“That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” (Public Law 92-195, 1971)
Until the 1970s, wild horses and burros in the United States were recognized as the national treasure that they are and protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA). But four decades have gone by since then and our nation has changed with respect to its treatment of wild horses and burros. Especially during the past three decades, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been trying to eliminate these magnificent creatures. This elimination has been getting worse by the decade and now proceeds at a very alarming rate.
You might be wondering why people would want to capture and enslave or even kill beautiful creatures such as wild horses and burros. Well, when big game hunting interests, corporate and individual livestock interests, energy and mineral extraction companies, etc. want to use public lands for profit, they will take out anything they think stands in the way. The BLM and USFS have been pressured to make way for these monopolizers of public land ecosystems. Wild horses and burros reflect the health of the ecosystem, and removing them constitutes a multitude of ecological sins.
Ranchers graze many millions of cows and sheep on our public lands and receive huge government subsidies to do so. Ranchers currently graze cows for only $1.35 per head, and sheep for $1.35 per five. This is the minimum fee set by the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and only about one-twelfth of the market value for grazing such animals. For the ranchers this is a great bargain, and the more cows or sheep they can set out on the public lands the more money they earn. Ranchers blame horses for “overgrazing” the grass “meant for cows or sheep,” even though cows and sheep outnumber wild horses anmd burros on public lands by more than 50 to one.
As servants of ranchers, rather than the general public, the BLM believes too many wild horses and burros will not leave enough forage for the permitted cows and sheep to graze. Thus these officials ignore a chief requirement of the the WFHBA: Section 2(c) clearly states that a wild horse and burro range, or legal area, is “the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros…devoted principally…to their welfare.” For example, because of the inherent bias of our supposed public servants, “today on millions of acres lying along railroads, we find livestock operators hogging nearly all of the natural resources and either no or only very few accidental wild horses and burros, in spite of their legal right to live there.” (Page 55, The Wild Horse Conspiracy.)
According to independent estimates, less than 20,000 wild horses and burros remain on our public lands today. And these animals often constitute tiny remnant populations that are highly fragmented and cut off from other herds, and thus at risk of being inbred or wiped out by illegal killings or chance occurrences such as storms. If the public allows the BLM to continue its relentless roundups and removals at the current rapid rate, there will be no viable wild horse or burro herds left on our public lands in the very near future.