Wild Horse Education (WHE) is a tiny organization that has engaged in many journeys to gain protection for our wild ones from abuse, slaughter and to gain fair and equitable management on our pubic land.
The journey toward meaningful access to capture and handling to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roundups and facilities took over 5 years. We began with a first real step in 2010. Daily “cat and mouse games” of running the range and traveling up and down the US federal court system gained traction through legal wins and the public attention it drew. Fifteen news organizations nationwide moved forward to stand with us. In 2016 we began another journey to refine that process as we were given true meaningful access.
A journey of nearly 500,000 miles led to the creation of the first humane handling policy in the history of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Observing and documenting more wild horse captures than any organization, federal or independent, gained the information. Running back and forth to court gained the legal justification. WHE won the first court orders in history against inappropriate conduct. We continued to win. In the fall of 2015 a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) was included in all removal contracts. We expect to see a version surface for holding facilities that will include a policy for infectious disease control. The journey to refine that map has begun.
In 2012 we began to address flaws in the federal “sale program” where wild horses are sold for 10-25 dollars when we met Pulitzer Prize nominee, journalist Dave Philipps, at a roundup in Nevada. That investigation showed over 1700 wild horses sold to one kill buyer alone, Tom Davis a family friend of the former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In 2013 the BLM tightened the sale program to allow only 4 to be sold to an individual in a 6 month period. There are clauses to that new policy that must still be addressed to stop our wild ones from going to slaughter. In 2015 the government finally admitted the allegations were the truth, yet has to this day held no one accountable for the breach.
The BLM wild horses and burros program is flawed. Decades of running a program built on a foundation of anecdote, assertion and without appropriate support and structure for valid on the range management has led to a literal crisis. Relying on remove and stockpile as the only real tool employed we now have nearly 50,000 wild horses living their lives in facilities throwing the entire program further from integrity. On the range management suffers from a lack of even basic funding as it tries to manage wild horses and burros under new mandates that restrict the use of the primary tool, roundups.
In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was tasked to review the BLM program and confirmed every flaw and created a series of recommendations. WHE had active litigation that was filed prior to the report. But we began a step to create the possibility of yet beginning another journey, we dropped the litigation.
In 2016, after years of conversation, we have begun that journey. Coming to an agreement with the Nevada state office of the BLM we now take a step together to create a new journey. One we hope can lead to a strong foundation that can lead to management as intended under law. We are well aware of the public frustration that the wild horse program usually is justified to suit other uses. Livestock, mining and now Sage Grouse drive the larger picture of public land management. Wild horses and burros use about 11% of all public land and often appear relegated into a footnote. In order to sustain wild horses and burros as an integral part of public land we need to overhaul not only the program, but our thinking.
We have begun the next “Journey.” The last week we have taken the first steps on the ground as working partners with NV BLM.
We leave you with words penned for the introduction to the NAS report by Guy Hughes Palmer, Chair, Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program. (personal note: The first reading of this report was truly a moment of celebration and validation. WHE carries this report in much the same way many people carry a bible or photographs of their children, it is that significant to those we love, our wild horses and burros. We urge you to read the entire report. We absolutely love that he chose this quote to begin the report, for this will truly be a journey that can lead to a worthwhile destination).
The above quotation has been translated most commonly as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and, alternatively, as “Even the longest journey must begin where you stand.” In both interpretations, there is relevance to moving forward to improve management of free-ranging horses and burros on public lands in the western United States. Although there is a broad spectrum of public opinion regarding how horses should be managed on the land, there is also common ground as to the goal of sustaining healthy equid populations managed on healthy rangeland. In light of the charge to our committee and in the course of our public engagement, it is clear that the status quo of continually removing free-ranging horses and then maintaining them in long-term holding facilities, with no foreseeable end in sight, is both economically unsustainable and discordant with public expectations. It is equally evident that the consequences of simply letting horse populations, which increase at a mean annual rate approaching 20 percent, expand to the level of “self-limitation”—bringing suffering and death due to disease, dehydration, and starvation accompanied by degradation of the land—are also unacceptable. Those facts define the point from which we must begin the journey. However, it also provides a direction for the next steps: how can the natality be effectively managed so as to ensure that genetically viable, physically and behaviorally healthy equid populations are maintained on the land while preserving the ecosystem itself?
Our bags are packed and there is no road WHE won’t travel to reach a destination. This time the destination includes building a strong foundation to manage, preserve and protect America’s wild horses and burros free on the range. It will not be an easy journey, but the ability to reach that destination has begun, with a single step. May the journey bring us all to that destination.
(note: The purpose of this post is to inform our supporters of the direction and tasks ahead. We know we have not had much time to maintain our regular schedule of articles and information. We are working on addressing our ability to maintain information coming to you on process and issues. Onward.)