Letters from America
At Wild Horse Education (WHE) we provide information and supporting documentation on issues surrounding wild horses and burros. Often we will notify you when a particularly document or meeting allows public comment and how to submit those comments. In most cases we do not see the letters you write, as your letters are sent to various government agencies. Yet in some cases the letters are mailed to us. We have decided to print some of the letters we receive. Often advocates are portrayed as not presenting thoughtful or constructive comments. We want you to see the kinds of “comments” made by American wild horse advocates.
The Salt River Horses
WHE received the following letter from Elizabeth McKenna. A personal experience and a plea to be heard. We asked if we could share it with you.
The Salt River Wild Horses; A Little Girl’s Dream Come True
I grew up knowing all about horses. I was in 4-H and my life was spent with horses 24-7 from before I can remember. I’ve spent my entire literate life reading about wild horses. Being from Massachusetts, the wild horses I was most familiar with were the Chincoteague ponies off of Virginia and Maryland. I had thought growing up that those were the only wild horses we had left. I lived and breathed horses, but the Wild ones always fascinated me. I was raised treating our own horses as family. There wasn’t an aspect of my life that didn’t somehow involve them when I was growing up. I grew up smelling the earthy scents of oats and hay, brushing dust off my jeans before I even had breakfast each day, and playing with other ‘show’ kids at horse shows across the state. I spent many of my days daydreaming about free running horses and being with them.
I tell you a bit about me so that you know where this story is coming from. I have lived and breathed horses my entire life. I came to Arizona in 2004 so that I may have the opportunity to get a home for my new little family and be able to have horses, a dream not possible for me in Massachusetts. My daughter was 3, and I was 30. It had already been a really long road (literally, 3,000 miles and some good stories to go with it). We got to Arizona, and the job I was ‘promised’ turned out to be a dud, and there were no hours. I am a nurse, and I was still waiting for my Arizona license to be mailed to me. Being administered by the government, my license was taking longer to come than I had anticipated, and it took a bit to find a job without it. We had already used up all of our savings to get to Arizona in our 1974 camper and Ford truck coming across country.
So, what to do with my 3 year old daughter and husband with no money for gas? Well, we lived in mesa off of Power road which turns into the Bush Highway to the north of us, and the closest place for us to explore was the Tonto National Forest up that highway. One weekend in October, we decided to go to Coon’s bluff, one of the little parks along the highway on a whim. We arrived to the parking lot of Coons Bluff, all 3 of us unloaded out of the car, looked around a bit, and we were in awe that this beautiful place was so close to us. We saw a lush Mesquite forest nestled next to a splendorous desert bluff, with a river rushing past the bottom of it all…it was Amazing! We were so pleased to have found this wonderful gem in the desert within 10 minutes of our new home. We had been here for about 3 weeks at this time, and had already been in a car accident by now. It had been rough. So this little trip was really special for us.
After acclimating to the parking area, and picking our direction to wander, we began to walk and explore our surroundings. With my daughter Cheyenne chattering away, we walked to the river at the base of the bluff along a path that led to a smooth cliff edge looking onto the river. I looked out beyond the cliff, and across from us on a little earthen peninsula in the middle of the river were several horses, all dark in color. There were horses colored dark chestnut, bay, and a beautiful dark grey color. I was in awe. I looked around, and there were quite a few horses, all grazing on the lush growth on this little islet of land in the river and on the western bank.
It was a surreal moment when I finally realized that these were not some ranchers’ grazing horses set loose in the forest (which did take a few minutes of watching and thinking about all that I knew of horses). After watching them, it was obvious that they were wild. No halter marks or halters, no shoes, no brands. It was a dream-come-true for me. A dream I never ever thought I would get to live out. A poor kid from Massachusetts seeing Wild horses down the street from her new home in Arizona? It was an incredible experience for me. Since I first read about the Chincoteague ponies, and the black Stallion series, and all of those wonderfully free horses growing up, I had always wanted the opportunity to watch them run free in person. That was all I wanted, just watch and enjoy them, see them free and unspoiled by people. And I actually found myself doing just that.
So here we were. We had found this amazing place with these beautiful horses, roaming free on the river. Being a curious reader who loves horses, my instinct brought me to do more research on these ‘free-roaming’ horses. So, as the weeks went by, I did get a job, (not long after seeing the horses for the first time, as a matter-of-fact) and I did not forget about the horses. After that first encounter, I spent many of my days off out in the forest going to see them. In going to watch them, I knew that I would be able to learn more about them.
When I first started going out to see the wild horses, after that first encounter, I wanted to photograph and document them. The camera that I had was the one we came across the country with, my first ever digital camera. It was a tiny, cheap point and shoot with a little zoom lens. I was not getting the best photos, and I felt that good documentation needs good photos. So, thanks to the horses, I followed my passion for photography, and slowly worked my way up to a ‘real’ camera. I went from my little point and shoot to another ‘better’ point and shoot, an Olympus, to finally a Nikon D50. The ‘big’ camera I call it. I was able to get a bigger lens so that I could get quality photos without getting too close to the horses.
One day not long after that first encounter, I was out in the desert east of the river, and I ran into a small band of horses with an older-looking White Stallion who I noticed was not walking close to the group, following, but seeming to lag behind the rest of the band. I still only had my little Olympus point and shoot, but it did have a little zoom. I noticed the Stud was lame and I could see that there was a dark area near his groin. In taking photos of him, I noticed when I zoomed in that he had something seriously wrong with his groin area. He was extremely swollen there, and there was blood dripping quite heavily from the area. I was quite concerned, and wanted to see this poor animal get some help. To me, he appeared to be suffering considerably.
What should I do? I am a horse lover and a nurse, and I never want to see any animal suffer. Not knowing anything about these horses, I sought to find someone that may be able to call a veterinarian and have them help this animal. In the Salt River Basin area, there is a Sheriff station which butts up to the Area of Coon’s Bluff where the horses are. I figured with them being so close in proximity to the horses and the river, they would be the people to go to in order to find some help for this poor horse. When I walked into the Sheriff’s station and spoke to the person at the desk, they said they have nothing to do with the horses, there is nothing they can do to help, and there is no one ‘in charge’ of protecting or managing these horses. I was amazed! How do you be a Sheriff, be right there and so close, tell me that the horses walk through your parking lot all the time, and say that you have nothing to do with them, and that there is nothing you can do? I was appalled! I know that I was definitely a bit naïve in the beginning, but it really blew me away that there were wild horses on Federal Land that were not managed or protected in the year 2004. I could understand the need to let wild horses be wild horses, and that a vet could not be called for this one particular horse. I comprehend the need to let nature be and let it take its own course, but the fact that this was a completely free roaming herd of horses that had no Federal Protection astounded me. I worried for the horses with all of the things that can possibly happen to such a herd, it troubled me a lot.
This was just the beginning. From that moment on, I was relentless. I think I drove my family crazy for a while talking about the wild horses. I rarely brought my daughter out there when I went beyond the Coon’s bluff area for safety reasons because she was so young, but as she got older, she went with me a few times a year. It meant a lot to her, and she learned to love them as I do. The wild horses became a part of our family. I researched; talked to people on the Pima Salt River Reservation, other wild horse advocates and writers, and basically reached out to anyone I could in order to glean any information from them about these horses. When I did that, my entire world erupted with information on the history of Arizona, Wild Horses in Arizona (such as the Heber Horses and others), and so much more, but not much about the Salt River Wild Horses except controversy. I did have a friend who had seen the horses in the 1960’s but he passed away several years ago, and I did not think to get documentation from him about them for proof of their history. I also had the fortuity to meet some truly caring people on the Pima Salt River Reservation who care about the horses, but unfortunately, they could do nothing to help me in my quest to find a way to protect them.
I have been working in the background, watching, counting, and documenting the horses for years now. I have been trying to think of ways to save them, help them, do something to protect them from unscrupulous people. I am still looking for the same thing…a way to protect these horses so that they may be able to continue to do what they have been doing for hundreds of years here, without stress, danger, or interference. I want the people like myself who love them to have the opportunity to continue enjoying their beautiful existence as a symbol of hope, faith, and peace for years and generations to come. I am not asking for a lot. I am willing to work for it. I will write, hike in the desert sun, talk in public, and do whatever I have to in order to help save them from being removed from their home.
I know that this is a short story, and I do have so much more to tell you, but I will have to tell you another time. And I will. I hope this story helps you to understand a piece of my own personal account of the Salt River Wild Horses, and how important these horses have been to me and my family for a long time. I believe that they should be important to everyone. These horses represent so much, not only for myself and my own family, but for all of us. They represent what we need in this country, and what we have had, but will no longer have if we are not vigilant and fight for it. These horses do not have a voice in our world but ours, and I choose to use my voice to do whatever I can to speak for them and save them from those who seek to eradicate them. I hope you choose to speak with me.
Thank you for reading.
Elizabeth McKenna, Wild Horse Advocate
Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your story. We will stay in touch.
In the case of the “Grass March” we have literally received thousands of comment letters from the public. We are compiling those letters and are preparing to deliver them. When we see articles that focus on the Grass March agenda that focuses only on the ranchers that seem to be completely unaware that they live in a country of 340 other American’s and graze on the public land that is intended to serve the needs and desires of that public. You can read other comments from the public here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/06/04/letters-from-america-grass-march-part-2/
Here is a letter from advocate Elyse Gardner:
Doug Furtado is the only BLM District Manager with the courage to do his job; protect the land and abide by the law.
I first spoke with Mr. Furtado in 2012 preceding a roundup in his District. He proactively sought dialogue with wild horse-loving Americans known to observe and follow the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program’s handling of our wild horses. I was impressed positively with his genuineness, openness to reason, and willingness to respect my requests and those of others, and have not been disappointed since. The interest of wild horse loving American’s was heard and not disregarded.
That the Grass Marchers vilify Doug Furtado and want him “ousted” for protecting the range and not pandering to the livestock interests at the expense of our public lands’ health speaks volumes regarding their myopic, self-serving agenda and ruthlessness of nature. It is one thing to have one’s own interest at heart; it is quite another to seek the destruction of those who do not share it. In some cases, they do not even concede the land is public land; they believe it is theirs because they have worked it for multiple generations.
However, these “Grass Marchers” are a small handful of privileged individuals who have too long made their profits at public expense. That they have been granted the privilege to do so throughout their generations has resulted in a spirit of Entitlement and loss of perspective. Their Cash Cow— our beautiful, thirsty public land — is running dry, literally, from the drought, but they appear unwilling to even acknowledge that and want to continue to milk it, overgraze it, until their cattle have eaten every last blade of grass they can squeeze out.
If given their way, wild horses would be entirely removed from their legal public lands on which they’ve lived, as ranchers in Eureka County are attempting to do at Fish Creek even though BLM actually took significant, ground-breaking steps to reduce the wild horse reproductive rate. That just isn’t good enough; ranchers want the wild horses gone and would be happy to see that part of American history lost, the wild horse extinct. That day is a lot closer than it seems unless BLM does its job to protect these iconic animals.
I am confident Americans didn’t really believe the buffalo was about to be annihilated until one day they were effectively gone. But the true heart of the matter remains the same whether we are in drought or in abundant precipitation: The distribution of the asset of natural vegetation – i.e.. food for animals – on public land and who is “entitled” to how much.
The law is clear that wild horses need to be provided the means to survive and thrive on their ranges and are to be always given priority in certain well-defined areas, and Congress specifically defined those areas. We are told straightforwardly by Congress in the 1971 Wild Free- Roaming Horse and Burro Act that wild horses and burros, “…are to be considered in the area where presently (1971) found as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
The word “integral” is intentionally part of the law so that these animals will be given priority and their perpetual presence in the American scene throughout all generations assured. And in no way does treating wild horses and their burro counterparts as “integral” by giving them priority (as the law says, devoting the land principally, not necessarily exclusively, for their welfare) on their Herd Management Areas (“HMAs”) conflict with the multiple use mandate livestock interests and most BLM districts recite like a mantra – as if “multiple use” justifies extreme removals of these equids. It does not. In fact, multiple use should assure the wild horses of their legal right to outnumber the cows on the paltry 26-some-million acres of Herd Management Area public land left to them.
If cattle are to remain on these precious, wild-horse-designated public lands at all, they should be outnumbered by the horses since “integral” implies the horses’ revered position and is supposed to assure them of the freedom to behave as wild horses in a natural wild horse society will behave: stallions winning mares, having offspring, with no geldings or permanently spayed mares running about having identity crises. Integral means their society is to be protected.
Somebody always has to be first in a line, and on the areas wild horses and burros were known to live in 1971, Congress enacted law to say that they were to have, and keep, first First Position in perpetuity on these few acres, at that time 53 million acres. And no one is asking BLM to consider horses and burros integral on the entire 160 million acres on which cattle are grazed. So we are talking about a small portion, I’ve heard it’s 2 percent, of the public land. Considering that BLM manages 240 million acres of public land, 160 million acres of which is managed for cattle grazing, and considering that that 53 million acres is now reduced to 26-some million acres, it is all the more important that these remaining animals be given the “integral”/primary status. Or must I ask: “What part of ‘integral’ do they not understand?”
I believe the 1971 Act is meant to guarantee at least a self-sustainable-sized herd shall be provided the means to survive on its home range as long as wild horses are known to have lived there in 1971. Translated into action: That means that in this time of draught, cattle numbers should be reduced first so that wild horse herds in numbers that will guarantee the survival of at least 150 reproductive-capable horses will be sustained. That 150-horse figure is based on BLM’s equine genetics expert, Dr. Gus Cothran’s figure for the required herd size to protect against genetic deterioration and inbreeding. The numbers of cattle allowed to graze, if any, should be calculated after that 150-horse herd is assured.
Battle Mountain’s District Manager, Doug Furtado, is doing unbiased work on his part to carry out the law and protect our American legacy, the public land, its integral wild horses and burros on the Herd Management Areas (“HMAs” in his District, as well as help ranchers maintain their lifestyle. The “Grass Marchers” are often misinformed and so full of vitriol they cannot receive the facts or the law.
I pray that their vitriol, fueled by their Entitlement Fever, is not what will decide policy where the wild free-roaming horses and burros are concerned.
Sincerely, Elyse Gardner
Letter of October 7th, 2014.
Open letter to NE RAC, NV State Director Amy Lueders, Joan Guilfoyle BLM National WH&B Lead, Dean Bolstad BLM National from Henry Kimball in Sparks NV.
Background on RAC
NE Nevada Advisory Council (RAC) meeting scheduled for October 16th 2014. The agenda for the board meeting includes Wild Horse and Burro Issues including Catch, Treat and Release or CTR (as an alternative to broad scale removals), trap site adoptions (to improve adoption rates in the state and offset costs of CTR) and additional issues facing wild horses and burros on public land.
There are 29 RACs made up of between 12-15 people representing multiple interests in the western states. These councils are very specific to the districts in which they make recommendations to. You can read about the BLM RACs here: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/resource_advisory.html
NE RAC, NV State Director Amy Lueders, Joan Guilfoyle BLM National WH&B Lead, Dean Bolstad BLM National,
I’m writing to ask, in the strongest terms, that you rally around a set of transformative recommendations to move the current wild horse and burro program to an on-range management program. Of the millions of acres of public land, horses and burros only occupy roughly 11%, and, on that small percentage, use only about 15% of the available forage. And yet, these higher-level mammals, who have served mankind so well in so many ways, are being ruthlessly torn from the ecosystem that they are evolved to support and survive in, and warehoused in what is tantamount to feed-lot conditions with almost no life enrichment. We act as if these amazing creatures require nothing more than feed and water, while completely ignoring the facts: horses have intelligence, emotion, family structure, clear behaviors that show they are much more than a dumb commodity to be exploited however we choose. Surely this cannot be right. Surely this is unworthy of the better side of humanity.
The American public, to whom these lands rightly belong, recognizes the BLM’s multi-use charter. However, it does not, I believe, support sacrificing these noble animals so that a few economic interests can maximize their short-range profit at the public’s expense. That those who would control public lands for their own gain have systematically mischaracterized, vilified, and falsely blamed horses and burros for a plethora of rangeland problems is clear, even going so far as to claim that equids are non-native and feral and should be denied the right to water on the range. I understand that Dr. Jay Kirkpatrtick will be with you on October 16, and will, I’m sure, acquaint you with the scientific fact supported by the latest mitochondrial DNA studies and the fossil record. I urge you to think deeply, carefully, and compassionately about Dr. Kirkpatrick’s presentation.
Again, I urge you in the most passionate terms, to move this inefficient, unethical, and unsuccessful program to on-range management, supported in part by a rigorous, tightly controlled, and targeted birth control program that ensures the preservation of herd genetic viability and, keeps these animals where they belong, free, in their native habitat, for all Americans to revere and enjoy. In addition, I urge you to adopt and strongly support an enforceable set of humane treatment standards for all management activities that we must engage in to ensure that this situation is carefully, respectfully, and compassionately managed in each and every action taken for the well-being of our wild horse and burro population.
Many years ago, a truly great American, Abraham Lincoln, stated, “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. It is the way of the whole person”. It is time that we, in the U.S., started to live up to this sentiment in the treatment of our animals. There is room on public lands for everyone, and every creature, if we are fair in spirit, measured in action, and true stewards of the range.
Henry S. Kimbell Sparks, NV 89436
If you have a letter that you would like to share on any current issue mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org with letters in the subject line.