Washington Post article diminishes wild horses

I commend the Washington Post for covering the plight of America’s wild horses in “The Wild West Wars.” You can read the article here.

However, while highlighting the different characters in this real-life drama, I walked away feeling like the ones who should be center stage, the wild horses, were diminished.

From the get-go the article labels wild horses as an out-of-control problem, and later suggests they only have value if they can be domesticated, trained and paraded around in a “Wild Spayed Filly Futurity” event, and that is a national disgrace.

As I read about the 2019 winner being from the South Steens Herd Management Area in Oregon, my heart sank because I visited there for Friends of Animals in 2016.

I remember seeing wild horse bands interacting and flourishing in their own way, and it was magical. The horses are so present and in tune with each other and the environment—something that should be admired and respected, not destroyed to make room for more doomed cattle and sheep exploited by the meat industry.

Since the passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, wild horses have lost 41 percent of their habitat (20 million acres) and now only exist on public lands in 10 states. The wild horse population is fragmented and isolated in small herds, which creates a real threat to maintaining genetic viability.

The Bureau of Land Management’s assertions that wild horse populations are increasing by some 20% or more each year are not based on sound scientific methodology. But cattle are actually counted, and their numbers are staggering.

Today, upwards of 2 million cattle graze public lands—compared to a measly 100,000 wild horses—and now the government is increasingly authorizing thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on federally owned properties. The result truly is a crisis—these commercial activities will continue to substantially fragment and reduce the amount of habitat left for western wildlife. We need true ecological zones on public lands, zones where the landscape and wildlife are free from exploitation.

The BLM has proved to be incompetent when it comes to protecting wild horses. It’s time to entirely restrict cattle and sheep from grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and to amend the WHBA to allow wild horses to be returned or relocated to Herd Areas in states where wild horses have been wiped out. It’s time to protect natural predators such as mountain lions and adjust outdated appropriate management levels to accommodate more horses

The BLM should be encouraging ecotourism by promoting wildlife watching of wild horses and other species out West instead of wiping out every specie deemed a threat to ranching. And I don’t mean promoting wildlife watching by creating more paved roads, but rather by simply putting up some signs to point people in the right direction as their feet touch the earth while hiking.

I’ll never forget that a BLM employee at the Burns District office in Oregon actually told me the best place to see wild horses in the state is in the Wild Horse Corral holding prison.

Let’s face it, wild horses aren’t the problem. The BLM is.

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.