Wild Horse Education

In the News: Extensive Article in the Intercept

An extensive overview of today’s BLM Wild Horse and Burro program was penned by author Christopher Ketcham and published in the Intercept today.

You can access the entire piece by clicking here.

The last section of the extensive article reads:

Meanwhile, Path Forward’s vaunted adoption incentive program has gone off the rails. Multiple reputable organizations report that kill-buyers are posing as adopters, pocketing the $1,000 in taxpayer subsidy. The kill-buyers then sell horses and burros into a profitable slaughter pipeline in Mexico and Canada, at the end of which the animals are turned into canned meat for dogs. The BLM has noted that while adopters must pledge not to resell the horses to slaughterhouses, the bureau has no authority to enforce those agreements.

And fertility control has devolved into a second-rate initiative that has only involved a small number of horses, roughly 6 percent of the more than 20,000 captured off the range in 2022 — and an even smaller percentage of those horses allowed to remain on the range. Worse, the BLM has embraced invasive and often dangerous treatments to prevent horses from breeding. The agency, for example, has now proposed using lasers to burn mare’s oviducts, a painful process that causes tubal scarring to prevent conception but comes with serious risk of complications and death.

“Fertility control has turned into a vehicle for just more funding for roundups without regard for the real welfare of the animals,” Leigh said.

This broken system of management has its origin in the BLM’s policy of ever-widening fragmentation of horse habitat. Cattle-growing operations and industrial development on public lands are given priority. Especially worrisome is the breakneck growth in mining on the parcels of public domain reserved for horses, development that has produced more roads and more fences. Mining companies secure water rights on these arid landscapes to supply water-intensive hard-rock exploration, lowering the water table and drying up springs and seeps that horses depend on.

Leigh used to camp in one of the management areas in central Nevada, called the Pancake Complex, where the BLM has fast-tracked the construction of two new gold mines and condemned horse herds to make way for the mining concerns. In a 30-day period in early 2022, the BLM rounded up more than 2,000 horses in the Pancake Complex.

During her most recent visit last autumn, Leigh found new roads on previously unroaded landscapes. There was industrial-scale traffic and the constant noise of machines where previously the Pancake was a place of immense silence. Gone were not only the horses, but also the badger and pronghorn antelope she used to see and the sage grouse that came out at dusk to meet her.

So it goes. The last wild places of the American West are subjugated to money-making interests, and the last inhabitants of those marvelous landscapes are pushed aside.

In her constant and seemingly fruitless rebukes of the BLM for its failure to uphold the 1971 law, Leigh has asked the obvious question: Do we actually care about wild horses? Or are we just pretending to protect the ecosystems where these animals live? If the mandate of the BLM is truly to protect wild horses and burros, as the 1971 legislation tells us it is, the only way to make the program sound is to address the long-ignored issue of habitat preservation — a prospect that seems to be nowhere on the agenda under Joe Biden.

You can access the full piece here.

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