Greed and Slaughter on the Western Range


This summer the federal Bureau of Land Management, which overseas most of the nation’s federal lands, intends to take approximately 10,000 more horses from their legal, designated ranges in Western states.

Beginning July 1st there will be roundups in Nevada, Wyoming and Oregon and later in Colorado.

This huge removal number is likely to represent two-thirds of the remaining wild horses living on public lands. We will have almost nothing left of these herds by this coming November.

Many of these animals will die, along with a piece of America.

The BLM claims there are 36,000 wild horses on public lands but those wild horse advocates who have been out in the field compiling the numbers removed and the numbers left after round-ups realize, as usual, that BLM plays fast and loose with such numbers. This is something the agency has been criticized for even by the Government Accounting Office, state representatives and U.S. senators.

This numbers game explains how the BLM can remove more animals than allegedly “intended,” and at the same time actually succeed in “zeroing out” from what is called — at least while there are still wild horses there — a Horse Management Area (HMA).

We have lost over 100 HMAs that have now been “zeroed out,” and over 20 million acres of designated wild horse and burro range has been taken by the BLM for conversion to other uses. It’s all about private industry displacing wild herds.

The scheme works like this: First the BLM shrinks in size, on paper, the area where horses live. Then it determines the HMA to have an “excess” population of wild horses on the newly reduced territory. The “excess” horses are subsequently removed in tortuous roundups. Thousands of sheep and cattle, mines and energy projects–all owned by commercial interests that grease the palms of the political machine — then replace the horses, despite a federal law declaring that the horses are to have priority on their designated rangelands.

“Multiple use” implies that the Horse Management Areas must allow other uses, but in practice, the wild horses are never the primary management concern as they are meant to be under the 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Rather, they are considered last and are removed to make more land available to these other more lucrative interests.

Removing the horses is illegal, but in practice, private industry– particularly the ranching interests–have been given free rein on many HMAs. Basically, anything goes when it comes to stealing these lands from the horses.

There has been no compensation for the destruction of the horses and little headway made to check the illegal removals by BLM. Wild Horse Advocates are trying to change this. Laura Leigh is our foremost advocate in the field.

The issue of wild horses and their removal from designated HMAs has for some time been one of the top ten subjects the White House receives phone calls on. These calls come in from the thousands of people who have heard about the systematic loss of our wild herds. Many are horse people but many more just love the idea we still have wild horses and want them saved and protected. More people are becoming aware of this scandal daily.

Since the economic slump, the American media have left many urgent stories by the wayside. This is one.

Some of the cattle that get moved onto the HMAs are owned by the corporations who have leased cattle allotments inside the HMAs where the cattle and sheep can eventually outnumber wild horses and burros by factors of more than 200 to one.

The BLM is also selling off thousands of acres of public lands. Little investigation has been done into this rape of the West and there has been no public accounting of the loss to taxpayers. Transparency is nonexistent. The response to public outrage is to hide everything as much as possible from critics, investigators and observers like Laura Leigh.

Many horses of all ages are killed during these roundups– especially vulnerable young animals.

No tally is kept of the number of animals left to die on the range from injury or dehydration. In fact, foals are not even counted until they are at least four months old and unless they have been weaned. Many foals die from the forced runs driven by helicopters flying low to the ground. Horses have been known to run 10 miles or more, and observers fear they have been forced to run up to 20 or more miles before reaching the trap site.

If the average citizen did to these horses what the BLM does routinely, they would be arrested and thrown in jail. The animal abuse issues are also growing and many new advocates have taken up this aspect of the crisis.

New management is needed. The BLM is violating to the law and instead of protecting it is destroying our national heritage.

MARILYN WARGO is a horse professional certified in Equine Science. She is also an award-winning photographer who studied with Shelby Lee Adams, a journalism graduate of New Mexico State University and a longtime wild horse and wildlife activist who lives in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado.

She wrote this article for ThisCantBeHappening!



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