Issues at Hand
Wild horses and burros are fast disappearing from the Western United States, and sadly very few people know it is happening.
Both wild and domestic horses are also facing the devastating reality of slaughter, and every year thousands of healthy horses are shipped across the U.S. borders to Mexico and Canada to unimaginable fates.
At WBF, we are hoping to use our unique voice to help raise awareness for these issues, in addition to doing exciting, elegant programs with children and teens to educate them about the incredible, compassionate, and therapeutic equine world.
What is Happening to Wild Horses?
In the Western U.S. right now, wild horses are facing brutal roundups by helicopter, where they are chased for miles at a time into trap sites. Not all the horses survive. Foals can be run to exhaustion, mares and stallions break their legs or backs trying to escape or bravely protect their families.
The successfully captured horses are then put into trailers, and taken to mass holding facilities where many live out their lives. These places do not always have shade, or room to run. A lucky few are adopted. “Strike horses,” meaning mustangs who have been “put up for adoption” and do not find homes can be euthanatized. Still more end up in the slaughter pipeline.
aREN'T wILD hORSES sUPPOSED TO BE pROTECTED?
Yes. Wild horses are not only our beloved national icons, but they are supposed to be federally protected by the government. But mustangs could be facing imminent extinction if these cruel practices are not stopped.
Do Wild Horses Have Families?
Yes. What is perhaps more heartbreaking of all, is that mustangs have bonded family structures much like humans do. Horses can also feel emotions like we can— they experience love, and loss, fear, heartbreak and joy.
Ripping apart a wild herd, just like the separation of a human family, is devastating emotionally. Stallions are like fathers, mares like mothers.
At WBF, we feel that the treatment of wild horses is very black and white. Our stance is that the current practices employed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage wild horses on the range are not only cruel, but antiquated. Modern science, in depth studies, and hard facts all back up reasonable and humane herd management solutions to keep wild horses on the range, but making change in a broken system is difficult.
That is why we need your voices.
How Many Horses Still Exist in the Wild?
Over 80,000 wild horses are estimated to still roam free across the Western Untied States. Another estimated 50,000 mustangs, however, are currently sitting in mass government holding facilities.
A fight over land, money, and special interests.
Isn't There Room for Everyone?
We feel there certainly should be. There are 245 million acres of public land currently managed by the BLM. However, wild horses are only allocated 27 million acres of this to roam. By contrast, livestock are given a whopping 155 million acres.
The discrepancy is especially startling, given wild horses are supposed to be federally protected, and should not be “ousted” to prioritize private livestock grazing— which is at the heart of the issue. Ranchers can graze their private cattle and sheep on public land for a fraction of the cost due to tax subsidies.
Horses Versus Cattle
What is additional troubling for not only wild horses, but for the environment— is that livestock destroy the land they graze on. To put it simply, cows and sheep use their tongues to rip up the grass at its root, while wild horses act like lawnmowers. The devastation to forage by livestock is significant. Horses also consume far less water than cattle. On a daily basis depending on heat and exercise, a horse might drink 8-14 gallons a day. Cattle generally require about 20 gallons a day, and can drink up to fifty gallons.
Cattle can eat up to about 130 pounds of grass and forage per day, and are not very picky eaters. They will consume most of what is in front of them, and they also produce high levels of methane gas— which studies have proven is damaging to the ecosystem.
Horses by contrast are very picky eaters, and do not decimate the land around them. A horse that weighs approximately 1000 pounds will eat about 20-25 pounds of grass per day.
That is 8-14 gallons of water per day for a wild horse, compared to 20-50 gallons for cattle— and 20-25 pounds of grass a day for a wild horse, versus 130 pounds for cattle!
The argument that horses are eating too much grass on the range, or consuming too much water is blatantly false when you look at the hard facts. Further, livestock vastly outnumber wild horses on our public lands— and that ratio is only growing.
Who is Paying for Wild Horse Roundups and Mass Holding?
The taxpayers. The BLM’s budget for the Horse and Burro Program is over 100M per year.
A Brief Glimpse into History:
Back in the early 1970s, when these issues were even less known than they are today— a woman named Velma Johnston or as she is better known, “Wild Horse Annie”— encouraged children to use their voices to protect wild horses. She spearheaded a campaign where children across the country collectively wrote letters to President Nixon, urging him to protect mustangs.
Thankfully, President Nixon listened. He received more letters from children about wild horses during his term second only to one other subject: the Vietnam War.
Shortly after this amazing effort, Congress unanimously passed the 1971 The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act, which stated:
This was a huge step toward the protection of wild horses and burros, but many organizations including WBF believe the Bureau of Land Management has not acted in the spirit of the act. On the contrary, we feel they have blatantly ignored it.
Instead of protecting horses from “capture, branding, harassment, and death,” they have turned to helicopter roundups and mass holding (“capture”), putting freeze brands on mustangs (“branding”), tearing apart families who once existed in the wild (“harassment”) and finally— given the brutal nature of how roundups are conducted, some horses break their legs, necks, backs, are run to death, die from exhaustion, or are euthanatized by the BLM (“death”).
Further, The Bureau of Land Management has developed a term they deem “Appropriate Management Levels” (AMLs), which essentially state how many horses the BLM feels are sustainable on the land, on designated Herd Management Areas (HMAs).
Respected institutions such as the National Academy of Science (NAS) have published reports about the Bureau of Land Management, and the NAS has taken the position that these HMA numbers are not actually supported by scientific facts.
After a two million dollar study, the NAS concluded the following:
Are Roundups Still Happening Now?
Yes. The BLM rounds up thousands of wild horses every year. You can read about the current 2021 roundup schedule by state, here:
Overall, the BLM’s objective is to reduce the wild horses population across the Western United States to approximately 27,000 horses — while allowing instead over 700,000 cow & calf pairs to graze on the public same land.
In 1971, the above numbers were considered “extinction level” for wild horses.
There are Solutions
Fertility control measures such as “PZP” have been proven to successfully manage wild horses and burros on the range. Other solutions include reintroducing natural predators like cougars and mountain lions, who are also destroyed to prioritize livestock grazing (as they pose a threat) so that wild horses can exist in a more balanced ecological habitat.
Modern science affords a variety of opportunities to explore for effective, humane wild horse management. However, the BLM has continued to uniformly prioritize expensive helicopter roundups and the building of even more mass holding facilities. In past years, the BLM has used only 1-4% of the 100M+ Horse and Burro Program budget on viable fertility control solutions, such as PZP.
Thankfully, in 2020— the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment designating that 11M of the BLM’s budget for the Horse and Burro Program must be spent on implementing PZP (porcine zona pellucida, immunocontraception fertility suppression vaccine). This marked a small but important win for wild horses.
Unfortunately, time is running out.
The roundups continue in 2021, and they are only getting worse.
The BLM’s plan currently includes rounding up 40% of Wyoming’s wild horses. They also plan to decimate iconic herds such as the Onaqui horses of Utah, which are the most photographed, visited, and easily accessible mustangs in the country. If you want to see wild horses in all their splendor out on the range, Onaqui is the place you probably want to go.
But if the BLM is successful, the Onaqui will be reduced from approximately 800 horses that once existed in 2019— to approximately 120 horses across 200,000 acres. Thousands of cows and sheep have taken their place.
These are just a few examples of what is going on.
If this continues, there will soon be very few wild horses left to see in the United States if any at all. The American mustang may simply disappear into our history, a wild beauty tragically lost.
How Can You Help?
At WBF, we feel one of the biggest problems wild horses and burros face, in addition to the inhumane issues of slaughter— is a lack of widespread, public awareness for their plight.
We feel that anyone who loves animals can likely see what is happening to wild horses is wrong. That why our team at WBF is excited to lend our unique voice to help protect them.
Will you join us? Will you stand with the wild horses?
Get Involved Now.
WBF’s mission is to help provide crucial awareness that is powerful, elegant, and also geared toward children and families. Young Advocates can help raise their voices by participating in our exciting letter writing campaign, or short story competition!
Also check out our #istandwithwildhorses campaign.
Thank you for helping the horses of today, and supporting The Wild Beauty Foundation. Every life matters.