Thousands of America's iconic wild horses may be headed to slaughter at the hands of the U.S. government; some herds may face extinction. Oil, mining and cattle interests are driving down the wild horse population and the space left for them to roam.
Bureau of Land Management
South Steens wild horses at a trap in the Burns District.
According to Habitat for Horses’ Jerry Finch, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may actually be warehousing as many as 45,000 wild horses. He writes an impassioned and often eloquent blog on the subject of horse abuse, and he is outraged that the government has taken countless healthy horses from the natural environment to benefit cattle ranchers and private industry.
“The BLM continues to decimate the last remaining herds beyond the point of viability. Gelded males, mares filled with PZP, yearlings being rounded up “because the land cannot handle the pressure horses place on it,” yet hours after the last BLM trailer leaves the welfare ranchers unload truckloads of cattle on the same land and remove the fences around the water holes. The killing of American horses has increased by 38% in 2011 to 133,241. That’s 2,562 per week, 366 per day, 46 per hour – trucked to Canada and Mexico and slaughtered in the most inhumane way possible”
Finch explained to Digital Journal that "Ages ago, Senator Conrad Burns stuck a small amendment into an appropriations bill that gave the BLM authority to sell protected horses if they were offered for adoption three times without any takers (Called "Three Strike" horses). Under this ruling, the horses are completely removed from the protection of the Wild Horse and Burro Act and placed 'sale authority' in the hands of the BLM.
It was proposed several years ago that excess horses be "euthanized." The public raised such a stink about that proposal that it was removed. About the same time, the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) said the captive bolt, as used in the slaughterhouses, was "humane euthanization."
According to those terms, the BLM has the authority at this time to sell horses to operators to be euthanized.
I think we can all read between the lines on that one."
The BLM addresses the points brought up by horse advocates on their “Myths and Facts” page, but that information does little to reassure concerned citizens that the public lands are being fairly managed, since much of what the BLM states as fact is open to interpretation.
Those who believe that public lands should not be damaged by industry and those who consider the wild horses to be part of our heritage are disturbed by what they see as the government’s support of corporations instead of the public interest, as exemplified by the Ruby Pipeline project, completed in 2011 but with environmental mitigation measures just completed last week.
Two years ago construction was begun on the natural gas pipeline, which now snakes 675 miles through public lands from Wyoming to Oregon. The route traverses pristine wilderness, cuts through old growth forests, and crosses over a thousand water bodies in 11 watersheds. In spite of protests, years of negotiations and court battles, and questionable removal of wild horses, the government permitted the project, and staged a massive horse roundup.
Bureau of Land Management
The Ruby Pipeline
The Ruby Pipeline was given permission to draw 402 million gallons of water that is desperately needed by the horses in that arid region, and in their environmental impact statement (EIS) they admitted that “Impacts on groundwater could be significant because of the volume of water proposed for use and the limited availability of groundwater in the region”.
The BLM conducted a roundup of the wild horses in part of the Calico Mountain Range, removing almost 2,000 in 2009-2010 from the land destined to be utilized by the Pipeline. According to a news report at the time, “as of April 15, 2010, a total of 79 of the horses captured from Calico have died — some as a result of injuries suffered during the capture, such as a foal which literally ran its hoofs off. The rest because they could not adjust to eating the rich hay fed to them at a new holding facility in Fallon. In addition, at least 40 mares suffered miscarriages during or after the roundup.”
The Calico Roundup was repeated this year, and another 1,000 or so horses were removed:
Calico is known for beautiful horses and the approximately 75-80 horses who were captured today were no exception. Gorgeous family bands were rounded up one after another. As it is with all roundups, it was heart breaking to witness the tragedy beset on these tight-knit families – watching them spend their last minutes together after running for their lives and knowing that they will be forever separated from each other, their homes and freedom.
As of Friday, January 6, 2012, the BLM reports that 1,203 horses and 10 burros have been captured since the Calico Complex roundup began on November 19, 2011. The BLM reports that 186 of the horses rounded up have been released to the Complex, releasing more stallions than mares to artificially skew the sex ratio to favor males 60 to 40 and administering the fertility-control drug PZP to all released mares.
While the BLM denies any relationship in the timing of removing the horses from the pipeline area, their track record shows improprieties, and the organization was involved in payoffs and other scandals during the period when the Ruby Pipeline was approved. Also during this period the BLM was found to have "exceeded its authority" in another wild horse population, and the BLM was blocked by the courts from efforts to completely remove an entire herd from a Colorado range.
The Ruby Pipeline management denies that it has anything to do with the roundups. The removal of wild horses/burros is not addressed in the Ruby Pipeline Final EIS, because it has nothing to do with the removal of wild horses or burros. Gathers such as the Calico Mountains Complex operation are conducted as part of the BLM land use management plans, and are conducted to remove excess animals, achieve Appropriate Management Levels, and achieve a thriving natural ecological balance in an effort to maintain healthy rangelands and ensure through our management practices that we have adequate food and water for the remaining wild horses and burros, wildlife and permitted livestock on the public lands.
Keeping their agreement to mitigate the environmental impact on the public lands, Ruby Pipeline hired Conservation Seeding and Restoration (CSR) to replant the entire length of the pipeline with native plants, which completed their contract on May 18th. However, according to BLM documents, the government’s only apparent consideration of the wild horses in this restoration was in how to keep them off the restored areas (BLM wild horse and burro resource specialists were consulted in developing this management approach):
POD Appendix K, Draft Restoration and Reclamation Plans for Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon filed with FERC in July 2009, specifies actions to minimize wild horse and burro grazing “within the reclaimed ROW”: Ruby will work with the BLM to minimize wild horse and burro grazing along the “restored” ROW for three years. "Possible management actions would be to provide water sources away from the ROW, include low palatable plant species in the seed mix such as sagebrush, temporary fencing with gaps, and/or reduce wild horse populations following BLM policy in appropriate management areas.”
Wild horse advocate and author RT Fitch explained to Digital Journal that "The BLM has stacked the deck with their advisory board and filled it with only hunting, cattle and as of late slaughter interests. Without admitting it the BLM wants to deem all long term and "three strikes" horses as "sale authority" horses so that they could be sold off for as low as $25.00 each with no further inspection which would mean that some 45,000 held wild horses could be sold directly into the despicable slaughter pipeline. This, I am most certain, is a move the BLM will soon make while they continue to inhumanely pull thousands of native wild horses off from their rightful land."
Meanwhile, the BLM continues to remove horses from the open range and pays ranchers to take care of them, hoping that 30,000 or more homes can be found for those once wild American icons, a tough sell in this economy.