Wildlife & Biodiversity

Enemies of the State: America’s Mustangs

The nation’s wild horses are under siege by oil, gas, mining and other special interests, with total disregard for public lands

By Carol Walker
Published: Monday 24 September 2018
A herd of Mustangs in the western United States     Credit: Carol Walker A herd of Mustangs in the western United States Credit: Carol Walker

The still-untamed, Wild West is part of the American fabric, which includes thousands of wild mustangs roaming free on public lands. However, these treasured animals—known as America’s wild horses—are under siege by oil, gas, mining and other special interests, with total disregard for public lands. To “Carbon Capitalists,” wild horses are public enemy number one and (through no fault of their own) find themselves at the top of America’s Most Wanted list.

This was not always the case, as back in 1971, the US Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act, protecting America’s wild horses and burros in their historic herd areas on public lands throughout the West. Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—a federal agency under the US Department of the Interior—is taking away more than half of the wild horses and burros’ protected land. On the remaining half, other harmful activities—such as oil and gas drilling and mining or livestock grazing—are leaving the last of America’s wild horses and burros with little land upon which to flourish. The BLM is not only allowing this to happen, but encouraging it, because by shrinking the space for wild animals, the federal government is increasing the number of oil and gas leases on public lands.

The BLM is also actively removing wild horses and burros from public lands in roundups, using helicopters to chase wild horses over many miles—even in the harshest of conditions such as over icy, rough terrain or in extreme heat. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing scared, tiny foals running to keep up with their mothers. Many wild horses are dying during these roundups, which sometimes occur in Western locations where there are significant drought conditions, and water is so scarce, volunteers must bring water in just to try and keep them alive.

The BLM is telling the public there are about 46,000 captured wild horses and burros in their holding facilities; however, an investigation by the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, where I work, found that less than half of the BLM’s reported number of wild horses were at their facilities. Many wild horses were likely sold—through middlemen—to slaughter houses in Mexico or Canada. Unfortunately, the reselling process is only made easier by a recent BLM recommendation, which pays individuals $1,000 to adopt a horse. Even worse, the BLM is considering shipping wild horses off to Guyana or Russia, and once the horses leave US soil, the BLM no longer has any control or jurisdiction over their well-being.

Another horse advocacy group, Equine Advocates, has been fighting against horse slaughter for many years.  Many common drugs and vaccines that are given to horses, including wild horses, even only one time in their lives, makes the meat from these horses unfit for human consumption.  

The BLM should not be placing the interests of Carbon Capitalists ahead of the need to preserve and protect these majestic and once-treasured creatures. Wild horses serve a historical and economic purpose as part of the overall public land ecosystem with scientific studies clearly showing that wild horses and burros benefit other crucial wildlife and the greater world around us. Instead of wanting these animals dead or alive off public lands, the BLM should focus their considerable resources on ensuring wild horses and burros retain their rights to flourish, so we can all truly enjoy the Wild West and all the wonderful wildlife who call it home.

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