Can Trump Solve America's Wild Horses Crisis?

The West has been home to wild horses since the days of the conquistadores.  For instance, the 1680 Pueblo rebellion that expelled the Spaniards from New Mexico for twelve years scattered large herds into the hands of the tribes of the Southern Plains.  Today, there are Spanish bloodlines present in wild stock found as far north as Montana.

Rounding up mustangs destined for the leather tannery or the dog food factory used to be the formula for keeping the public lands' herd numbers at manageable levels.  But gone are the days of The Misfits, John Huston's 1961 film about wild horse wranglers in Nevada.  In 1971, the federal "Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act" outlawed rounding up horses for slaughter.  Afterward, an annual quota of mustangs was collected by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel from herds in ten Western states and offered locally for public adoption.  But the 1971 legislation has never been popular with environmentalists and the West's green media.  Writing in "High Country News" in 2018, Ellie Phipps Price stated that the legislation was "a pest-control statute that is designed to benefit ranchers who graze livestock on the public lands where wild horses live."  But adoptions have shrunk in recent years.  With feeding, shelter, vet bills, etc., it costs thousands of dollars a year to keep a horse.  And breaking a mustang to the saddle is hard work that might require a paid, professional cowboy to perform.  The adoption process was one of the Department of the Interior's bureaucratic nightmares.  (More on that later.)

Americans are not tolerant of animal cruelty.  Even the morality of legal hunting is more and more questioned by an increasingly politically correct populace.  Some think burgeoning whitetail deer numbers in the East should rate birth control for suburban Bambis.  In the West, it's the wild horses.  

Approximately 88,000 mustangs roam 27 million acres of BLM rangelands (where they compete with two million head of domestic cattle for grass on leased grazing allotments) in ten Western states.  Roughly 18,000 foals are produced yearly.  In 2018 11,500 horses were rounded up and corralled in BLM "holding facilities," where they were adopted.  All this (the roundups, the holding facilities, feeding, the BLM adoption process bureaucracy, etc.) costs taxpayers $81 million annually.  The Trump administration seeks a target number of 27,000 horses, or about a thousand horses per million acres of rangeland.  Acting BLM director William Perry Pendley has stated that the status quo "wreaks havoc" on the public rangelands.

A mature wild horse weighs on average of 850 pounds and will consume 25 pounds of grass per day.  Cattle weigh up to 400 pounds more and eat about the same amount of grass daily.  Unlike horses, cattle are not selective in their grazing and thus do more damage to the range.  Two million cows are currently grazing on 155 million acres of BLM leases, feral horses on 27 million acres.  To look at two states in particular: Nevada ranchers have access to 65% of BLM rangeland statewide; in Wyoming, it's 75%.

Wild horses inhabit the range in small groups of a dozen to twenty animals.  Small herd size will increase on average 20% per year, thus doubling every five years.  They have no natural predators.  

One possible solution to control those numbers is "porcine zona pellucid" (PZP), an equine birth control drug administered by firearm dart that prevents pregnancy in mares.  The downside is that it has to be administered once per year.  The results are mixed.  In 2018, the BLM managed to sterilize a mere 702 mares.

Another remedy is the regularly held adoption events at those large holding facility BLM corral complexes scattered throughout the West and home to 50,000 rounded up mustangs.  The complex located at Palomino Valley north of Reno, Nevada is a prime example.  Here one can adopt a horse to take home for domestic use.  These adoption events had declined by 70% over the last decade for the simple reason that the bureaucratic paperwork and fees charged had become too much for the average rancher or horse enthusiast.  The $4,500 final fee was too steep for many folks interested in adoption.  Add that to the fact that domesticating a wild mustang requires professional horse training skills to break the animal to the saddle, and you have a program losing its popularity.  The Trump administration is streamlining the process and dispensing with all fees except a $25 initial application charge.  In fact, the federal government is so desperate to lower wild horse numbers on the range that it will actually pay the adopters.

In March 2019, the BLM instituted a new adoption program designed to remove horses from the corral complexes more efficiently by reducing red tape.  The federal government will  pay you $1,000 to adopt a horse.  According to the BLM, website interested parties will be paid "$500 within 60 days of adoption of an untrained wild horse or burro" and another "$500 within 60 days of titling the animal."  The initial $25 fee starts the process.  Not a bad deal.

This program is being denigrated by the anti-Trump environmental resistance and "wild horse advocates" in the West.  Their contention is that horses will be adopted by people with a profit motive in mind and no interest in pursuing the training regimen required to domesticate a mustang.  For instance, the "American Wild Horse Campaign" (AWHC)'s mission statement on its website states: "AWHC works to protect America's wild horses and burros by stopping the federal government's systematic elimination of these national icons from our public lands."  This is pursued through litigation and support for green legislation at the federal and state levels.  The BLM program doesn't bar people from keeping horses in a continued wild state on private land.

All this because polls indicate that the American people can't stomach the idea of regularly culling the herds to produce commercially marketable horsemeat and horsehide for leather products.

It's telling that people who, when it comes to the right to life, have no compunction being "pro-choice" yet are horrified by the idea of Fido feasting on Old Paint.  The Trump administration has rightly determined that paying people to adopt wild horses is less of a burden on taxpayers than keeping thousands incarcerated in the corral complexes.

Bill Croke is a writer in Salmon, Idaho. 

The West has been home to wild horses since the days of the conquistadores.  For instance, the 1680 Pueblo rebellion that expelled the Spaniards from New Mexico for twelve years scattered large herds into the hands of the tribes of the Southern Plains.  Today, there are Spanish bloodlines present in wild stock found as far north as Montana.

Rounding up mustangs destined for the leather tannery or the dog food factory used to be the formula for keeping the public lands' herd numbers at manageable levels.  But gone are the days of The Misfits, John Huston's 1961 film about wild horse wranglers in Nevada.  In 1971, the federal "Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act" outlawed rounding up horses for slaughter.  Afterward, an annual quota of mustangs was collected by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel from herds in ten Western states and offered locally for public adoption.  But the 1971 legislation has never been popular with environmentalists and the West's green media.  Writing in "High Country News" in 2018, Ellie Phipps Price stated that the legislation was "a pest-control statute that is designed to benefit ranchers who graze livestock on the public lands where wild horses live."  But adoptions have shrunk in recent years.  With feeding, shelter, vet bills, etc., it costs thousands of dollars a year to keep a horse.  And breaking a mustang to the saddle is hard work that might require a paid, professional cowboy to perform.  The adoption process was one of the Department of the Interior's bureaucratic nightmares.  (More on that later.)

Americans are not tolerant of animal cruelty.  Even the morality of legal hunting is more and more questioned by an increasingly politically correct populace.  Some think burgeoning whitetail deer numbers in the East should rate birth control for suburban Bambis.  In the West, it's the wild horses.  

Approximately 88,000 mustangs roam 27 million acres of BLM rangelands (where they compete with two million head of domestic cattle for grass on leased grazing allotments) in ten Western states.  Roughly 18,000 foals are produced yearly.  In 2018 11,500 horses were rounded up and corralled in BLM "holding facilities," where they were adopted.  All this (the roundups, the holding facilities, feeding, the BLM adoption process bureaucracy, etc.) costs taxpayers $81 million annually.  The Trump administration seeks a target number of 27,000 horses, or about a thousand horses per million acres of rangeland.  Acting BLM director William Perry Pendley has stated that the status quo "wreaks havoc" on the public rangelands.

A mature wild horse weighs on average of 850 pounds and will consume 25 pounds of grass per day.  Cattle weigh up to 400 pounds more and eat about the same amount of grass daily.  Unlike horses, cattle are not selective in their grazing and thus do more damage to the range.  Two million cows are currently grazing on 155 million acres of BLM leases, feral horses on 27 million acres.  To look at two states in particular: Nevada ranchers have access to 65% of BLM rangeland statewide; in Wyoming, it's 75%.

Wild horses inhabit the range in small groups of a dozen to twenty animals.  Small herd size will increase on average 20% per year, thus doubling every five years.  They have no natural predators.  

One possible solution to control those numbers is "porcine zona pellucid" (PZP), an equine birth control drug administered by firearm dart that prevents pregnancy in mares.  The downside is that it has to be administered once per year.  The results are mixed.  In 2018, the BLM managed to sterilize a mere 702 mares.

Another remedy is the regularly held adoption events at those large holding facility BLM corral complexes scattered throughout the West and home to 50,000 rounded up mustangs.  The complex located at Palomino Valley north of Reno, Nevada is a prime example.  Here one can adopt a horse to take home for domestic use.  These adoption events had declined by 70% over the last decade for the simple reason that the bureaucratic paperwork and fees charged had become too much for the average rancher or horse enthusiast.  The $4,500 final fee was too steep for many folks interested in adoption.  Add that to the fact that domesticating a wild mustang requires professional horse training skills to break the animal to the saddle, and you have a program losing its popularity.  The Trump administration is streamlining the process and dispensing with all fees except a $25 initial application charge.  In fact, the federal government is so desperate to lower wild horse numbers on the range that it will actually pay the adopters.

In March 2019, the BLM instituted a new adoption program designed to remove horses from the corral complexes more efficiently by reducing red tape.  The federal government will  pay you $1,000 to adopt a horse.  According to the BLM, website interested parties will be paid "$500 within 60 days of adoption of an untrained wild horse or burro" and another "$500 within 60 days of titling the animal."  The initial $25 fee starts the process.  Not a bad deal.

This program is being denigrated by the anti-Trump environmental resistance and "wild horse advocates" in the West.  Their contention is that horses will be adopted by people with a profit motive in mind and no interest in pursuing the training regimen required to domesticate a mustang.  For instance, the "American Wild Horse Campaign" (AWHC)'s mission statement on its website states: "AWHC works to protect America's wild horses and burros by stopping the federal government's systematic elimination of these national icons from our public lands."  This is pursued through litigation and support for green legislation at the federal and state levels.  The BLM program doesn't bar people from keeping horses in a continued wild state on private land.

All this because polls indicate that the American people can't stomach the idea of regularly culling the herds to produce commercially marketable horsemeat and horsehide for leather products.

It's telling that people who, when it comes to the right to life, have no compunction being "pro-choice" yet are horrified by the idea of Fido feasting on Old Paint.  The Trump administration has rightly determined that paying people to adopt wild horses is less of a burden on taxpayers than keeping thousands incarcerated in the corral complexes.

Bill Croke is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.