Happy Anniversary? (editorial: Laura Leigh)
The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRH&B Act) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971 (approved on December 15). This law landed on Nixon’s desk after passing both the House and Senate (June 19, 1971) unanimously.
This law was part of a wave of environmental laws, rules and regulations that began in the 1970’s. Many were statements of intention, belief, commitment that our natural world held a value to our nation and that things like clean air and water were not only important, but a right as a citizen of what was seen as a “great nation.”
Over the last three years we have watched water and air quality, not simply slowly slide backwards, but cascade rapidly back to the foul state that caused such uproar and forced the creation of these laws in the first place.
Industry is bombarding our wild places, and not so wild places. Food safety regulations and inspections have been rolled back; a new alert each week that something in the super market can kill your children. Massive earth moving equipment speeding down old highways and off into new mine sites; you will pay the clean up arsenic and more left in waterways as legislation to reform mining laws from 1872 have stalled. Heck, do not walk your dog on public land or you may lose it to the painful throws of a cyanide bomb set to kill predators for livestock (that produces less than 3% of beef for industry, but drained over a billion in taxpayer funding over a decade to continue a subsidized business on the taxpayer and pound the land belonging to the taxpayer).
When I began this journey (I have ended my twelfth year of running in our wild places) you could drive hundreds of miles and not see another human soul. You did see places where wild things ruled; mountain lions, huge herds of elk, wild horses. You had no cell service and passed towns that did not have lattes, Walmart, cell phone stores or even a gas station with regular hours. It was amazing and the experience of a lifetime.
Today all of it has changed. You can have cell service in the most unexpected places, but need to be wary of trucks ripping down newly torn dirt roads because a mine has expanded. Many places you have to be wary of FedEx trucks heading off the highway into areas where we have multiple mines like shopping centers in the middle of nowhere. New fence lines add to old as we increase the appeasement of private livestock permittees and approve new projects on public lands that will increase the devastation.
So many of the places that once filled my heart and mind with such joy are gone now. Those hidden spaces where I used to just sit with hundreds of wild horses and heal my soul all now just bring stabbing pain and haunted memory.
Do we know what we have lost? I drive through areas where BLM will say “We have no livestock or mining.” Those areas were bashed to dust with over a century of overstocked domestic livestock and stripped of treasure by invasive mines. “Do not eat in this area” or “Wear eye protection” are signs you see by waterholes 50 miles from a highway, used by unknowing birds and wildlife, so polluted that you can not eat your lunch nearby without risk. A few survivors, straggler bands of wild horses that have had the “land they stand” destroyed, are blamed for “range degradation” and stampeded by helicopter, captured and sit at risk that the next round of political pandering by billionaires will send them to slaughter.
Do we know what we have lost? Those areas wont be cleaned up, ever, unless you pay for it. You pay through the nose to continue to subsidize mining and livestock that are destroying the places we once felt were important to us as a nation.
Instead of addressing the true devastation of our wild places and wild things we debated “massive funding” of a “wild horse program?” Wild horses live on only 12% of public lands and get less than 16% of the forage in those areas. We are debating giving that program, that does absolutely nothing to actually protect our last few wild (wild) herds, more money. We are not giving them more money to work on protection, we are giving them more funding to scapegoat, remove, brutalize.
Before you make some claim that we make money off mining and livestock, think again. Mining laws have not been updated since 1872. You pay for cleanup and do not get a cut of the public treasure they extract and make billions off of. The livestock industry subsidies overwhelmingly outweigh the absurdly low grazing fees (they pay less per month to feed a cow and a calf than you pay for one day of dog food).
I have seen our wild ones struggle as gates are closed illegally cutting wild horses off of vast tracks of the HMA, even when cows are not out. I have watched as those intent on blaming wild horses in photo ops close gate after gate creating serious abuse as wild ones are cut off from water; all done to keep the “blame the horse” management practices and push for removals and slaughter.
I spend time with media. Foreign press “gets it” before they ever arrive to see it. American media? they have dropped to the level of “pay to play” and simply copy and paste from the press releases sent by big public relations firms, come and take a pic or two, and then aid and abet the corruption (who owns these outlets anyway?).
The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was an intention to protect our wild horses and the land they stand. The places no one wanted, the place for the outlaw spirit of the West, the place for the wild things, were set aside to be managed principally, but not exclusively, for wild horses. Instead of a commitment to create that reality industry asserted pressure and without public input federal management simply changed that definition.
There is not one area that was protected and managed, that the Act covered, managed principally for wild horses or burros. A handful of areas designated prior to the Act have that intended legal status, even though it does not translate into practice. The rest? bashed, battered, abused and not by the wild horses. Not one HMA is not riddled with barbed wire for livestock and/or mining.
What would it have hurt to set aside 12% of public lands for wild horses and wild things? It would have hurt local, powerful, political western interests, not our national economy. Could we just have raised the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments to local communities? (Yes, you pay taxes to counties for the public lands in those counties and you pay to subsidize the industries on those public lands.) I argue that education, health care, etc. in local communities would have benefitted more from a mere fraction of the cost of subsidized industry direct from the taxpayer (increase in PILT) to keep wild places wild instead of the destruction, pollution, continual upheaval of “boom and bust” created by mining and livestock. But I digress.
As wild horse and burro advocates we are stuck in a time where corporate advocacy is looking to carve a piece of this pie; not just donations through marketing an idea of change and not real change, but they want a slice of taxpayer money. Both the House bill and the Senate bill in the 2020 Appropriations (spending) debate are industry written. There was no open and informed debate, it was all bought and paid for. Neither bill protects your wild horses; one eases the blow slightly, the other just directly plows it all down. Both will bring horror to the range.
I see it all with my own eyes. I have been to more days of roundups in the last eleven years that any single human; government or private. I see the betrayal, abuse, dismay, in tens of thousands of faces. I have travelled over a million road miles and watched as our land, our wild herds, are abused on range. Waters turned off, ranges cut off with gates and fences, rampant illegal use of the range (trespass) by livestock, speeding trucks from mines mowing down horse, burro, deer, rabbit, coyote…
BLM? Most managers are just waiting out the clock so they can retire on the taxpayer dime with great benefits. Some are playing the politics hoping for an even better payoff when they leave “public service” and take a job for industry in the private sector. Several are playing the buddy system and bending laws for the private profit benefits of friends and family through exploitation of your land. A handful are broken people that had vision and then had it beat out of them and chose the easy route to the taxpayer payout after retirement.
Me? I burn. I burn with disgust, rage and my own sense of the betrayal. The range work I passed up the advocate food chain was not used to help wild horses; the “advocates” made backdoor deals and helped the opposition bury it. The federal managers that claimed to believe in the law? they believed in their own comfort first and to heck with law. The few in Congress that claimed to care about the truth and the law? a nice campaign contribution from a lobby group bought them as well.
We are headed fast to a time where we might have a few square miles of wild left, just enough to take that Instagram photo making it look like you are a range rat. The real wild is in danger, irrevocable threat. The real wild would tell you where to put that Instagram post.
I stand with the wild. I know this may be a losing battle, but this is a fight worth fighting. This is not a time to “negotiate” a deal that may lessen a blow that will still be fatal. It is like negotiating a form of Capital Punishment; “hanging or the needle?” for our wild places, it will all still die. I wont stop speaking, fighting, caring, hurting. If we all stay complacent our wild is gone.
At this holiday season, and on the Anniversary, I was told to just post the beauty of the wild because that is what will “play better” on our social media (today that seems to be what everything is about). I have to admit I thought about doing that for just a fleeting moment. However, on range and roundups I see such a rapid deterioration of range, law, ethics that I simply can not.
The Act is sacred to me. It was the culmination of struggle that led to change that should have been boldly fought to improve, and it was not. Immediately following the passage of the Act the “fight” turned into a “public relations game.”
I had my own struggle that led to policy change; access to roundups and gaining a humane handling policy. I have watched both deteriorate in recent years under the “pr game” over the fight. I poured years into building a cooperative action, that was destroyed under politics and petty selfish nonsense. These were built while I battled intense personal issues including cancer.
None of what I went through compares to the struggle to gain the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Today we are on the verge of losing every single intention of that movement.
Wild Horse Education enters into 2020 with that realization burned into the minds and hearts of all of our volunteers.
Today, the Anniversary of the Act, please renew your commitment to set aside fear and fight. In 2020 it will take all of your courage to avoid the pitfalls of the outright blackmail the opposition has always used “we will kill all the horses” if you do not bend. If you bend? the wild horses are headed for death either through outright sales to kill or on range as they lose the resources they need to survive.
Our wild horses and burros are the only animal in our nation whose legal identity is defined by the land it stands. The law was written that way for a reason. Our wild ones must have the wild place to survive and to simply continue to be what they are. Our wild horses are “wild” because of all they exist within; the elk, deer, mountain lion, sunsets. The word “wild” is not a legal definition because it is unhandled by man, it is a definition that ties it to the wild place.
If we actually protected the “land they now stand” there would be no immediate issue to address, no need for mass removal, massive holding costs, etc. We can do mapping and slow, or increase, reproduction as a protected range allows without cruelty of sterilization, mass removals and abuse.
It’s a dream. One worth fighting for. WHE will continue to speak for the wild.
On the Anniversary of the Act we honor the intention of the law and all those that fought for it. We promise to keep fighting for the dream.
Please contact your reps in Congress this week. NO new funding until the BLM releases their long overdue report and appropriate scrutiny and debate occurs. The public deserves to participate in fully informed debate before tens of millions more of taxpayer dollars are used to decimate populations of wild horses. In addition, under apparently corrupt leadership BLM is forwarding a private agenda in contravention of the law.
We make it easy with a click and send!Just click here to send a simple letter to your reps! HERE.
If you want to write a longer letter? A WHE member wrote one that is published here for you to use! HERE.
Categories: Wild Horse Education