By Nicole Rivard

I saw my first herd of wild horses back in August of 2014 while driving along the 23-mile Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour in the White Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) of Wyoming.

I began in Rock Springs and meandered along gravel-base roads on the mesa-like summit of White Mountain. I can’t recall how long I’d been driving when I saw them—a group of four chestnuts with stars and blaze markings on their faces.

I got out of the car and time froze as the horses locked their gaze on me with their ears pricked forward. They were assessing whether I presented any danger. They began to close the distance between us when they decided I was harmless. I was so awe-struck and shaking with excitement that most of my photos of them came out blurry!

But I was lucky to see and photograph several more bands of wild horses that day, all the while breathing in the pungent smell of sage that covered the range. The opportunity to see the wild horses with their families and flourishing in their own way against the backdrop of the Wyoming Range to the west, the Wind River Range to the northeast and the Uinta Range to the south was something I will always be grateful for and life changing.

That’s why it was devastating to learn about the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposed changes to wild horse management on checkerboard lands ( a checkerboard of public and private lands) in southwest Wyoming that could lead to the removal of about 74% of the wild horses in four HMAS, including all those in the Wild Horse Scenic Loop area. The government should be creating more ecotourism opportunities for the public to see wild horses and other wildlife, not less.

Why such a cruel, despicable extinction plan? So, the ranchers and the meat industry can graze more doomed cattle and sheep.

The public comment period on this horrific proposed draft amendment is open until April 30 and I urge anyone who cares about wildlife and wild, open spaces not to be complacent. The 170-page document is available here and you can click on a tab there to submit comments.

The proposed draft amendment will update wild horse management strategies within the White Mountain, Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek HMAS encompassing about 2.8 million acres of the checkerboard of public and private land. Except for Adobe Town, most of the land in each of the HMAs is checkerboard according to an article in the Rocket Miner. White Mountain is 70% checkerboard and 30% BLM land. Great Divide Basin is about 50/50, and Salt Wells Creek is 72% checkerboard and 28% BLM land. In Adobe Town, only 10% of the HMA is checkerboard.

In the draft RMP amendment, all wild horses would be removed from the White Mountain, Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek herd areas. A portion of Adobe Town would be the only area to include an HMA. It would be managed for 259-536 wild horses.

What is so sickening about this is that the BLM hasn’t even waited until it hears from the public and finishes the RMP amendment before it starts giving more to ranchers. For example, it recently issued 578 more animal unit months (AUM) in the Salt Wells Creek grazing allotment. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, or five sheep for a month. A year ago, it issued 2,040 AUMs there, bringing the current total to 2,618.

Likewise, in the Mellor Mountain allotment that abuts the Salt Wells Creek allotment, BLM has issued 6,101 AUMs. In the nearby Vermillion Creek allotment there are 12,140 active grazing AUMs. In addition, there are 7,763 AUMs in the Pine Mountain allotment and 3,932 in the Red Creek allotment, which also adjoin Salt Wells.

Compare those numbers to BLM’s own calculations that there are a measly 1,995 wild horses in White Mountain, Great Divide, Salt Wells and Adobe Town HMAS as well as the Little Colorado HMA and it becomes crystal clear that there is not an overpopulation of wild horses in the United States. But there are too many cattle and sheep allowed to graze on federal public lands. Wild horses have lost 20 million acres of habitat since the passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The reason is the BLM, the agency that’s supposed to protect wild horses, is a mouthpiece for the meat industry.

And the meat industry is waging an assault on all wildlife, not just wild horses. In 2017, the U.S. Dept of Agriculture’s killing machine division, Wildlife Services, destroyed more than 1. million animals, including wolves, coyotes and bobcats, all of whom would be natural predators of wild horses, to “protect” livestock.

I’ve been an equestrian most of my life, so within months of seeing the wild horses in Wyoming, I stopped eating meat. I could no longer support an industry that not only exploited and killed innocent cows and sheep, but countless other wildlife species.

Not only should we submit comments opposing BLM’s extinction plan for Wyoming, now is the best time to reflect about the impacts each of us is having on planet earth and all the beings who share it.

Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 18 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.