I’ll never forget back in 2015 seeing the listless horses—the light in their eyes snuffed out—when Friends of Animals held a protest outside the Rock Springs Holding Facility in Wyoming where the Bureau of Land Management brings wild horses after ripping them from the range to begin the privatizing process.

I could see and hear foals whinnying to their families who they were cruelly separated from. A man on horseback chased one group of horses from one pen to another, trying to tire them out and break their spirit.

It was a nightmarish scene, and it currently goes on at 17 off-range corrals operated by the BLM, which are holding 11,793 of America’s wild horses. A more accurate term for them is holding prisons—ironically a few are located at correctional facilities that operate programs that utilize inmates to “train” the wild horses so they are “more adoptable.”

Now the agency is proposing its largest off-range holding prison in Winnemucca, Nevada for housing up to 4,000 wild horses and burros. Adding insult to injury, this horrid proposal outlines a contract with cattle company JS Livestock. Reports indicate the proposed holding prison could be worth $7.3 million annually to JS Livestock.

So not only is the meat industry, which the BLM is wedded too, getting away with wiping out America’s wild horses on federal public lands, it gets to profit off their captivity and suffering as well.

Friends of Animals has submitted comments (you can read them here) opposing the off-range corral highlighting the animal welfare concerns and lack of transparency. According to the preliminary environmental assessment, 100 acres of existing alfalfa fields would be cleared for 40 pens, each 250 by 300 feet holding 100 horses. This would allow for a measly 750 sq ft per horse. Legally in Connecticut, where Friends of Animals is headquartered, three acres are required to own a horse plus an additional half acre of grazing land for each additional horse.

The document also states that all pens would be cleaned a minimum of twice per year and up to four times per year to remove excess manure or more often when warranted.

Could the BLM be any more clueless about horse care?

A 1,000-pound horse produces about 31 pounds of manure a day. Manure left in paddocks and pastures is the most common source of parasites. Manure removed at least twice per week can reduce a horse’s overall parasite load by more than 80 percent, according to veterinarian Dr. Wendy Pearson, Assistant Professor of Equine Physiology at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

Picking up manure frequently also eliminates breeding habitats for flies and it minimizes adverse effects on water sources from drainage across a manure-ridden pen.

The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure produce in a concentrated area. This proposed ORC is unnatural and this amount of manure would never build up if the horses were left in the wild, nor are domestic horses generally kept in facilities similar to this. Manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain, among other things, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, and animal blood. When concentrating so many horses in such a small area, nutrients overwhelm the absorptive capacity of the soil, and either run off or are leached into the groundwater, polluting local streams, creeks, groundwater, and drinking water supplies. In addition, emissions from degrading manure produce air pollutants that often affect ambient air quality in communities surrounding CAFOs including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. These pollutants can lead to health problems, particularly for children and the elderly. Furthermore, liquid manure is often sprayed onto nearby fields, causing additional greenhouse gas emissions, odor, and particulate drift to surrounding communities. When this manure is over-applied to fields, it runs off into waterways, contributing to nitrate contamination. The smell from the manure lagoons also decreases the quality of life for surrounding communities. The EA completely fails to consider these impacts.

This proposal makes you wonder what kind of abuse is going on at the 38 off-range pastures located in Oklahoma, Kansas and other states in the Central Plains. The BLM says 37,387 wild horses live on these off-range pastures, however only four are open to the public.

It also makes you wonder why, if the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 allows for so many wild horses to be relocated to off-range pastures in states where there were no wild horses to begin with, it can’t be amended to allow wild horses to be relocated and released to roam free on the range in the states where they once lived but are now wiped out. They include: Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. 

Of course that would enrage the cattle and sheep ranching industry because then they could not profit off the imprisonment of wild horses.

The BLM loves to keep the public in the dark. However, it has not gone unnoticed that the agency has gotten bolder—its goal for 2021 is to remove at least 17, 917 wild horses to make room for doomed cattle and sheep.

Now the BLM is planning to once again assault Wyoming’s wild horses, permanently removing 3,555–or nearly 50 percent of the state’s total wild horse population—making this the largest wild horse roundup and removal operation in the program’s history.

Among the populations that would be dramatically reduced are the wild herds that live along the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop outside Rock Springs. That was the first wild horse herd I ever saw during my visit in 2015. The allure of those majestic wild horses enjoying the company of their families, romping around with each other and flourishing in their own way fuels FoA’s resiliency and ability to never give up fighting for the lives of America’s wild horses.

There is hope to derail Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse extinction plan through FoA’s ongoing legal efforts and if the public keeps pressure on new leadership— Interior Dept. Secretary Deb Haaland, BLM Deputy Director Nada Culver, the new BLM director who will be announced—to demand reforms to rein in this rogue agency, which has obliterated the WHBA.

We will be announcing another legal effort soon. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can read about our ongoing litigation here.