As horrifying as its recommendation may seem, the advisory group was only trying to rectify bad decisions regarding wild horses that date back generations. It’s a chronicle that’s echoed by the long history of corporate malfeasance in the mining world.
Who, and what, have led us to this point? The simple answer is our forefathers, who thought it was OK to turn unwanted horses out into open country. Those domestic-turned-wild horses have done all too well on our public lands. The number of offspring of former Army horses, frontier horses and ranch horses doubles every five years.
Feral horses may have irreversibly degraded millions of acres of rangeland, as the advisory board members discovered on a recent field trip to Antelope Valley, Nevada. They viewed miles of high desert land untouched by cattle yet devastated by the intense grazing of wild horses.
If the horses weren’t so pretty, as well as being an icon of the Old West, we would call them “invasive,” and we would have sought more effective, less emotion-driven and politicized ways to manage them long ago. Do we have a romantic term for feral cats? Does the average taxpayer recognize how much damage both feral cats and feral horses do to the environment?
For decades, our government has rounded up the free-roaming horses and burros, removing them from the wild only to create more space and available resources for the equines left behind. The Bureau of Land Management’s strategy, in fact, has had exactly the opposite effect as intended. The wild populations have flourished because of it, not despite it. The National Academy of Sciences said as much in its 630-page publication, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward, released in 2013.
Our government has also dragged its feet on pursuing humane population control options, like darting mares with a fertility control vaccine called PZP (porcine zona pellucida). Instead, it invested in risky, inhumane sterilization procedures, which produced horrible results and subjected the agency to several lawsuits. The agency also continued to hold counterproductive roundups that only galvanized more protesters and spurred more lawsuits.
Certain activist groups say the feral horses and burros have more claim to the land than any other animals. They believe the equines deserve to live untouched and untethered lives, all other considerations be damned. They leverage romance, Old West ideals and widespread ignorance to fan the flames of public outrage. They like to use the word “mustang,” but do they really know what that word means? It comes from the Spanish word mestengo, and it means “stray.”...