Wild Horse Education

Don’t Fence Them In (Editorial, M. Milliman)

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Fish Creek; before the herd was devastated in 2019 through backdoor deals, buddy clubs and absolutely no common sense.

“Oh give them land, lots of land, and the starry skies above;

Don’t fence them in.

Let them roam through the wide open country that we love;

Don’t fence them in.”

2019: Marie Milliman (with LLeigh) Part One, the “range run.” 

Four times this year I have departed to traverse the lands and wilds that call out and unrelentingly pull me to them. Four times this year I have kissed Hallelujah, Grace and Glory (my mustangs and burro) “goodbye” and hugged them fiercely when I returned. My third year in Wild Places and Wild Horse advocacy, “Don’t Fence Them In” has evolved as a defining term on this journey and I used it for the title of this reflection of 2019.

In April I joined a “range run” beside Laura (our founder) to document three Herd Management Areas (HMA’s). As usual, there were intertwining, ever expanding, barbed wire fences that strangle the very land that most are of the opinion is wide open. “Open range is a myth” said my guide, “it is really only a highway sign that means cattle might cross the road.”

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A bachelor band that had to struggle through barbed wire to reach water as gates were closed (when they should not have been) and the springs in the area he was locked into had been destroyed by cows, drawn down by mining, and turned into a pipeline to lower elevations that the permittee turns off. 

What we see on our range run into “nowhere land” is never representative of the regurgitated tagline “thriving natural ecological balance.” I witness a rather abusive, twisted, shattering of that assertion under the weight of reality. Hundreds of miles of barbed wire can exist in a single HMA, and the thud of dangerous cattle guards under your wheels over and over, suffocate what would be natural migratory paths for every living thing on public lands. All “natural” beings impeded from traveling to and from water sources as they would without fences and the ability to choose preferred seasonal grazing often simply impossible. Gates to the sides of the restraining cattle guards that are predominantly, intentionally, left closed by a permittee (even when his private livestock are not consuming public forage) as if the area is private property and the grass is only for their personal use, financial exchange through the slaughter of often neglected chattel. 

No sign appears anywhere along these archaic and cruel barriers to indicate what time of year gates should be open or closed. The land managers excuse for not posting permitted livestock turnout times is “the signs would get shot down.” When you travel with a companion that researches the parameters of permits you find that the reason may be the rampant occurrence of illegal use by livestock (trespass) and BLM does not want to do anything about it? too much paperwork or simply fear? When someone uneducated about our public lands sees a gate open, the reflex is to close it. Through neglect, or intent, this creates a real abuse of all living things that get hung up, or torn, trying to be a natural being on our unnatural public lands. If they can not navigate, they simply become trapped in an artificial, illegal, pen on “open range.”

The abuses of the land our wild horses stand on, and rely on, are gutwrenching. “Replacement” water sources for wild horses and wildlife sit with a generator not functioning, or in disrepair or brand new but no one was tasked with providing fuel to run it, only to satisfy a “horse hating” county that wants all control of federal land. And/or the natural springs in the area have been massacred by the weighty cloven hoofed European cow, far from an adaptable species in an arid environment, turning springs into pools of feces and urine (I wish you could smell your public lands!). Habitats  are smothered with cheat grass and devoid of the beauty of a healthy biocrust. None of this is because there might be a population of wild horses over a mythological “AML,”  but because of a century of the political stranglehold on federal land agencies by livestock and mining interests and the corruption within the agency as land managers play favorites and politics for personal comfort.


This is public land ranching. Livestock out with no shelter to fend for themselves on a harsh landscape until they are collected and sold off for slaughter. 

Mining creates more fences, more roads with heavy, high speed traffic. Roads I travelled with my guide (Leigh) just three years ago, that seemed like small oasis from the smell and searing battering of privately owned livestock, are now large enough for massive earth movers or the two and three hookups of ore containers going way to fast in a place where wild things live and make every bend in the road (where visibility is impaired) a bit unnerving. 

This is OUR Public Lands that our Wild Horses stand.  In reality this is the land of uses, not protection of resources. It is ruled by the slight of the heavy hands,of greed.

I struggle to find the words to express adequately the condition of OUR lands and the betrayal I feel. It feels criminal, libelous, exploited, murdered.

“We need to protect the ridge where the West commences

Gaze at the moon and regain our senses

We need to stop destruction and I CAN’T STAND FENCES

Don’t fence them in”

(Part two, the roundup reflection by Milliman. soon).


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Categories: Wild Horse Education