Priscilla Feral: Wild horses suffer unspeakably at the hands of the Bureau of Land Management

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Wild Horses in the Onaqui herd, about 60 miles southwest of Tooele, near Simpson Springs, Thursday, June 5, 2014.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that the Bureau of Land Management ripped 435 wild horses from Utah’s Onaqui Herd Management Area after forcibly drugging them with fertility control for years. The agency spared the elder statesman of the herd, a 30-year-old white stallion known as Old Man.

Accepting this as a good deed by the BLM or victory might make humans feel better, but life as Old Man knew it will never be the same considering wild horse herd dynamics, something the agency in charge of protecting them could care less about.

“Horse Speak” author Sharon Wilsie writes that a healthy herd, made up of grandmothers, aunts, mothers and daughters, has many roles that get played out: leader, mapmaker, peacemaker, sentry, joker, bully. To lead is to be responsible for the welfare of those who are weaker. The dominant stallion guards his mares from other stallions and predators. Stallions who have no mares band together in bachelor herds, and although they can enjoy some rowdy play, they tend to develop strong emotional bonds and follow the same dynamics as any other herd.

Old Man may be free and not have to suffer from being privatized — or worse, slaughtered — but he’s suffering nonetheless from broken bonds with family and friends.

Other wild horses will soon experience this unspeakable pain — BLM will assault them in Utah’s Conger Herd Management Area and three HMAs in Oregon starting Aug.1. The genocide then moves to Idaho and California.

It’s business as usual for the meat industry-loving BLM.

However, because the Onaqui wild horses are so famous, all eyes are now on the agency — and public backlash matters.

There is hope to derail BLM’s wild horse extinction plan through Friends of Animals’ ongoing legal efforts, but also if the public keeps pressure on new leadership — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, BLM Deputy Director Nada Culver and a new BLM director — to demand reforms to rein in this rogue agency, which has obliterated the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

The BLM can legally establish appropriate management levels, but it doesn’t use science to do so. Then it perpetuates the lie that there are too many wild horses, convincing Congress that roundups and fertility control are necessary.

BLM has shirked responsibility to maintain thriving natural ecological balance, letting doomed livestock dominate the range. Case in point — the AML within the Onaqui Mountain HMA, which spans 240,153 acres, is a scant 121-210 wild horses. However, in nearby allotments 527 cattle and a staggering 8,736 sheep can graze. The AML for the Conger HMA, which is comprised of 170,993 acres, is a measly 40-80 horses, yet in the surrounding five allotments a whopping 1,455 cattle and 4,885 sheep can graze.

It is the 50th anniversary of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, the perfect time to begin phasing out livestock grazing allotments in wild horse HMAs and to start using scientific models to determine AMLs and to survey the range. Doing so would also give our planet a better chance to combat the climate crisis.

Speaking of, wild horses have a positive impact on the habitat where they evolved. A recent study reveals they are ecosystem engineers, using their hooves to dig more than six feet deep to reach groundwater, which helps other wildlife. Other studies show wild horses do not decompose the vegetation they ingest, which allows them to spread seeds of many plant species and sequester carbon in their droppings. And they help to build more moisture-retaining soils and prevent catastrophic fires.

One can only imagine the favorable effect noble Old Man has had on the range in his lifetime. BLM could learn a thing or two from him.

Priscilla Feral | Friends of Animals

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals.

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