Friday, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, a group charged with making recommendations to the Bureau of Land Management regarding its Wild Horse and Burro program, agreed to potentially euthanize tens of thousands of equines in holding facilities.
Their recommendation undoubtedly hit horse lovers like a bomb. Social media, unsurprisingly, ballooned with immediate rancor.
It’s sad enough that it’s come to this. Read the Elko (NV) news report.
It’s also sad that only a tiny fraction of the public has invested time and thought to understanding this crisis in the American west.
Advisory Board member Ben Masters, who traveled from the Mexican to the Canadian border with three college friends and more than a dozen adopted mustangs (all the subjects of the documentary “Unbranded”), writes with compassion, patience, and reasoning about the situation and how it has come to what on the surface seems like an incredibly horrid state. Read his comments here.
But as horrid as it seems, it’s the best decision the group could make after many, many bad decisions which go back generations. Check out this information graphic to get a better idea of the problems.
Who has led us to this point?
Our forefathers, who thought it was acceptable to turn out unwanted horses to open country. Those domestic horses-turned-wild did too well in the wilderness. The numbers of offspring of former army horses, frontier horses, and ranch horses double every five years.
If they weren’t so pretty, we would call them “invasive” and we would have sought more effective and less emotion-driven, less politicized ways to manage them a long time ago. Is there a romantic term for feral cats? Do you recognize how much damage both feral cats and feral horses do to their environment? For review of mustang crisis.
Our government, which for decades has rounded up horses and burros, creating more space and available resources for the equines left behind. The BLM strategy, in fact, has had exactly the opposite effect as it intended. The wild populations grew even more. Read more.
Our government has also dragged its feet on pursuing humane population control options, like PZP darting. Instead, it invested in risky, inhumane sterilization procedures (which produced horrible results and subjected the agency to a litany of additional lawsuits) and it continued the round ups.
Activists, some of whom say feral horses and burros have more claim to the land than any other animals. Some believe the equines should live untainted and untethered lives, all other considerations be damned. They leverage romance, old West lore, and widespread ignorance to fan the flames of public outrage.
Ourselves, for failing to get educated on the crisis, for failing to support wild horse trainers, for failing to adopt a mustang or burro, for failing to work towards a research-supported consensus on how to save the equines and the wilderness.
The wild horses and burros are in a fight for their lives, be it on the wild range (where grasslands are collapsing due to their overpopulation) or in the holding pens (where their lives are squandered and they remain ignored by most Americans).
Upset at this current, catastrophic state?
Get educated and try to help. Pause for a moment if you need to cry over damage done. Then let’s work towards a solution.