Up close and personal with Oregon’s wild horses

By Nicole Rivard

John F. Borowski first took the seven-hour journey to the South Steens Herd Management Area (HMA) in Oregon to see wild horses five years ago—and he admits…it was love at first sight. 

“That first trip, I saw my first herd of mustangs and it was like Christmas morning—magical,” Borowski said. “I fell in love because wild horses are so intriguing, so receptive and in tune with their surroundings. They symbolize the ‘wild west,’ they are so majestic and they belong in our native ecosystems. I have taught about biodiversity for the last 32 years as a marine and environmental biologist in high school.”

He said he “lost his mind” when he watched a wild horse known as Charm give birth. 

“Watching the love and care, not only of the mother, but other members of the band, was staggering and so heartwarming. I look for her and her offspring every trip I take out there,” Borowski said.

Borowksi came to the Friends of Animals’ panel discussion “Can the Law Save America’s Wild Horses at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) in Eugene, Ore., on March 7 to get updates on wild mustangs in Oregon. He had heard that 600 horses may be rounded up from the South Steens Herd Management Area.

“It would be obscene. [The BLM] needs to take some of the cattle and sheep off the range and leave the mustangs…especially on public lands,” Borowski said. 

According to BLM records, the last roundup in the South Steens HMA, overseen by the Burns District Office, was in 2009, when the agency rounded up 340 wild horses. The BLM has determined the appropriate management level to be 159 horses, while it allows 1,448 cattle to graze in the South Steens allotment. 

More recently in October of last year the BLM conducted an emergency gather in the Palomino Buttes HMA, also in the Burns District, claiming there was a lack of water in the Weaver Lake portion of the HMA. Fifty-four horses were removed. The appropriate management level of the Palomino Buttes HMA is a measly 32 horses, while 484 cows are allowed to graze throughout the spring and summer in the Palomino Buttes allotment and 277 cows are allowed to graze during the same time in the Weaver Lake allotment.

Borowski said he enjoyed the passion of the FoA speakers at the PIELC panel but overall he is still worried about the future of all mustangs on public lands. He is disturbed by how the BLM is eradicating the symbol of the west and by how the government subsidizes ranching on public lands and doesn’t seem to be concerned about the damage caused by cattle and sheep grazing or the economic folly of the program.

“We must educate the public about the ecological and moral imperative on protecting wild horses,” Borowski insists. He wishes everyone could see wild horses and other native wildlife as he does. 

“There is a big stallion who now actually sees me and comes over to say hello. I cannot tell you how this animal touches my heart and soul,” Borowski said. “I swear I can hear him think and I sit and talk to him. “I try to go every month to see the mustangs and other wildlife. I also love coyotes. I have a favorite coyote—she lost a leg probably to a leg hold trap. She is a survivor. I love her and I get so excited to see her.”