WILD HORSES: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
America’s Wild Mustangs & Burros Face Declining Populations and Possible Extinction
Horses are icons of the American historical heritage of which the United States is built upon. The values, ethics, beliefs and cultural significance of our country are symbolized by the beauty, grace and majestic nature of America’s wild horses. In 1971, the United States Congress recognized Mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”
Wild horses are highly intelligent herd animals that depend on one another for survival. They’re descendants of the horses from early Spanish explorers, settlers, ranchers, Indian tribes and the U.S. Cavalry from the 1600s through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Wild horses clearly represent the history of the United States. Over 100 years ago there were an estimated two million Mustangs running free, now there are approximately 30,000.
Following decades of unregulated and widespread killing of wild horses and burros which began in the mid-1800s, the first federal law was passed in protection of wild horses in 1959, called the Wild Horse Annie Act (PL86-234). Velma B. Johnston or “Wild Horse Annie” was a heroic woman who fought vigilantly alongside other wild horse supporters who lobbied the federal government for protection against the cruel exploitation of America’s Mustangs. In 1971, the Wild Free Roaming Horse & Burro Act (PL92-195) was passed, which was federal legislation that protected wild horses and burros from harassment or death on public lands, as well as directed them to be maintained in a thriving ecological balance with livestock, wildlife and the habitat. However, a rider to the 2005 federal Appropriations Bill introduced by Senator Burns resulted in the stripping of federal protection of wild horses and burros, and legitimized the capture and selling of horses for slaughter and human consumption to satisfy the demand for foreign horsemeat. The Bill, known as the Burns Amendment, was signed into law by President Bush on December 6, 2004 (www.wildhorsepreservation.com/resources/burns_amend.html).
Wild horses live primarily on public lands in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona and New Mexico. The herds are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is an agency of the US Department of the interior. The future of our wild Mustangs and burros are at risk. The agency reduces wild horse and burro populations below the minimum necessary to sustain healthy populations. According Dr. Gus Cothran, Equine Geneticist at the University of Kentucky, the minimum number of horses and burros in each herd management area (HMA) should be at least 150 animals, however; under BLM plans, about 70 percent of the HMAs will have fewer than 100 animals.
The BLM conducts yearly roundups on public lands across the country. Horses are removed unnecessarily and for the interests of cattle ranchers, and commercial hunting and oil operations on public lands. Tax dollars are being spent to thin wild horse herds for the benefit of special interest groups at the expense of the American people. Their removal makes more land available for government and commercial interests, resulting in domestic interests profiting from the death of wild horses. According to Wild Horse Hearts Fund (www.wildheartshorsefund.org), there are approximately 17,500 public land permit holders, most of whom graze cattle and sheep; the ratio of domestic livestock to wild horses and burros on public lands is at least 50 to 1; there are an estimated 4.1 million domestic livestock grazing on public lands compared to approximately 25,000 wild horses and 5,000 burros; ranchers are charged only $1.81 per month to graze a cow and calf on our public lands, which is less than it costs to feed a cat; and less than 3 percent of the beef consumed in the U.S. comes from animals raised on public lands.
Roundups consist of low-flying helicopters, which chase Mustangs long distances to designated areas. Trampling and death are common, especially of mares and foals. The horses are transported by truck to short-term holding facilities where they’re adopted, sold or held in pens often in inhumane conditions. Horses that not adopted are sold to the horsemeat industry. According to Tom Pognak, Direct of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, 90 percent are sold for slaughter. Therefore, BLM roundups put wild horses at risk of slaughter. The sale of wild horses to the horsemeat trade is lucrative. Although domestic horses put consumers at risk of exposure to potential harm due to the drugs administered to them, wild horses aren’t subjected to the same chemicals, making their meat a special delicacy.
Populations of wild horses and burros continue to decline due to current BLM policies, which are in direct violation of the Wild Horse & Burro Act of 1971 as a result of the Burns Amendment. Numerous experts agree that at the present rate of decline and without intervention, the Mustang may be facing extinction by the end of this century. Public lands belong to the American people, as do the wild horses that roam on them. They’re a symbol of our national heritage. They’ve played a direct role in the industrialization of our society and they’re part of our cultural legacy. Unfortunately, in a consumer-driven society, wild horses aren’t seen as having significant economic value to commercial interests. However, the American people can continue the work that “Wild Horse Annie” began, make educated decisions about how their own tax-paying dollars are spent, and be a voice for their American horses that share a direct link to our past, present and future. Together, we can save our wild horses and burros from brutal and needless slaughter. As Debra Lopez, President of Americans Against Horse Slaughter (AAHS) states, “It’s not American. It’s not our culture.”
Americans Against Horse Slaughter is a non- funded, grassroots national movement comprised of supporters of a federal ban on the slaughter and the transport to slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas. Americans Against Horse Slaughter has no other agenda, other than to stop the brutal slaughter of American horses.