Crowded Range: Wyoming ranch is first to house wild horses for tourism

A wild horse grazes on a ranch near Centennial. The ranch, owned by Jana and Rich Wilson, is the first wild horse ecosanctuary in the country

A wild horse grazes on a ranch near Centennial. The ranch, owned by Jana and Rich Wilson, is the first wild horse ecosanctuary in the country. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

By Kelsey Dayton
January 8, 2013

There was a charge in the air, the smell of incoming cold weather on a late November afternoon.

On the Deerwood Ranch near Centennial, the horses were restless. They gathered in small bunches and snapped and kicked at unwelcome interlopers.

Two horses started to fight at the ranch of Jana and Rich Wilson

Two horses started to fight at the ranch of Jana and Rich Wilson. The Wilsons said they often see wilder and rougher behavior among the wild horses than they do from their domestic horses — which are housed on the ranch in a separate area. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

They gave room, as two horses bowed their heads and aggressively invaded the others’ space. They reared up, hoofs flailing, manes blowing. When their hooves touched the ground they started the dance again, until one seemed to acquiesce and move away.

Moments later a group began to run. And then another group followed. Then another. Black and white and brown and spotted and painted animals by the dozens moved across the grass, past the tufts of willow trees of the Deerwood Ranch, the mountains creating a backdrop and the sense of a cinematic scene in a western movie.

The ranch, run by Jana and Rich Wilson, is home to 250 wild horses. It is the first, and so far only, wild horse ecosanctuary in the country. It is meant to be a place where people can observe and learn about the animals, while also helping the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in its efforts to manage wild horse populations; efforts that cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year.

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The BLM gathers thousands of horses each year in 10 western states, including Wyoming, using a $75 million annual budget for wild horse and burro management, according to Tom Gorey, spokesman with the BLM. About 60 percent of the budget goes to holding costs for horses that don’t get homes. The agency has a holding capacity of a little more than 50,000 animals. There are now about 49,000 wild horses and burros in holding at long-term facilities and corrals.

Wild horses first came to North America in the 1400s with the Spanish. Horses abandoned on the range bred and thrived and were used by American Indians and ranchers. During and after war and times of economic struggle, people released animals they were unable to care for onto the range to mix with the herds. With no natural predators, a herd grows by 20 percent a year and doubles every four years, Gorey said.

The agency doesn’t want to gather horses it doesn’t have a place for, yet they also don’t want to allow the animals to overpopulate on the range.

Currently the BLM doesn’t have a solution for when it reaches capacity, Gorey said.

Leaving animals on the range hurts the land and could lead to thousands of horses starving.

Wild horses erode soil, causing excess sedimentation in streams. They destroy habitat and reduce forage important to wildlife like elk, deer, antelope, pronghorn and sage grouse, Gorey said.

Adoption used to be key in wild horse management, but in recent years adoptions have fallen. Last year, less than 2,800 of the 8,000 horses gathered, were adopted. Horses are considered luxury items and are expensive to feed and board. The economy impacts adoption rates, Gorey said.

The idea of an ecosanctuary first came up several years ago as a way to not only house horses, but also allow public access to the animals and education about the BLM’s management role. Tourism provides the possibility of raising money to run an ecosanctuary while defraying some of the taxpayer’s cost.

The Wilsons signed an agreement with BLM that allows for more flexibility than a standard contract where a flat rate is agreed upon, Gorey said. The BLM pays the Wilsons $1.30 to $1.40 per horse per day, the same rate for long-term holding facilities in the Midwest, Gorey said. Unlike regular holding facilities, however, the Wilsons will offer tours of the ranch to raise funds to help support ecosanctuary operations. They can even offer “virtual adoptions” where people can sponsor a horse on the ranch, eventually reducing the price the BLM pays. Money raised will alleviate what the taxpayers spend, Gorey said.

Wild horses graze on a ranch near Centennial

Wild horses graze on a ranch near Centennial. The Wilsons will offer tours of the ranch to raise funds to help support ecosanctuary operations. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Because it’s the first of its kind, combining tourism and using private ranches for housing horses, how much the ecosanctuary will be able to generate in funds through tours and donations and how much it will reduce the BLM’s payments is still unknown, Gorey said.

The Wilsons’ ranch could support about 300 horses, but this year they’ll keep around 250 — all gelded stallions between 2 and 7 years old. The BLM was cautious because of the program’s newness, and also because of the drought conditions this year, Rich Wilson said.

The horses came from long-term holding facilities, but all were originally gathered in Wyoming.

The agreement lasts for one year with options to renew, said June Wendlandt, Wyoming BLM Wild Horse and Burro program lead.

Currently the Wilsons’ ranch is the only wild horse ecosanctuary in the country. Another ranch in Nevada is working with the BLM to create a similar model but using a combination of private ranch and adjacent BLM land.

“But it’s a long way from being settled,” Gorey said. “There’s really nothing comparable to the one in Wyoming.”

******

Patricia Fazio, the statewide coordinator for the Wyoming Wild Horse Coalition, doesn’t believe the ecosanctuary should be billed as a way for tourists to see wild horses. When a horse is sterilized its behavior changes, she said.

Wild horses naturally form family bonds that mixed mares and stallions, she said. Separating the herds by sex alters group behavior.

“They are then just like domestic horses you would turn out,” Fazio said. “They shouldn’t be called wild horse ecosanctuaries if the horses aren’t truly wild.”

From a welfare point of view, Fazio doesn’t see a problem with ecosanctuaries. But it’s not enough. “You put 300 horses in an ecosanctuary, that’s great, but we need an overriding national solution,” she said. Fazio believes the BLM is far behind on efforts to manage wild horse populations through birth control.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign sees some benefit to wild horse ecosanctuaries — mainly that it keeps the animals in the West “where they belong” and that the areas will be accessible to the public, said Suzanne Roy, director of the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

However, Roy agrees with Fazio. The term ecosanctuary is a misnomer. It’s not a revolutionary management tool.

“We think it’s another name for long-term holding for the horses,” she said.

Wild horses are branded when they are gathered

Wild horses are branded when they are gathered. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

The BLM should use the herd management areas as ecosanctuaries and let the animals remain naturally on the range, managed by birth control, Roy said.

While ecosanctuaries provides care for some horses it is a distraction from the real issue, which is on-range management efforts to reduce the population, according to Roy. Even if the BLM approves more ecosanctuaries they still won’t make a substantial dent in the tens of thousands of horses in holding facilities, Roy said. The BLM needs to put more of its resources into on-range management, like administering birth control and rangeland improvements, instead of spending money on round-ups and holding horses, Roy said.

“Until they do that, they will never get off the treadmill they are on, the constant round-up and removal of horses,” she said.

The BLM is working on management tools, like birth control, to reduce horse populations to get them to appropriate management levels, Wendlandt said. Many mares gathered are inoculated with a birth control known as PZP. The BLM is testing a longer lasting birth control and is considering spaying and gelding horses before releasing them back on the range, Wendlandt said.

“We’re at critical mass right now,” Wendlandt said. “All the holding facilities are full and we have a lot of horses on the range, too, and with the drought situation across most western states, it’s not a good situation.”

*******

Wild horses have long been the bane of ranchers.

Niels Hansen, a rancher near Rawlins, said he isn’t supposed to have wild horses on the grazing allotments where he has livestock, but they almost always are there. They devastate the grass because they bite so close to the ground, he said. Sometimes they are only a slight nuisance, but if there are a lot of them, they can decimate riparian areas to standards below what is acceptable for grazing livestock, so he isn’t allowed to move his animals into some areas where horses have been.

“It’s more than just the grazing competition,” said Jim Magagna, vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “It’s the long-term damage horses do to the range.”

Horses often stay in the same areas year round, whereas wildlife migrate and livestock are moved. The horses eat the grass down to the point nothing grows in the area, Magagna said.

Magagna said he is fine with private ranchers using their land as they see fit, such as an ecosanctuary, but he opposes efforts like the one in Nevada that would combine BLM and private land. He also feels current efforts, including the ecosanctuaries, are not doing enough and the BLM needs to start using permanent sterilization and possibly horse slaughter.

The horses are like stray dogs and cats in big cities, Hansen said.

Wild horses run across the ranch of Jana and Rich Wilson

Wild horses run across the ranch of Jana and Rich Wilson. Wild horses can cause problems for ranchers and wild horse management costs Wyoming millions of dollars each year. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“Unfortunately the ways to get a handle on them are all distasteful and nobody likes it — the ranchers don’t like it. Nobody likes it,” Hansen said. “But the horse population is so bloated it’s just out of control.”

The population growth has to be slowed, Hansen said. The BLM should be using permanent sterilization, not just birth control. Hansen said any efforts to get horses off the range, including ecosanctuaries, are helpful. However, he thinks ecosanctuaries should be a private enterprise and the government shouldn’t pay for it. Too much money is already spent on wild horses.

Wild horse management costs millions of dollars each year, when there are more important things that government money could go to, Magagna agreed. Yet if horses are left on the range the problem is exacerbated. Not only are wild horses not native, most aren’t even descendants of the horses brought by the Spanish, Magagna said. Most of the horses on the range were let loose in the last century.

The BLM knows wild horse ecosanctuaries won’t solve the problem. But they can help, Gorey said. Gathered horses have to go somewhere. There are 37,300 wild horses and burros roaming BLM-managed land in 10 western states.

That free-roaming population exceeds the appropriate management level, a population estimate determined by the BLM that is believed to balance the horse populations and other public rangeland uses, by about 11,000 animals.

Gathered horses are sent to adoption events around the country. Those that aren’t adopted are sent to short term holding facilities, like the one in Rock Springs, and then eventually to long-term facilities in the Midwest.

About a year ago, the BLM solicited ranches to become ecosanctuaries, Gorey said. Of the 19 ranches that applied, the Deerwood Ranch was the only one that qualified. The applicants had to own or control the property, which had to be large enough for at least 200 horses and at least 10 miles away from wild horse management areas.

BLM readies new rules for wild horses

The Bureau of Land Management recently announced new conditions and restrictions on wild horse and burro sales in an effort to improve management and care of the animals on public rangelands.The new policy, effective immediately, prohibits more than four wild horses or burros bought by any group or person within six months, without prior approval from BLM. It stipulates people buying wild horses and burros must describe where they plan to keep the animals for the first six months after the sale and that buyers must provide transportation for the animals from the BLM’s holding corrals to the new home. Trailers will be inspected and the BLM can refuse loading the animal if they feel the trailer is unsafe or inhumane.For more information, visit the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program webpage. 

 

 

The Wilsons knew little about wild horses and didn’t follow the issues swirling around their management. They might have seen wild horses on the range, but it’s often hard to tell from the car.

The Wilsons saw an ad in the paper about using land for grazing horses. They’d always loved horses and owned 13 their family used for competition and riding. They liked the idea of having more horses on the property, so they applied.

Before the Wilsons could house the horses they had to make improvements to the 4,700-acre ranch, creating horse and wildlife friendly fences and removing cattle guards. The upgrades were done in partnership with the BLM with a cost share agreement, Jana Wilson said.

The ranch offers open range for the horses to run and graze, as well as treed areas for shelter. Normally they don’t get deep snow in the winter, so they hope they can avoid supplemental feeding, Rich said.

Supplemental feeding might be used occasionally if necessary, Gorey said. Ranchers are also authorized to kill severely injured or sick horses if needed. The BLM does pay for veterinarians to treat wild horses in long term holding areas and that could be an option for the Wilsons, although it will be decided case-by-case, Gorey said.

“For the most part, we want to keep ‘em wild,” Rich said.

The horses arrived at the ranch in small batches starting in October. They were tentative at first, slow to discover the creek for drinking water and stumbling over ditches, Jana said. They quickly formed groups and found favorite spots.

The Wilsons plan to start tours this spring out of Centennial. They hope it will bring visitors to the small town. They haven’t set times, dates or rates, but already people are coming by to see the horses. One person cried watching them in the picturesque setting, Jana said.

The horses will help the Wilson’s land, providing natural fertilizer on the pastures and eating weeds around the trees.

But the real benefit for the Wilsons, they said, is the beauty the animals bring. Jana finds herself outside just staring. Some are strange, like the black horse with extremely swayed back, but all are striking.

“When you see a group of them take off and run …,” Rich said, unable to finish, staring out across the land.

The Wilsons have continued to stay out of the management debates. They just like the horses, they said.

No matter people’s opinions on wild horses and management, few can disagree on the majestic qualities of so many horses on the range, Rich said. If the ecosanctuary can only do one thing, share that beauty, for the Wilsons, it’s enough.

Visit this BLM website to learn more about the wild horse program at the Deerwood Ranch.

— Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Published on January 8, 2013

{ 32 comments }

Patricia M. Fazio January 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Please note that Family Equidae (horses) evolved in North America, over approximately 57 million years, from fox-sized Hyracotherium spp. to Equus caballus, the modern horse. Equus caballus was present on this continent before megafaunal extinction but survived, globally, by migrating westward over the Bering Land Bridge… radiating out to every continent other than Australia and the Anarctic. Thus, the domesticated horse the Spanish introduced to the Virgin Islands, starting with Columbus’ second voyage in 1493, is the same genus and species that became extinct in North America during the late Pleistocene. The new science of molecular biology, using mitochondrial DNA analysis tells us so by way of peer-reviewed scientific papers written by professional equine geneticists. A full analysis of this concept may be seen at http://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife. We are in the process of updating and improving this synthesis for publication. However, the concept has already been accepted by the American Museum of Natural History and an ancient DNA researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

If you wish to continue calling horses non-natives (feral interlopers) in North American, that’s fine, but you are showing a complete lack of understanding for the hard data that is readily available to the reading public. What I see here is a stinging prejudice against wild horses based on zero data, to prove their case for removal. The BLM doesn’t “get it” either or they would not be gelding wild stallions and promoting ovariectomies for wild mares. Only intact wild horses act “wild,” as sterilization renders a horse incapable of showing true natural social organizational behavior in the form of interchangeable family bands. The word “fraud” comes to mind when it comes to the Deerwood Ranch “ecosanctuary” near Centennial. This is the BLM’s SECOND try for a tourism-based wild horse sanctuary in that area. The first failed miserably, with two investigations by the Wyoming Livestock Board and USDA-APHIS for neglect and poor management. Horses suffered and died in that fiasco. The public is not viewing wild horses at Deerwoord… but neutered versions of their former wild selves. With 49,000 wild horses now in holding, so few released horses (250) are a small pimple on a large elephant’s behind and a poor solution to a monumental national condundrum that calls for a much larger understanding of the role of horses in American evolutionary and cultural history. Intelligent and humane action is needed.

By the way, woolly mammoths and elephants are completely different species. Someone needs to look up the differences on the Internet. The horse is the only species suffering megafaunal extinction that has been preserved, world-wide, as the same genus and species that returned with the Spanish. The native returned and thrived, but we need a grander plan to keep them in true ecosanctuaries that are large enough to allow native horses to be the true natives they are.

Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D., Statewide Coordinator
Wyoming Wild Horse Coalition
Cody

Tricia January 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Agreed, Shannon! Now, let’s bring back the elephants. Who’s with me?

Shannon January 15, 2013 at 9:21 am

I thought the story was interesting and informative. I think Kelsey did a great job. What I find amusing with all the negative comments is that it’s JUST THAT, A bunch of negative comments either about the BLM or the journalist. I’d like to believe that the journalist did her best to gather up information and that’s what she reported on. All you naysayers out there should do more actual fact-checking yourselves instead of bashing everyone. I don’t have an opinion of wild horses one way or another BUT if you have FACTUAL information that you’ve researched and you’d like to share, that would be a great read. Listening to a bunch of whiners complain about the journalist, the BLM or stating their own opinions without any factual data is just not informative.

peggy conroy January 13, 2013 at 9:43 am

How come a few thousand wild horses now are too many when there were 2 MILLION in the last century doing fine? How come the few thousand wild horses are too many when there are MILLIONS of cattle, sheep, oil/gas wells, mines, pipelines, housing developments, etc. all on land designated for wild horse by the 1971 free roaming wild horse protection act. Wild horse use exponentially less water than any of these other big $$$$$ bug lobbyists uses and water is the scarce resource, remember?
Free roaming does not mean pens or small “management” spots. They’d do fine left alone.

Michelle storace January 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm

ANYONE that dose know that the BLM runs its own SLAUGHTER HOUSE has NOT DONE their HOMEWORK.

Mari January 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Wow!!! I really take issue with rancher Magagna who claims WILD horses are destroying western lands. Horses actually feed the West’s ecosystem whereas millions of cattle destroy it; especially riparian areas where cows linger on the shores to chew their cuds, causing damage to adjacent shoreline lands. Horses drink from water sources and then move on to graze. Who is he trying to kid?

If one is going to quibble about equine ancestry then all of us need to vacate America if we are NOT of Native Indian heritage.

I was raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin that possessed both cattle and horses. FACT: Horses have both upper and lower incisor teeth and shear grass as does a lawn mower, allowing the grass to grow back. (horses also forage). Cattle have only lower incisors and an upper pad. They eat by wrapping their long tongues around grass and pulling on it, which often includes the roots! No chance this grass is going to grow back. (cattle do not forage). Horses, with their singular stomachs, do not completely assimilate seeds which are then disseminated across the plains. Cattle have multiple stomachs (4) which thoroughly digest seeds and all, leaving nothing left to scatter for regermination.

I am irate about ranchers accusing mustangs for destroying our western ecosystems. Since only 3% of the meat from their cattle remains in the US (97% is exported), ranchers are NOT feeding our country, yet they gain profits from using OUR public lands….profits going to the Hilton, Jessica Parker (from Hewlitt and Parker), and Ted Turner to name three.

For this atrocity, our wild horses are diminishing to make room for greed.

Mari

Tricia January 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I cannot take any of these comments seriously. I behoove you “fact checkers” to check your own facts. If you dislike the BLM for their practices, so be it. Everyone has their own agenda, and there will always be people who think they can do things “better.” But, to try and tell the public that horses are a native species is a huge stretch, and that’s the real root of this discussion. The only horses that were ever native to this land went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago. Not evolved. Extinct. The horse, as we know it today, migrated and evolved in Eurasia. The domesticated Equus ferus (horse bred from a domesticated line) was brought over in the 1400s. They’re not native, and please stop calling them “wild” horses. Wolves are wild. Dogs are not. The early (and now extinct) Przewalski’s horse was wild. Mustangs are not.

If the presence of Equus caballus in North America (before naturally going extinct) classifies the modern-day horse as native, then you all should consider bringing back elephants to the plains. The early elephant, Mammut americanum, roamed the Great Plains until roughly 13,000 years ago. Aside from the those who migrated toward Eurasia and Africa, the North American Mastodon went extinct. And guess what – their extinction was partially the result of human hunting! So, if there is any animal who deserves a chance at starting over on our Plains, it’s the elephant.

I’m a big animal lover. I’ve owned and ridden horses for a large part of my life. The vast majority of people on both sides of this discussion do not want to see any animal get hurt. But, I can’t condemn anyone for wanting to greatly control the population of a species that has scientifically not been “native” to this country since roughly 10,000 BCE.

Vickery Eckhoff January 9, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Cost to round up 250 horses from public lands @ $1,000 a head= $250,000
Amount paid to Wilsons @1.40 a day x 365 days x 250 horses = $127,750 per year

So…250 horses that cost US taxpayers nothing when left in place on public lands now cost $377,750…the first year…and $127,750 per year thereafter. Cost in year 10: $1.5 million.

As a US taxpayer, I object to being used by BLM to support ranchers this way. President Obama, please pay attention!!

Bonnie Kohleriter January 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm

The BLM program for wild horses and burros is the height of governmental mismanagement. The program’s mission according to the law is to manage the wild horses and burros on the public lands. Yet not a penny is in the budget to do just that. Money has been set aside to PZP 1000 mares this next year which hardly can be called birth control. Yet the BLM has all kinds of money, $77 M, to support wealthy helicopter and bait-water trapping contractors, wealthy short-term and long-term holding contractors, ecosanctuary contractors, and now specialized employees in the BLM to come up with all kinds of ideas to improve a broken program. Tom Gorey continues to beat the drum with his song of “overpopulation” while the numbers for any species of 36,000 would be considered as a population “threatened’ or “endangered.” Only 53 herds of burros or horses remain with low AML (appropriate management levels) of 100, and with 100+ horses in them. This 53 will be even less given the BLM’s plans to gather and remove this next year. We don’t have healthy horses or burros on healthy rangelands. Most of the horse and burro herds are now nonviable and the cattlemen and extractors have grabbed more than their fair share of the lands that were to belong the the horses and burros. We also don’t have a thriving natural ecological balance. The BLM employees, our Congress and our President have just not cared to do the right thing… to insist on the true sharing
of our public lands.

Pamela W January 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Interesting. BLM pays wild horse holding facilities/ecosanctuaries — whatever you want to call them — $1.49 per horse per day to “house” them. Ranchers pay the American people $1.35 per MONTH for TWO cows (cow & calf) to graze on public lands. Nice deal, huh? I think the main problem with wild horses is that Congress is (and has been) attuned to the strident, demanding voices of welfare ranchers who have come to believe that their obscenely cheap leases entitle them to wipe out all other animals, whether hooved or predatory. If the ranchers aren’t making a buck off them, they want them removed. Ranchers are the problem, along with BLM and extractive industry advocates (mining, fracking, drilling, etc.) — and, of course, those misguided souls who believe that horse slaughterhouses are a good idea.

Sheryl Barnes January 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

This article is bullcrap. It supports BLM and their lies and is a glorified holding facility. Horses are all gelded and they say mustangs are not native to the land, which is a lie. It’s better than the other holding facilities, but is NOT the answer to how to manage wild horses in the wild. Birth control is the real answer and would save tons of tax payer dollars.

Duke January 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I live close to “Wild Horse Estates”, which is not too far from this new Deerwood site. The property around the wild horse estates has little to no fencing on the Lake Hattie Recreation side. The horses are allowed to roam freely around Lake Hattie and beyond. The fencing around the lakes recreation area is horrible and could not keep anything in. If the horses decide to take off down the road there is no stopping them. I think they have too many horses on this property and they continue to have colts every year. This area of Wyoming is over 7200 feet in elevation and cannot sustain this many horses. We have horses of our own and I do not want the studs from this estate area to make their way to our place and cause injuries to themselves or other private stock. I love horses and spend a lot of time in the Red Desert photographing and observing them in their natural habitat. I do not think that people should be allowed to use them for profit at the expense of the animal. I also do not think that they should be allowed to reproduce on land that will not sustain them. They will move out, like the Buffalo of Yellowstone, in search of food (and who can blame the animal) then they will be shot by ranchers in the area or killed on the highways.

B.A. Clarke January 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm

This article is a prime example of the poor state of journalism in todays modern world. No fact checking. No in-depth investigation. No thoughtful examination of the issue. Just a regurgitation of the BLM party line or rewording of other poorly written articles. The horses don’t have a chance with this type of false propaganda passing itself off as some kind of journalism. I give it a grade D minus.

Marybeth Devlin January 8, 2013 at 10:03 pm

BLM continues to spread disinformation about a wild-horse over-population, but independent fact-checking shows fewer than half the number that BLM declares, year after year, no matter how many thousands it removes from the range. Excess is found, however, in the number of wild horses languishing in indefinite detention. BLM has created the very situation that puts the mustangs at risk — high numbers of them in captivity, while below minimum viable populations in the wild. True adoptions are not down. Until 2005, BLM counted sales to slaughter as “adoptions,” which falsely inflated the statistics.

In Wyoming, BLM has reduced — by 54 percent — the herd areas originally devoted to wild horses. In the remnant “herd management areas” (HMAs), BLM has arbitrarily set the maximum number of mustangs it allows: one wild horse per 1,497 acres — nearly 2½ square miles per horse. The mustangs do not even enjoy principal use of their HMAs as the Law requires, but are outnumbered by commercial livestock 10 to 1. This shared-range arrangement could still work if the wild-horse herds were of a proper population size, but BLM keeps most herds below the minimum number necessary for genetic viability.

Horses and cattle are commensals — they eat at the same table. Yet, they have a cooperative relationship, not a competitive one. Horses crop the older, top growth while cattle prefer the fresh, new growth. There is no need to reduce grazing. In fact, it could be increased and the range regenerated if holistic livestock management were implemented. Otherwise, conditions will continue to decline due to the range-ravaging grazing regime still operative in the livestock allotments on public lands.

The solution is for BLM to follow the Law — make wild horses and burros the principal users of their herd areas, ensure that every herd is of self-sustaining size, reinstate the tens of millions of acres of wild-horse range zeroed out, and return captive mustangs to their homeland. Cost to keep them on the range: $0. Finally, population control should be natural — through apex predators, without which there can be no thriving ecological balance.

Horses evolved in North America. Although Spanish explorers did turn loose the horses they brought with them, Native American oral tradition says horses were always here. As a native species, horses are well-suited for life on the Western Range. They preferentially graze the dry, less-palatable forage, thus helping to prevent wildfires. Horses also help to re-seed the range through their unique digestive system. Our public lands need wild horses, and the American People want them on the range, roaming free. Beef producers, environmentalists, and wild-horse advocates should be united in solidarity against their common enemy: extractive interests. Mining, drilling, and fracking projects are industrializing the West, destroying its delicate environment, and making it unfit for livestock, wildlife, wild horses, and people. Let’s work together in behalf of the Western Range.

Paula Denmon January 8, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Does anyone in journalism except Propublica ever check facts and figures? Of course, that reporter was promised a smash in the mouth if he ever asked a certain
question again, by no other than Sec. Ken Salazar himself. There are so many inaccuracies in this story, that I truly expected the last quotes to be from Slaughterhouse Sue herself. Please try to post an accurate addendum. It is certainly important to the American public.

Crystal Schuh January 8, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I am so stunned at the inaccuracies in this article, that I am speechless. Also, everyone else has already pointed out the obvious far better than I ever could.

Mari January 8, 2013 at 7:33 pm

@Howard Bradley…. there appears to be an ever increasing invasive human population, which is destroying our natural resources, polluting the planet and forever at war. Would it then be ok with you if we harvested humans by hunters or any other lethal method?

Karrie baker January 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm

First of all horses do not poop in the water, cows do. And how long have their been wild horses? they don’t ruin the land, cattle do. Now I’m not saying that it is the cattle’s fault but let’s be honest here. The horses should have never been rounded up anyway they should be let go. There is enough land for the horses. I don’t know why the BLM and the presidents have claimed a war on OUR Horses but they have now whether it be for the oil drilling, or the cattle it’s not right to round them up and treat them cruelly we’ve all seen the footage of the BLM abusing the horses, running them in freezing tempratures, during the foaling season. ect. This needs to be stopped but now you want to allow hunters to shoot them? You will take our horses, our land and then you will come for us. but you will have to answer to someone someday.

TerryW January 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I recall another Wyoming wild horse sanctuary that then allowed their fenced in former wild horses to starve, they had to be rescued. Wild Horses Wyoming I believe it was called.

This is just another long-term holding ranch, if people want to see wild horses unaltered and in their natural habitat, the states that have wild horses should start promoting wild horse tourism “in the wild.” These “wild horse zoos” were strictly forbidden by Congress when the 1971 Act was passed. And yet this has been Salazar’s plan, something we’ve referred to as Salazoos.

And before any reporter spreads BLM’s propaganda, they really should check into some facts. Check the numbers of cattle and sheep allowed to graze inside legal wild horse herd areas. Check the real numbers of wild horses and compare those to other large wildlife – like elk and bighorn sheep – in the western states. Then try to tell us all there’s an “over-population” of wild horses.

If the BLM considered wild horses as “wild animals” as has been defined by law, their numbers are so low they’d have to be listed as an endangered species. But the BLM considers our nation’s wild horses as feral domestic livestock, it’s obvious by their actions, their total disregard for their welfare, and the inhumane contractors they hire to conduct round ups.

It costs taxpayers nothing for wild horses remaining in the wild in their legal herd areas. Why did the BLM get such an increase to “manage” wild horses when pre-Bush they managed to do it on $35 million a year? Now they need $75 million? WHY? We know why, this push for constant removals and containment costs more money. I recall too how pre-Bush the BLM actually considered public comments when planning wild horse management. Now the BLM accepts comments (by law) but completely ignores the public, and does everything they can to make public observation of their inhumane round ups and containment as difficult as possible. What do they want to hide? What do they not want the public to see?

Please, include the photos of BLM contractors hitting exhausted horses and burros with their helicopter skids – knocking some over. Or running them into a barbed-wire fence, or running foals until their soft hooves slough off, or running them in the frigid cold until they’re dripping with sweat and steaming, or in the dead heat of summer. Include how many wild horses have died at the hands of BLM and their contractors after containment being fed rich hay they’re not used to or bad hay that will kill anything that eats it. I could go on.

And they all have the NERVE to call themselves “wild horse and burro specialists”.
They aren’t even trained in basic animal husbandry, that’s obvious.

Tim Parmly January 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm

“Any efforts to get the horses off the range will be helpful” says exactly what the BLM and the welfare ranchers are trying to do. It is not the horses damaging the range, but the three million plus cattle and sheep.

Johanna Bouchard January 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

This article is a stunning example of poor journalism and strong media bias. I worry what effect this article’s one-sided pro-slaughter propaganda will have on the general public, who may be unfamiliar with the subject and easily misled. in this modern day and age of instant information and endless resources, it shouldnt be so difficult for the author of this article to do a little research and present an honest and accurate article on such an important topic. Here are some fast facts:

There are fewer wild horses and burros today than in 1971, when the law stated that wild horses and burros were “fast disappearing from the scene.”

(Excerpt from NatGeo website) “In 1971 Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, designed to preserve a living symbol of America’s
frontier past. Thirty years later, there are fewer wild horses than ever.”

In the 19th century, more than 2 million wild horses roamed the West (source: J. Frank Dobie, “The
Mustangs”, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1952).

Today, less than 25,000 wild horses likely remain on public lands.

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act mandates that wild horses and burros be managed on 47 million acres of public lands on 303 herd areas.

Since 1971, wild horses have been zeroed out from 111 herd areas representing over 19 million acres.

Wild horses account for less than 0.5% of large grazing animals on public lands.

6 states have lost their entire wild horse and burro populations.

The Free-Roaming Horse And Burro Act required that Mustangs be protected as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, and that management plans must “maintain a thriving natural ecological balance among wild horse populations, wildlife, livestock, and vegetation and to protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation.” Although feral horse ranges were principally for the protection of the horses, the land was required to be maintained for multiple use.

**The BLM was also permitted to close public land to livestock grazing to protect feral horse and burro habitat.”** (Wikipedia)

And yet it seems the BLM has no interest in protecting and maintaining healthy numbers of these animals, as they continually remove entire herds, as well as reduce herd numbers to unsustainable numbers:

A herd needs at least 150 animals to maintain long-term genetic viability, according to Gus Cothran, an equine genetics specialist at the University of Kentucky. Yet 75 percent of the 209 herd areas managed by the BLM in the West have fewer than 150 horses.

We need more transparency, more honesty, and more dedication to the laws protecting these animals, or pretty soon they will be gone forever. What we don’t need is horse slaughter, something which is horrifically painful and prolonged for equines, as well as unwanted by 80% of Americans. My solution to the outrageous holding costs? Release the horses back onto the land from which they were wrongfully removed.

Kay Lightner January 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

This article passes on the same ol’ BLM crap. At the bottom of the horse gatherings and exterminations are the ranchers, grazing their cattle on public lands for a pittance (welfare ranchers), and oil companies seeking to rape the land for their own purposes. And — the interests of the ranchers and oil companies are driven by the almighty dollar, therefore, making anything in the way of making money sacrificial; hence, wild horses to holding pens and ultimately to slaughterhouses — no problem. Of course, the BLM must dress the situation up to sell it to the public, so they can continue to do the will of the ranching and oil lobbyists. So, they regurgitate the same crap, and the horses pay the price.

Jan Sterling January 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I am so sick of reading stories of how the blm is trying to save our wild horses – this is not true – do you know that for several years Madeleine Pickens who has the means and the land in Nevada has been asking the blm to take the horses that at time numbered 30,000 that the blm was holding in pens – she offered money to pay for the horses and she has land in Nevada to run them on – she was TURNED DOWN 4 TIMES BY THE BLM – its her goal to have a place where people can come and see wild horses living free – so before you fall into the blm lies go to her website and read about her fight with the blm – its called saving america’s mustangs – also ck out http://www.thecloudfoundation.org and ginger kathren efforts to save our wild horses – the blm does not care about our wild horses – ken salazar head of the dept of interior and over the blm thinks the wild horses need to go – he is a rancher – since he wants to leave office we are hoping that obama appoints a horse friendly person to the dept of the interior

Kathy January 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Why is this not a problem with the Assateague’s wild ponies…maybe because no one is grazing cattle or sheep on that land. They are rounded up once a year, not all of them, not held for months or even weeks and then the ones not adopted are released. Anyone that handles horses and cattle flat out know that cattle, per pound, will destroy an ecosystem much worse and much quicker than a horse. They cattle & sheep ranchers should actually use their own land. BLM is nothing but a sink hole for taxpayers to throw their money into. Of course they are going to blur the numbers to keep the money rolling into their hands and could care less about the animals that they are under law to care for. It’s pathetic that people had to call, write and sign petitions to protect our mustangs from the branch of the government that was suppose to be protecting our mustangs. Anything the government tries to run is bound to be a mess. Our horses are suffering because of it.

Rosalyn Burkett January 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm

It was interesting to see….that it costs milions for the BLM to do Wild Horse Management and that …THE GOVERNMENT COULD USE IT FOR BETTER THINGS. I am upset to hear this when…WHAT could they use the money better for …OUR GOVERNMENT? Illegals. Medical for People who come to USA and have better Medical, dental, and collect money left and right not working.???? How about the Nice Juicy Pay Checks the BLM gets monthly and the nice Pays our PEOPLE IN GOVERNMENT GET? Raises and job security and when they retire, THEY DON”T GIVE UP NOTHING. When Sandy hit the East Coast of the USA, no one sent help but ISREAL. Yet, our government sends millions of dollars all the time trying to help the entire world out? Maybe we need to step back a LOT and Open our eyes to WHAT COULD MONEY BE BETTER SPENT FOR?????????? Rediculous that a comment like that would even be made. Makes me sick. They are over paid, and they are all lacking in doing anything to STOP the things in the USA to make it better for us and our wildlife etc. WE know where the hores are. WE know that put the food out and they will come. Take the bucks and put birth control into it. Take the money and put it into what is…is….is..IMPORTANT…here in the GOOD OLE U S OF A….and make this a priority in importance. THE PROBLEM my dear friends is…..NO ONE wants to MAKE THE EFFORT TO DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE RIGHT HERE IN THE USA AND give up all the fancy money THEY MAKE to put into where the bucks ought to be going. It is absolutely unreal how this USA works and the big shots are the ones crying. GOVERNMENT has to stop being agluttin to thinking HOW DAMN IMPORTANT THEY ARE. Hate to tell you Folks, but if they were worth the big pays they get and the great retiredment security always……..WE WOULD NOT HAVE THE SAME CRAP YEAR AFTER YEAR TO DEAL WITH. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN DEALTH WITH LONG AGO. LONG AGO. I don’t want to hear, about HOW GOVERNMENT has better places to put our money. OUR COUNTRY is in trouble in all aspects of our living here in USA due to….WHERE THEY THINK THE MONEY SHOULD BE SPENT. On them and aiding countrys around the world and aliens. WAKE UP CALL FOLKS. WAKE UP CALL. STOP BLAMEING THE HORSES WHEN there is a way to control their numbers. NO ONE WANTS TO BUDGE TO DO IT. JUST MAY BE INCONVENIENT TO DO SO AND EASIER TO AIM BLAME ON THE HORSES…WHO OF COURSE HAVE NO VOICE.

Tiombe Vaughan January 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm

It’s time for American’s to open their eyes to the downright lies that BLM is spreading about our Nation’s Horses. In the past, millions of wild horses roamed the west and east and greater north without disturbing the natural ecosystem. Mustangs are said to even benefit their natural ecosystem while cattle and sheep can actually destroy the land because of the way the eat. Also the “vast numbers” of mustangs that BLM is trying to feed to the public is another lie, our mustangs are disappearing off the face of the earth and most of our Nation’s Horses are housed in crowded Holding Pens that no caring horse owner would even put their own horse in. It’s time to stop the river of lies and start looking for the truth.

paula January 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

The BLM will stop at nothing to kill all the wild horses so the cattle/livestock ranchers can have the land and water. The wild horses have been there for generations. Stop the roundups of these poor horses. Horses are not the ones overgrazing and destroying the land, it is livestock.

Barbara Leonard January 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

Before writing this article, it would have behooved you to check your facts and not rely on misinformation from BLM. There is NO over-population of wild horses, this is a BLM SCAM to remove wild horses and replace them with MORE WELFARE CATTLE, of which there are already many millions of cattle. It is the WELFARE cattle destroying the range and we all must BOYCOTT all WELFARE beef until all cattle are removed from our western public lands. Another big player in removing our wild horses from their rightful LEGAL lands are the energy companies who will turn our western public lands into fracking nightmares and totally destroy our lands and our environment. The majority of your statements in this article are not truthful.

Janet Schultz January 8, 2013 at 11:08 am

That was a great article. Really nice reading until getting to the comment by Howard. The disrespect he has for the horses the rest of America calls symbols of freedom resonates with his words. No, we do not need slaughterhouses for horses brought back to American soil – such a casual suggestion betrays his confidence in the idea. Most Americans – whether income bloated or not – are against the industry of butchering our horses for a predatory and polluting business. Howard speaks of the waste of livestock being washed into the waterways, there is only one industry that does that and it is industrialized slaughter of animals – we don’t need to add horses to that mix inasmuch as their blood volume is double or triple the animals presently being slaughtered (which number in the millions per year just in America). He also has not educated himself enough about the issues to know that the wild horses are legally called Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros and additionally designated NON-GAME wildlife. Wild horses hold not only the healthy genetics of all equines, they hold our respect and loyalty. Without them, Mr. Bradley would not be who he is and we as a species would not be where we are. Harvesting of wild horses and the brutality the men who did it used is one of the very reasons federal protection was put in place. The fight is on to preserve the wild horses and burros as even in the face of the law protecting them, a few still insist on degrading their status.

Howard Bradley January 8, 2013 at 8:48 am

Until we allow these feral horses to be slaugtered in American facilities, perhaps harvested by hunters, and other lethal methods, there will never be effective, cost efficient management to decrease the population. I disagree with the whole premise that they are wild (hogs, cats, dogs, house sparrows, starlings?!) and belong. They were introduced by Europeans and current Americans and are invasive (think russian olive, tamarisk) and detrimental to native wildlife, never mind the cattle industry. We, also, have the same problem in New Mexico. We shouldn’t be spending federal (mine and yours) dollars and allow this unsustainable situation to continue. Likewise, we shouldn’t be establishing “wild horse sanctuaries” at public expense, especially on existing public lands, thereby encouraging further midnite dumping of unwanted horses. Bring back slaughter houses as another alternative for horse owners. In general there are too many horses in America, period. As the article states; they’re a luxury for income bloated Americans. Also, in the arid west livestock including horses, are polluting our waterways with fecal coliform as farmers continue to practice flood irrigation, washing livestock wastes into tailwater ditches, washes and other waterways. Wake up America.
Thanks for printing a fairly balanced article. Just should have used the term “feral” instead of “wild”.
BTW, I’ve lived all over the west and when younger and in Wyoming, I too romantically appreciated the magnificent beauty of the feral horses with all the fighting, farting, kicking, long tails and manes, and big heads. However, back then the ranchers discreetly harvested them to keep in check.

Lisa January 8, 2013 at 7:49 am

I think your facts are in error. The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, SD has been doing ecotourism combined with a wild horse sanctuary for decades.

Debbie Gilllis January 8, 2013 at 7:11 am

First of all how many acres do horses have to roam on this couples property??? Wild horse bands travel miles each day. Why is the government paying a third party to keep wild horses? Who is going to ensure this couple is dong the right thing by the wild horses? Many of the comments made by BLM in this article are not true. 100 years ago over 500,000 wild horses roamed the West with no eco damage. Energy companies or Mineral mining companies are given permits each year which destroys the land/tears up the land. This article has many flaws and untruths. Stop rounding up the wild horses and stop giving permits to Corporations and companies who destroy Americas land out west. Stop rounding/capturing our wild horses.

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