Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.
– Theodore Roosevelt
We have entered a pivotal time in history where Americans are currently facing devastating threats to our wild species and places as we know them to be. Threats by entities that blatantly serve private driven motives of profit exploitation on our public spaces and species; often financed by unknowing taxpayers. Current threats to the Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, many of our National Monuments, sacred sites and public rangelands are active now and potentially more catastrophic than ever. The release of President Trumps FY 2018 Budget Proposal now gravely puts our wild horses, the running symbols of American freedoms, at the top of that list; with language that would allow for the euthanizing of over 50,000 of our wild horses. It is with this most recent threat to our wild horses that collectively, as a nation, we must ask ourselves what Theodore Roosevelt innately understood. Are we dealing with our scarce natural resources and species in a way that would provide the assurance of a sustainable future and well-being for all who call America home?
In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act was passed which was to set aside 88 million acres for their protection in the wild. Under this act Congress declared 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. By honoring these American Icons, not only are we protecting and preserving American landscapes, we are simultaneously honoring the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom that our great country was founded upon. Theodore Roosevelt was right about the importance of “leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us;” and it begins by ensuring that our historic living symbols of freedom, our wild horses, remain wild and free.
The connection between horses and humans spans all time. Wild horses, in particular, are vital to our heritage and a national icon of strength and freedom. Historically, horses have aided Americans in our transportation, culture and work. They have walked alongside us, defending American troops in battles to protect our democracy. These animals are ancient presences on Earth, particularly in North America, their place of evolutionary origin and long-standing evolution, and their ancient wisdom quickly reactivates when they are allowed to live as they have for millions of years. The ecosystem likewise responds to their presence, from at the most basic level of the way they graze and digest foliage, to how their fecal matter holds seeds intact and their walking patterns disperse other seeds to help sustain the surrounding ecosystem. Ecological studies prove that the wild horse population is critical to maintaining the balance of life in the North American ecosystem.
Today unfortunately, the US government is now the number one reason the wild horses and burros numbers are dwindling and our nation’s horses are at serious risk now more than ever. President Trump’s FY 2018 Budget Proposal calls for a $10 million reduction to the Wild Horse and Burro Program; which to many taxpayers, initially sounds like a positive. That is, unless you understand the single sentence hidden inside the proposed budget that could potentially end the life of the over 55,000 wild horses currently held captive in holding pens throughout the Country.
The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget proposal requests the authority to use all management tools provided by the 1971 Act, including removing some restrictions that currently prohibits the BLM from using authority due to language included in the Interior Appropriations acts. The proposed budget calls for a management plan “including humane euthanasia and unrestricted sale of certain excess animals.” The unrestricted sale of excess horses is alternative language that means these wild horses, our iconic symbols of freedom, would certainly be sold for slaughter. It is not clear yet if the BLM would seek funding to euthanize the excess horses, or if they plan on selling them to the highest bidder. Nor does the budget clarify if the BLM is seeking to eliminate all horses in long-term holding, or merely reduce the numbers.
This is a conversation that should be centered around data and fact; instead of the big business perpetuated myths that we constantly surround America’s wild horses with. Since the 19th Century, the number of Wild Horses roaming the west has decreased from 2 million to roughly 32,000. This is a 98% decline. Currently, 70% of the BLM wild horse budget; or, over $80 million taxpayer dollars, are spent every fiscal year to round up and remove wild horses from public lands and deposit them into small, overcrowded and government holding facilities. In fact, 5 out of every 8 wild horses are currently held in holding pens. Feeding wild horses in holding pens costs taxpayers over $100,000 every day. (source: BLM Off Range Facility Report 2015 and www.Wildhorsepreservation.org)
Since the inception of the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, the Bureau of Land Management has “zeroed out” wild horses and burros from over 20 million acres of public land designated by Congress as habitat for these animals. The United States Government has used section 2 in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act to remove thousands of horses/burros from their land claiming over population where the true reason is reduction of Herd Management Areas (HMA’s) and the leasing of BLM land to ranchers. America has just 179 HMA’s left, in comparison to the 303 HMA’s originally designated in 1971. (sources: www.Wildhorsepreservation.org, BLM wild horse program, & Public Land Statistics)
Ranchers have lobbied to remove our wild horses so their cattle do not have to contend for food. For more than three decades, the BLM has existed as a land management department; a link between corporate cattle interests and the federal inventory of land, providing below market rate grazing leases to ranchers. Taxpayer funded livestock grazing on public lands costs over $132 million dollars per year. Currently, 8 times more federally managed land is authorized for livestock grazing than for wild horses (240 million acres for livestock vs 28.6 million acres for wild horses- that is shared with livestock). These agencies allow over 1 million cow/calf pairs to graze these public lands, whereas just over 33,000 wild horses and burros are allowed graze. Overall, private livestock outnumber wild horses on public lands by at least 50 to 1. (sources: www.Wildhorsepreservation.org, BLM wild horse program, & BLM grazing program)
In total, over the last 50 years America’s wild horses have lost over forty percent of their habitat. Our public lands are being fought over, exploited and overburdened. The new American battle is waged over grazing, ranching and water; and horses have become “collateral damage.” It’s not just our national landscape that is threatened. It’s our very future.
Why is it that we must always ask our horse nation to carry the weight of our misappropriated public policies? Do we not recognize that what is happening to them, simultaneously is happening to us as American citizens and our humanity?
As humans, we have disrupted the stability and harmony of our ecosystem and its inhabitants. When we look at our collective human appetite for consumption and what that has done to this balance, we are met by a sad and jarring wake up call for us to contemplate.
Political agendas, agri-business, oil fracking, and big business practices abuse our natural resources and public lands, endanger our wildlife and further exasperate our endangered species. The wild horse plight is gaining attention at this current moment in time to send us as humans, a variety of political, environmental and spiritual messages. Whether we decide to listen or not will determine our collective fate on this planet. It begins with testing what our Country truly values: protection of our natural species and habitats; or, the abuse, neglect and profit from them? Our collective answer will place us on a scale of migration as a population of how far we are removing ourselves from the natural world that we are a part of. This answer will affect not only the lives of all current American citizens and inhabitants, but the sustainable future for all generations.
Our urbanized lives have steadily created an increasing hunger to connect back with our planet and its wild places and life. Many don’t realize this hunger for what it is and instead try to satiate a sense of connection through technology and entertainment devices; things that instead continually provide a sense of fleeting happiness and dissatisfaction. An endless cycle of consumption. We have forgotten what it means to be connected to our surroundings. We have forgotten what gives us peace and a sense of belonging. But if we begin to reconnect with our environment and look to our horse nation as a tool; we can be reminded of this connection and be aided in understanding and remembering the value of celebrating and participating in the natural world around us. The wild horses are our guides as humans to remind us that we are an integral part of the world around us; that our actions have consequences far beyond the immediate implications. Our combined life energy is the key to a harmonious and abundant future.
America urgently needs bipartisan solutions to help achieve the humane, cost-effective and sustainable management of our nation’s wild horses on healthy rangelands for future generations. In this area of public policy, our national goal should be establishing long-term, viable, ecologically well-adapted herds of wild horses, while simultaneously preserving and valuing our nation’s public lands. When formulating positions on vital public policies, our government should rely on legislative memoranda, testimony, and briefings by the Congressional Research Service. However, the importance of achieving a more balanced, harmonious and humane environment for all who rely on these policies should not be overlooked and we should create legislation that supports balance between human, plant and animal life that shares these rangelands.
We must demand more from our public representatives and President; allowing an act of lazy government such as this budget proposal not only caters to the industries profiting off your public lands, but it directly threatens to destroy the very freedoms of all of those who call America home. It is the duty and right of the American public to call their legislators in Congress and adamantly demand that they will not tolerate the killing or sale to slaughter of America’s wild horses, especially with the use of taxpayer dollars. We need to urge our leadership to clarifying ambiguous language that will exploit our wild horses as a nuisance, and act upon the language that values them as an iconic symbol of the past, present, and future of the American West.
Wild horses are to be protected and preserved much like a National Monument or National Park, as they are a cherished and integral component to North America. They are not to be used and exploited as an American resource for profit. Additionally, we must ensure that when wild horses are removed from their rightful rangelands that we do all we can to humanely care for horses for their remaining lives. We must also actively seek and support alternatives to long term management, such as the rewilding initiatives at CANA Foundation; an organization that works to rewild horses onto native lands across the Country. In order to make america great again- we must ensure that our living symbols of our very freedoms remain wild and free.
Humanely addressing the plight of our wild horses more importantly redirects us to the imperative of restoring balance to our world. By honoring these American Icons, we are simultaneously honoring the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom that our great country was founded upon. By ensuring that our wild horses remain wild and free we are conserving diminishing western territories, natural resources and contributing to the protection of our natural ecosystem for future generations. By sharing in the beauty of our wild horses, we are reminded that we share the bedrock principles of commitment to family, and the quest for freedom and liberty.
You can read all of the highlights for the Interior’s proposed FY 2018 budget here:
The section on BLM here:
Images retrieved from BLM Nevada & BLM Oregon Flickr Accounts: https://www.flickr.com/photos/152185213@N05/galleries/72157685699758755/