpayers and to the horses, who lose their freedom and families, and sometimes their lives. This fiscal year, the cost of the federal wild horse program is projected to be $80 million. Taxpayers are on the hook for $153,905 every day just to feed the stockpiled horses. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the estimated $500 million annual cost to American taxpayers for subsidizing the welfare ranching system that is driving wild horses from the range in the first place!

There is no question about the endgame of this unsustainable and irrational approach to wild horse management: to manufacture a crisis in which slaughter becomes the only possible economic solution.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose horse slaughter, and we don’t believe that the mass killing of our national icons is the solution to the government’s mismanagement woes. 

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The agency denies slaughter is the goal. But it’s already happened and was confirmed by a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation for the BLM’s sale of over 1,700 wild of captured mustangs to a known  kill buyer, Tom Davis.

How can the BLM guarantee that no federally protected wild horses will ever again end up being brutally slaughtered when it continues to sell wild horses for as little as $10 a piece? It can’t.

This is a solvable issue. Proven alternatives like fertility control stop the bloodshed, save us money and keep wild horses where they belong: on the range. This is the course our government should be pursuing for its wild horse program. It’s a no-brainer.

That’s why in Nevada, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is implementing humane, community-based management programs that use a proven PZP birth control vaccine to humanely control wild horse numbers and other range measures to keep them out of harm’s way. These precedent-setting programs are establishing a model that proves such programs can work to keep wild horses and burros wild and roaming free.

In Nevada’s Virginia Range, we’re working with the Nevada Department of Agriculture and our local coalition partners to implement what will be the largest humane management program of its kind in the world. With 2,000 horses on 200,000 acres of land, this program promises to be a game changer for the historic Virginia Range wild horses as well as a model that demonstrates that public/private partnerships for the humane management of our wild horses and burros can work to keep these icons wild and free.

Wild horses are making their last stand in the American West. Failure is not an option.  Please join the AWHPC in our efforts to Keep Wild Horses and Burros Wild.


Lead image source: gwendolen/Flickr