Where the wild things used to be—Oregon’s wild horses deserve better
By Nicole Rivard
Friends of Animals’ member Janet and I walked into Bureau of Land Management’s Burns District Office in Oregon last Wednesday and we asked where the best chance of seeing wild horses was since there are 19 Herd Management Areas in the state to choose from. A young woman at the front desk responded, “Have you been to our Wild Horse Corral?”
Our hearts sunk. That the agency charged with protecting America’s wild horses and their habitat—which are among our nation’s greatest assets on public lands—considers the best place to see wild horses is at one of their dismal holding prisons, felt like a crushing blow…especially since the BLM claims that there are actually 4,067 wild horses in Oregon.
The staffer’s response should not have stung or surprised us, since BLM Oregon has demonstrated how unfit it has become at protecting Oregon’s wild horses and how its mismanagement practices are instead harassing, harming and potentially killing wild horses. For one, it recently conducted an emergency roundup of wild horses in the Three Fingers HMA based on an old Environmental Assessment, and it is poised to conduct mare sterilization research at the Wild Horse Corral. Friends of Animals has taken legal action against both crimes against wild horses.
Adding insult to injury, at the Wild Horse Corral, a large mural of wild horses pointing visitors to a self-guided auto tour of the facility read, “See the real thing.” BLM considering 800 wild horses crammed into 41 dirt paddocks and imprisoned in a holding facility “the real thing” is a disgrace and an insult to the American public and to wild horses and their complex social structures. It was distressing to see the spooked mares and foals who had recently been ripped from their Three Fingers range, as well as the Beaty’s Butte wild horses who were rounded up in 2014.
van load of seniors actually showed up while we were there, to get a tour of the facility, and we could only imagine the lies the BLM staffer passed along about its Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, window dressing to cover up BLM’s ultimate goal, to manage wild horses to extinction to appease cattle and sheep ranchers who despise wild horses.
This whole scenario, I’m afraid, summed up the BLM’s misguided attitude towards Oregon’s wild horses. I drove 1,249 miles through seven HMAS over three days and saw a measly 40 wild horses or so. Nowhere were there signs to engage the public in viewing or appreciating America’s wild horses, except in the Steens Mountain HMA. It was also the only HMA where there were not hundreds of doomed cattle grazing.
As I headed towards the Redmond Saturday to be closer to the airport evening I decided to head down OO Ranch Road one last time, which runs through the Palomino Butte HMA. I had spent more than seven hours there searching for wild horses throughout the week and had only seen hundreds of cattle. About a half mile down the road, a band of seven wild horses appeared. I was awe struck…and thrilled I listened to my gut, which told me to stop there one last time.
The stallion stood frozen at attention, assessing whether I was a threat to the mares and foal nearby. Then he paced back in forth, never taking his eyes off me, deciding whether to fight or take flight. I barely moved, just my fingers pressing down on my camera button to snap some photos. He relaxed as a result—perhaps he sensed I was there to share his story with the public to inspire more Americans to join FoA in the fight to ensure he and his wild relatives across public lands will never go extinct.
As our legal actions proceed, we won’t stop trying to remove cattle and sheep from wild horse Herd Management Areas and to amend the Wild Horse and Burro Act so wild horses could be relocated and reclaim some of the habitat that has been stolen from them by welfare ranchers and human development.