Turning Free-Roaming Horses Into Border Guards

It’s bad enough that the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management can’t keep its sticky fingers off free-living horses of the West.

It’s absurd enough the Bureau claims a five-figure population of free-roaming horses and burros is too big — while ranchers, covetous of any blade of grass or drop of water these horses find, graze more than five million cows, buffalo, sheep and goats on public lands.See Bureau of Land Management Public Lands Statistics, “Summary of the Authorized Use of Grazing District Lands” (FY 2004).

It’s shameful enough that the Bureau takes the horses and burros — animals the agency is responsible for protecting — away from the land to which they were born, and severs these animals’ own relationships. That it privatizes these horses and burros — more than 216,000 of them over the years — selling them at auctions and sale yards, or “adopting” them off — taking $125 per head, under current law, as the minimum adoption fee.

It’s disgraceful enough that the government even threatens to kill them.On 23 October 2008, Sally Spencer, Director of Marketing for Wild Horses and Burros, told Friends of Animals 30,000 horses are being stored in corrals, and their futures would be decided at an advisory meeting on 17 November 2008; options proposed included stepping up adoptions, selling the animals without limitation, killing them, or requesting more money for management purposes.

It’s nauseating enough that the government enables people to break free-living mustangs and turn them into lifestyle accessories through schemes such as the “Extreme Mustang Makeover” — a circus-like spectacle complete with hoops of fire, which is trumpeted by Mustang car maker Ford as though it were some kind of noble environmental activity.

And now, in one of the bitterest twists of all, these so-called American icons will not only be made to march at the forthcoming inaugural parade, but also used to guard the US borders. Instead of moving uncontrolled, these horses will be trained and enlisted to stop humans from moving uncontrolled.

I received a message from the National Public Outreach Specialist at the Bureau’s Wild Horse and Burro Program earlier this month telling me I ought to think it’s all awesome. Here’s the entire message:

—–Original Message—–
From: Bureau of Land Management Wildhorse and Burro [mailto:whb-news@Bureau of Land Management.gov]
Sent: December 17, 2008 2:45 PM
To: gro.slaminafosdneirfnull@llaheel
Subject: BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT Wild Horse and Burro Program

Hello Lee Hall, J.D.,
I just wanted to share with everyone an article that is really awesome. Our Mustangs are going to be \”strutting their stuff\” at the inaugural parade in January. Some of you may know that the U.S. Border Patrol, both North and South, are using Mustangs as their choice of the best \”breed\” for the type of work; endurance, sure-footedness, sense of danger, etc. There is an article on the national wild horse and burro website regarding the parade. Please visit [tiny url]

I am not sure if you URL will work in this form of an e-mail, so, if not, please go to www.wildhorseandburro.Bureau of Land Management.gov. Then go to Newsletter and News (right navigation bar), click on Success Stories and you will find the article. It is the last one shown.

YEAH, for our Nation\’s Living Legends!

Thank you,
Janet Neal
National Public Outreach Specialist
Janet_Neal@Bureau of Land Management.gov

(775) 861-6614
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, please visit [tiny url]

These hapless horses are now involuntarily participating in the border militarization which has destroyed so many communities of free-living animals even as it has killed so many human beings. When migrants at the southern border die in the summer, it’s after first falling unconscious or succumbing to seizures and finally heart failure. The fluids from their defeated organs seep out onto the earth. In winter, they die on dunes and in canyons, shivering uncontrollably, losing their ability to grip, and then to think, to move at all; their pulses slow, their pupils dilate, their skin turns bluish and their breathing fails. Still, people come. They come when the need to feed their families overwhelms their fear of detention or death. Wild horses surely wouldn’t keep them away.

At the same time, border construction has disrupted the lives of the few remaining Sonoran pronghorn antelopes — beings who never got hung up on the dividing line between nations until a big fence was built on it. Road-building for patrols near the Tijuana Estuary disturbs coastal sage scrub birds. The habitat of mountain lions and black bears, Mexican spotted owls, and the elusive, solitary jaguars revered by ancient Aztecs and Mayans, is being irreparably torn and fragmented. Stadium lights and security equipment upsets nocturnal animals and those with natural radar. As Julia Whitty explains, the 700-mile border wall is, from an ecological perspective, severing the spine of the Americas “at the lumbar, paralyzing the lower continent.”Julia Whitty, “Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth’s Vanishing Biodiversity,” Mother Jones, 25 Apr. 2007.

The ecological balance of a hemisphere apparently does not strike much of our officialdom as awesome — or even noticeable. It would be nice to think change is going to come. But Barack Obama was one of the supporters of the law that, when signed by Bush in 2006, authorized the grotesque barrier. Wall proponents want the thing completed by the close of June 2009.

We ourselves may well be headed for extinction, because so many living beings with whom our physical lives are intertwined are disappearing from nature. If the trend, which walls and fences exacerbate, continues at the current rate, more than half of all plant and animal species will be gone by 2100. The unremitting spate of extinctions — even more than escalated climate change — is the most certain threat to human life on Earth.See ibid. Notably, of those species recorded as recently extinct, more lived in the United States than anywhere else, followed by the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Mauritius.

Wild Inspiration

“The wild mustang has been an inspiration for Ford Motor Company for decades.” So says a corporate press release. The wild mustang, described through a singular noun: an inspiration, a living legend, an icon of the West, a concept for car designers instead of a community of individual horses and burros with distinct characters, cohabitants of the land who know each others’ struggles. Human laws and customs treat other animals as a pool of potentially useful natural resources, scientific specimens, pets, food or entertainment. Unfettered ones are mist-like and unreal, fetishes or symbols of the past, mascots or marketing concepts. We’ve systematically obstructed our ability to perceive them as beings with their own interests and experiences.

Ford taps into the public notion that adoption into private ownership is a saving grace for horses struggling to survive. That rationale misses some critical points. First, a benefit is not conferred on these animals when we pull their territory out from under them and auction them off or otherwise put them into private hands.

About 200 years ago, three million wild horses roamed most of the North American continent, in evident harmony with the rest of the biocommunity.Robert Alison, “Last Roundup Feared for Canada’s Wild Horses,” Toronto Star, 15 Oct. 2005. At the beginning of the 20th century, 2 million mustangs roamed free.Deanne Stillman, “Wild Horses Aren’t Free,” Los Angeles Times, 2 Jun. 2008. Now, including those stored in government pens, there are merely a few tens of thousands. Alarmingly, and despite the limited numbers of genetically viable herds, the Bureau of Land Management and the Humane Society of the United States have collaborated in subjecting these animals to invasive experiments with the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida. The Bureau of Land Management claims that reducing and repressing the free-roaming equine population is necessary to maintain a natural and ecological balance between these animals and watersheds, vegetation, and ranches. The claim is result-oriented. Cattle ranches have no part in the natural and ecological balance.

The mission of the Bureau of Land Management is, in part, “to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”As stated on the Bureau of Land Management website, in the public release “BLM’s ‘Seeds of Success’ Program Aimed at Improving Health and Productivity of Public Lands” (24 Aug. 2007): “The Bureau’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” But ranchers, for whose convenience the horses and burros are snatched from their habitat, are devastating public lands, usurping precious water and oxygen-giving trees. The United States — home to about 5% of the world’s population — generates approximately 24% of the world’s extra greenhouse gases.See generally U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2003,” Report #: DOE/EIA-0573 (2003) (released 13 Dec. 2004), at page 2 (“US Emissions in a Global Perspective”), following the Executive Summary. A major cause is animal agribusiness, responsible for large amounts of methane, a gas that packs more than 20 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, and for 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, a gas with nearly 300 times CO2’s potency. And this business expands our population’s footprint by clearing forests solely to grow feed for animals bred to be killed.

And it’s all unnecessary. Thus, boycotting ranchers’ products and exerting pressure on the government to stop subsidies to animal agribusiness are genuine ways to help horses and burros. Depriving them of their freedom is not.

On Their Own Terms

The West is overpopulated, but not by horses. Where the land is not overtaken by concrete, only a few strongholds of dense forest and some ice peaks are free from the effects of animal agribusiness, which gradually destroys waterways, shelters and food for birds and other animals. But there are precedents for reversing the damage. Twenty years ago, land around the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona, where the Bureau of Land Management had long granted grazing permits, had become a barren wasteland. On 1 January 1988, the Bureau instituted a moratorium on nearly all cattle grazing. Congress subsequently designated the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area a nature preserve of 58,000 acres. The river deepened, and fish reappeared. Native grasses and bushes thrive once more.David Kreuper et al., US Geological Service’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Center, “Response of Vegetation and Breeding Birds to the Removal of Cattle on the San Pedro River, Arizona” (2003).

The treatment of North American horses to date is, in contrast, anything but a success. More than a million wild horses once roamed Canada, but in the 1960s, after decades of continual shooting and slaughtering, only four small herds existed.See “Last Roundup Feared for Canada’s Wild Horses,” note 5 (citing information from the Canadian Wild Horse Preservation Society). By 1974, the Alberta herd had been reduced to about 1,000 — too small to maintain its genetic health. The other three herds, all in British Columbia, are now gone.See “Last Roundup Feared for Canada’s Wild Horses,” note 5. Additionally, some 300 free-roaming horses exist in relative privacy on Sable Island, off Nova Scotia. Before they were legally protected, they were subject to roundups and use as “pit ponies” in coal mines and for other purposes. The free-roaming population of about 150 horses on the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the eastern US coast are accessible by road to tourists, and horses from this population are rounded up yearly and auctioned off for fundraising purposes by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.

In 1971, Richard Nixon signed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act into US law. Responding to a public outcry over roundups, the law directed the Bureau of Land Management to protect the animals. Nevertheless, roundups were codified in the law. Lawmakers simply failed to consider these animals on their own terms. They described the equids as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” — rhetoric befitting a made-for-television western of that time, when most people thought nature could be treated as though it existed for human purposes alone, and global warming was yet unheard of. The Act’s mission needs updating to match current human knowledge and an evolving environmental ethic.

Moreover, free-roaming horses and burros have their own interests. They should be entitled to genuine protection. No exemptions or permits should exist to sell or remove a wild free-roaming horse or burro from the public lands. Free-roaming equids should be just that: free from roundup, capture, sterilization, and deliberate harassment — and any obligation to defend politics and borders they have nothing to do with.

Lee Hall teaches environmental law, and has authored several books and articles on animal rights, including the forthcoming on ,em>Their Own Terms: The Handbook. Animal Rights for the Classroom and the Community (2015). Lee has worked for 13 years in non-profit environmental and animal advocacy. Follow Lee on Twitter: @Animal_Law Read other articles by Lee, or visit Lee's website.

40 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. HR said on December 24th, 2008 at 1:41pm #

    To those of you who romanticize “wild equids”, actually feral livestock, leftovers from Spanish exploration and settlement, and later, leftovers from the “manifest destiny settlement activities of our more current predecessors, I suggest doing a little research. Expand your research beyond popular web sites, and study honest-to-goodness articles, based on scientific research, written by wildlife and range scientists. Study for example the negative effects of burros on desert bighorn sheep populations. Explore the negative effects of equids on the habitat of other native grazers and browsers, like pronghorn and mule deer, on small mammals, and on native fishes. These “wild” equids are weed species, which degrade and destroy the habitat of native species, which are truly national treasures. The effects on habitat caused by developers pales in comparison with that of development, considering the comparative acreage of land that each has affected. If you’re really lazy, just take a look at a barren horse “pasture”, owned by some yuppie who keeps horses for pets. Then multiply that view by millions upon millions of acres.

    The author correctly characterizes the welfare program for public-land ranchers, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.), the U.S. Forest Service (U.S.F.S.), and, to a lesser degree, the Bureau of Reclamation (U.S.B.R.), but fails to recognize that wild equids cause the same problems, admittedly on a smaller scale, but only because their populations are currently smaller in absolute numbers. In the last revision of its grazing regulations, a couple of years into the 21st Century, B.L.M. increased its welfare subsidies to ranchers, ignoring and subverting the findings of its own range scientists in the process. U.S.F.S allows grazing in wilderness areas, claiming it to be a “heritage” use, a clever cover for disguising the ingrained bad habits of welfare ranchers over the past 150 years.

    The author suggests a boycott of ranch products. This is nothing but hyperbole. If all the contributions to the national meat supply provided by welfare ranchers on public lands is totaled, it amounts to less than 15 percent of the total supply. This is an amount that could easily be made up by existing private-land ranching. Why punish 85 percent for the actions of a few? Perhaps the author believe all lawyers should be held accountable for the activities of a very small number of “ambulance chasers?

    What’s next, an article promoting preservation of free-range feral domestic cats?

  2. HR said on December 24th, 2008 at 1:48pm #

    “The effects on habitat caused by developers pales in comparison with that of development, considering the comparative acreage of land that each has affected.”

    Should read: The effects on habitat caused by developers pales in comparison with that of wild and domestic livestock grazing, considering the comparative acreage of land that each has affected

  3. lichen said on December 24th, 2008 at 4:20pm #

    Yes, the ranches are criminal, they are destroying the habitat, and should be shut down, not just boycotted. The wild mustangs should be allowed to run free, the walls should come down, and natural vegetation, not grass, and not cows, should cover the hills and meadows of the west.

  4. Danny Ray said on December 24th, 2008 at 6:37pm #

    Lichen I have two questions for you.

    #1 what part of FERAL do you not understand ?


    #2 what do you think Mustangs eat ?

  5. Judy Ballenger said on December 24th, 2008 at 10:04pm #

    HR For someone who wishes to come across as knowledgable you ought to go back to those scientific resources and check again. The horses are not feral. Lichen and Danny Ray, you too Lee Hall, Are you listening (reading). The horses were here first and crossed the Bering land bridge into Europe. The Spaniards did us a favor by RE-introducing them. The Quarter Horse and just about every other breed have the Mustang to thank for their existence.
    Next, How many of the other animals sharing these ranges do you think are indeginous to the US? Pronghorn and Big Horn Sheep? Think again people. Even the cattle are “exotic” species compared to those wild horses.
    Barren horse pasture? Try the term dry lot instead. A pasture is a large area for an animal to graze and will not become barren unless it is over-grazed. OOPS well, now we have the reason for the problems out west don’t we? Over grazing. But don’t be too quick to blame the cattle ranchers. They graze their cattle for perhaps 4 months out of the year, and cattle do not graze the same way as horses do. The cattle ranchers are mainly responsible for drilling wells and creating watering sources for the horses in many areas. It’s US the people who are responsible for the dwindling populations of horse herds. We’re a greedy lot and want that land for oil and gas exploration and for industry. That’s where the blame lies for the wild horse numbers being as low as they are.
    Auctions? Puleeze, give me a break. The Extreme Mustang Makeover uses an auction format, that is all. All Adopters and they are adopters, must meet certain criteria and be approved before they are permitted to competitively bid on a horse. Adoption events are held throughout the country at the $125 fee and again, potential adopters must meet the criteria and be approved before adopting.
    Hapless horses involuntarily participating ? This is the most entertaining part of the whole story. I am the prod adopter of two mustangs. And, I participated in the 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover. My makeover horse, HowDoYouLikeMeNow aka Bob is one of my two adoptees. Bob aften jumps out of his pasture. Does he make a break for freedom to answer the call of the wild, which is hardwired into his brain? Nope. He comes looking for me folks. There’s video out there if you go through my website or blog to prove it. no halter, no ropes, no nothing but a naked horse, a couple months out of the wild and he’s pestering me for attention. Does that sound hapless or involuntary to any of you reading this article? I can take this horse away from home and turn him loose and he’ll not wander away from where he can see or hear me.
    Let me enlighten you about intelligence now. A Mustang knows what you’re thinking. They take the art of body language to new levels and are way beyond domestic horses and us humans when it comes to communication. They have hearts that legends are born of, and endurance to rival Arabians, the oldest breed of horse in the world. Where do you think the Arabian came from? Sure footed with keen instincts they are excellent mounts to patrol the borders. Or should those those borders be left wide open for another 9 – 11 to happen? The Mustang is without doubt the most intelligent, versatile, willing and loyal partner man or woman could ask for.
    As parade paticipants in Obama’s Innagural Parade, no better citizen could be chosen. Those horses were here before all of us, it’s their right to be in that parade. After all, they are the horse America rode in on. Don’t ever forget it.
    Yes, there’s been mismanagement in the past. The BLM is a government entity and as such must bow down to the wishes of the people. Unfortunatley the wishes of the people in this country are only those of a select few – Big Business Corporations. Leave the ranchers alone, they are not to blame at all. Leave the BLM alone, they’re doing the best they can in a bad situation. Blame the developers in this country and the exploration companies and the current President who encourages this developement at a cost too great – the sacrifice of this nations founder – The American Mustang.
    In the meantime do us all a favor. Quit bitching and complaining and go out and adopt a mustang or burro. They’re the best companions, partners and friends you could have. And, they replace costly therapists and weight loss programs.

  6. Patty said on December 24th, 2008 at 10:47pm #

    Please allow the MSutang to live……… they are smart and enjoy people when gentled rightly…………They make good pleasure riding horses………for families.. I have one and enjoy his character and sharing him with others………killing and taking away their land that men won races for in the past to keep them alive … Is back stabbing their efforts……..

  7. Camelot Mustangs said on December 24th, 2008 at 11:02pm #

    Uhm why are you so hateful? I have had mustangs since 200, and I currently have one i have had for 6 years. they are perfectly good horses and my guy loves being domesticated. He does not have to look for water, he never has to look for food, he will never be hungry or thirsty! I am super proud of being a mustang owner and will continue to own mustangs! They are perfectly fine to serve as border patrol. They do not add to global warming, they can get to areas vehicles can’t, they are gentle and intelligent and tough and healthy, perfect for the job. Mustangs BUILT America, they were PART OF THE CHANGE from walking everywhere to riding and pulling carts and helped build railroads and lets not forget the first mail delivery the Pony Express.

    I mean really Lee get a grip! These are some of the best dam horses in the world

  8. Merritt Clifton said on December 25th, 2008 at 12:36am #

    The arguments against feral cats, wild horses, and Mexican immigration are all essentially the same argument, which philosophically traces back to Teutonic Naturism.
    Teutonic Naturism was an intellectual response to the early Industrial Revolution and human movements in northern Europe during the 17th & 18th centuries. Ideas advanced by the Teutonic Naturists evolved into themes as diverse as the Romantic movements in music and literature, habitat preservation through purchasing or politically designating property, conserving heritage architecture, keeping dog pedigrees, eugenics, and in extreme form, Nazism, one of the few descendants of Teutonic Naturist thinking to recognize where it came from.
    Teutonic Naturist thinking continues to frame the outlook of those who hold to a nativist view of what people and species should live where, & has been the dominant outlook of conservationists since the very beginnings of conservationism as a distinctive development out of gamekeeping and gardening.
    However, it is critical to realize that Teutonic Naturism emerged and began to create the institutions which continue to shape conservation philosophy more than 200 years before Charles Darwin published The Evolution of Species. Teutonic Naturist philosophy incorporates the notions of a steady-state universe, of nature as a hierarchy, and of humankind as a flawed species, separate and apart from all the rest of nature, marring nature because we are — or some of us are — uniquely flawed.
    Though today’s versions of Teutonic Naturism pretend to be about advancing biodiversity, they are in actuality attempts to repeal evolution, by eliminating much of the ever ongoing process of species migration and challenge to the existing order. Teutonic Naturism, because it does not incorporate an understanding of evolution, also fails to incorporate an appreciation of evolutionary process, including the human role in facilitating evolution by moving species about — like the wind, the waves, migratory birds and fish, volcanic eruptions, et al.
    This constant movement is actually what creates biodiversity. From a perspective founded on an understanding of evolution, the whole notion of “feral” or “non-native” has no meaning. What matters is that species are challenged to better hold their niche, or are obliged to retreat to the niches they are best suited to hold, while other species adapt to the changed conditions.
    Eventually, those who oppose evolution in the name of conservation will end up in the same dustbin of history as William Jennings Bryan. Meanwhile, though, they wreak and rationalize mayhem against whatever they deem “non-native” to an extent which makes the hell that Bryan et al prophesied for John T. Scopes look relatively mild.

  9. Hue Longer said on December 25th, 2008 at 12:42am #

    In Oz, there are feral Camels which (according to an episode of Crocodile Hunter) have been proven to not actually cause much damage or much less than they were thought to have (something to do with their feet being soft and needs being uncompetitive). BUT if someone were to imply they were indigenous, they’d get laughed at. It’s amazing that US history begins from the Mayflower and moves West. If you don’t learn about what Spain was doing in North America, I guess it seems normal to think horses grew up side by side with Native Americans.

  10. Kathy M said on December 25th, 2008 at 3:06am #

    I am a long time horse owner and a mustang adopter. My first mustang picked me out at an adoption. I left that day only to be haunted by the thought of the horse that bold, curious filly would grow up to be. I went back the next day and adopted her. It’s been over 6 years and I have never regretted that decision. We now have 5 mustangs.

    While I love the thought of mustangs running free with little human intervention, that is far from a perfect ideal. However, I do feel they have earned their place and am saddened that despite the Free Roaming Horse act, which guaranteed them a set amount of land, their range allotment continues to be reduced. It is also a shame that ranchers graze cows for so much less then it costs BLM to feed the horses removed to make room for them.

    I followed a trainer who participated in the original Extreme Mustang Makeover. There was concern that the horses might be rushed because of the prize money and publicity element, yet that was not what I saw happen. Rather I saw a gathering of mustang advocates, and fans in numbers greater then any other event. It was WONDERFUL to be there sharing those days with so many mustang lovers, and converts. Yes, converts.. because a number of the trainers who were not already mustang fans voiced a deep respect for mustangs because of the wonderful mind and train ability of their mustang. Many of the mustangs were adopted by their trainers. (at great expense in some cases)

    I have no problem with mustangs being used in parades, police work, or patrolling our border. My mare is from a Calvary stock area, so it is not new for mustangs to do their part for America.

    The mustangs left by the Spanish may have gone feral.. but in My opinion the mustangs of today are born wild, to stock that has been running free far too many generations to still be considered feral.

  11. Ramsefall said on December 25th, 2008 at 6:23am #


    these horses have a right to be in the parade? Like they give a shit? I suppose they also claim to be progressives, but would then cast a vote for Obama like their trainers/owners? Since when is a horse a human?

    And the BLM is doing the best they can? I’ve got some beautiful beach front property I’d like to sell you in Nebraska, interested?

    Have another cup of eggnog, and don’t forget the brandy!

  12. Ginny said on December 25th, 2008 at 8:25am #

    To the individual that’s complaining to Judy:

    Actually our formerly wild mustangs and burros LOVE to strut their stuff in parades, at state fairs, at BLM adoptions, at state historical parks, and even in front of the Calif. State Capitol where some of our burros were while attempting (and succeeding) to save the historical state parks from closing down in Calif. How do I know? Try being around these well trained, formerly feral critters for awhile and you too might actually “get it”.

    So, sip your nog and slurp your brandy, because apparently you have no clue.

  13. Judy Ballenger said on December 25th, 2008 at 9:58am #

    Ramesfall, Obviously you have no clue and have had too much egg nog. If you would allow yourself to be in the presense of a Mustang, you’d change your tune. You might even run for the egg nog out of disbelief. These animals are unique like none other. They do give a shit! Trust me on this, if a Mustang doesn’t want to do something he/she ain’t gonna do it. You do not fight with these horses, you will not win. You have to be intelligent enough to communicate with them on their level, and when you have that capacity for intelligence you have a partner who will escort you anywhere, through anything, like rings of fire, and do it most willingly, and with exuberance! They aren’t trained circus performers, they’re partners. There’s a huge difference. They do enjoy strutting their stuff, they are devoted to their humans and some will protect their humans as a stallion would in a herd environment. In exchange we feed them and ensure they don’t go hungry and don’t have to travel miles upon miles looking for food and water. It’s not such a bad life being acptured and gentled. Given the choice, the majority will choose to remain with their human partners. You can’t argue against that.
    Sure, I’ll tale that property in Nebraska, ocean or not. I’ll put wild horses and burros on it.

  14. Ginny said on December 25th, 2008 at 10:27am #


    You most certainly touched on a very strong point about these animals and their partnership with their humans. My husband goes packing in the mountains. When he’s at camp he’s known to let his “formerly wild ones” roam off lead. Do they leave? Heck no! He’s often got to work at keeping his equine out of whatever he’s cooking for himself. What he has is a true partnership and if ignorant people don’t understand that, then… gosh, obviously they are… uh… ignorant.

  15. HR said on December 25th, 2008 at 12:54pm #

    As expected, the majority of comments on this article are uninformed, emotional tripe, more concerned in actuality with anthropocentric needs and desires than with observation. My only responses are:

    To repeat my last sentence: What’s next, an article promoting preservation of free-range feral domestic cats?

    To once again note that there is more written proof that the dumbing down of this country is essentially complete.

    Enjoy your “brave new world”, folks.

  16. Don Hawkins said on December 25th, 2008 at 2:07pm #

    HR now now. We are already in a brave new World and cats or horses have nothing to do with it. That man at Walmart that was run down by human’s on there way to electronics and then nobody helped him and some just stepped over him well nothing brave about that and new no. Focus man focus.

  17. Ramsefall said on December 25th, 2008 at 3:34pm #

    Ginny and Judy,

    a little tag-team action, good for you two! Now, if you’re true believers of equal rights for mustangs, how about letting them ride you for a while?

    Despite your preference, I think you missed the point considering that Judy is referring to these animals as if they have a patriotic preference, e.g. “no better citizen could be chosen.” Maybe we should see how they feel about having voting rights, too.

    Now that we’ve addressed the most pertinent issues facing the nation today, I think I will serve up another cup o’ nog, triple the brandy please as we watch the nation go down the drain in slow motion.

    Merry Kwanzanikahmas to all!

  18. Hue Longer said on December 25th, 2008 at 4:02pm #

    Did I just read an appeal that Spaniards were doing “us” a favor through unnatural selection? `

    Dingos were introduced to Australia over 3000 years ago, and are considered by humans to be native, so whatever damage they wrought on then natural selection isn’t much considered, but feral horses to the Americas is a 500 year old problem (earlier in what is now known as the US- considering how long it took them to get going there).

    It may be silly discussing horses when considering what humans do, but just like concrete, chemistry and tree chopping, the moving of animals and plants all over the world IS part of the human problem–whether they be feral cane toads, foxes, rabbits, cacti, cockroaches, gypsy moths, bilge dumped algae, horses OR domesticated farm and ranch animals.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone here is angry at a horse

  19. Don Hawkins said on December 25th, 2008 at 4:44pm #

    Down the drain in slow motion, exactly.

  20. Priscilla Feral said on December 26th, 2008 at 8:45am #

    The Bureau of Land Management is charged with protecting wild horses and burros on public lands in 10 Western states, yet at taxpayer’s expense, the BLM routinely rounds the up, sends them to corrals, and it now considering killing several thousand mustangs. That hideous process appeases ranchers who are allowed to graze millions of cows, sheep and other animals on public lands. If one is an omnivore, they support this destructive r0utine. Keeping it simple : wild horses should remain free on rangelands. Roundups, captures and harassment must end. Removing cows, buffalo, sheep and goats from public lands starts with one’s refusal to consider animals your food.

  21. Danny Ray said on December 26th, 2008 at 10:33am #

    Priscilla Feral , I should like to point out that you and the other FOA here keep saying that we need to remove the buffalo from the plains. I think they were there before the horses. Or is what you are saying is that all human endevors west of the Mississippi should be banned. You want the poor ranchers banned, Yes I said POOR Ranchers banned ( most of them are dirt poor dispite what you think, you should really talk to some of them instead of looking down you nose at some one who works for a living, and I mean works) But I would guess that you think the ski resorts are ok and that the city of Denver is ok but they distroy more habitate with all there sub divisions than the ranchers ever will.

  22. Priscilla Feral said on December 26th, 2008 at 2:14pm #

    Hello, Danny Ray — Buffalo who have been privatized and raised
    for flesh shouldn’t compete with wild horses for water and grass.
    That’s what I meant. I work, but not at raising and grazing cows and
    other animals whose destinies are slaughter houses, and whose existence comprises the habitat and freedom that free-roaming horses and burros deserve. Friends of Animals opposes the removal of
    wild horses from public lands for the commercial convenience of
    cattle ranchers. That’s the issue to wrap your brain around. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund welfare ranching. And a plant-based diet starts with one meal at a time.


  23. Dustin Rhodes said on December 26th, 2008 at 2:34pm #

    It’s disturbing to read words penned by humans who insist that we know what animals enjoy or what motivates various behaviors. In truth, we have no idea, and we never will. What we are really doing is making guesses based on our own culture and conditioning. It’s arrogant and dangerous to suggest that we know how a mustang wants to live and be handled, and more importantly: does a mustang want to be handled at all?

    I concur with Lee Hall’s well argued, compassionately considered advice: that free-living animals should remain free. All sorts of animals might have played a part in American history (as pointed to over and over again in the comments thread), and that’s certainly true—but that certainly doesn’t make it ethically right. History should teach us lessons, and guide us toward making better choices in the future. Human domination is a theme that plays itself out in a broad number of ways; humans have attempted to dominate practically everything: the animal kingdom, including our fellow humans, the environment, etc. If we seek to envision a world where justice, peace and respect reign supreme, it seems like that journey should begin with how we relate to every sentient being with whom we share this wondrous, vast planet.

    Dustin Rhodes,

    Friends of Animals

  24. Ellie Maldonado said on December 26th, 2008 at 3:57pm #

    Free-living horeses a “weed species”? The ancestors of surviving horses came from another country, but for that matter, Europeans did too, and they robbed the land from indigenous peoples centuries ago. Are their descendants “weeds”?

    True, free-living horses are not feral — they were born free, and they deserve to remain so! That some horses have become dependent on us (like Bob), or they remain with one owner for years, or they enjoy “strutting their stuff” to please their owners, doesn’t mean domestication is good for them. For every “Bob” or horse that rides in a parade, how many millions of horses have suffered or been killed because we have made them “beasts of burdern”?

    It’s convenient to ignore the environmental damage of cattle ranching and animal farming — all for an unecessary food — but the so-called science that excuses it is corporate serving nonsense.

    How despicable that discimination against nonhuman beings is being used to facilitate discrimination against Latinos, who can’t wait for the impossibility of getting a visa while their families go hungry!

  25. Hue Longer said on December 26th, 2008 at 5:05pm #

    I got some cane toads to introduce to some of you folks….and yes, we humans are definitely weeds—our footprint is large and introducing species to environments which have evolved for thousands of years is part of a Human problem. The Americas are huge and many climates are connected by land, so the damage done by horses may not be so noticeable (or cared about), but it’s there. Deserve is a funny word…I don’t hate foxes and rabbits, but do you know what they (they=Humans bringing them) have done to Australia? How about boars in Hawaii?

    It’s amazing that people would talk about deserve as a burrow wanders through the fragile desert eating everything…or justifies it by pointing out the other more noticeable forms of destruction Humans bring to the world. I’ll agree that mountain top mining is worse than wild mustangs (now anyways), but that doesn’t add “deserve” to the description of horses and burrows.

    I don’t hate cane toads, but I kill them when I can…it’s sad and it certainly doesn’t make me feel like Humans are better than them.

  26. joed said on December 26th, 2008 at 5:49pm #

    why don’t you folks take all the energy that you use here at dv and use that energy to shut down your country, or at least your city. dv is a wonderful site, it is my home page; i am a dissident. but, dv is a FREE SPEECH ZONE(it allows protest without any effect and it makes you feel like you have done something to create change. but that is illusion and your imagination). it sucks your energy when that same energy could be put to real advantage. try shuting down the local traffic at rush hour. do it gently cause you dont want to hurt nobody. shut down the place. this action is your only real solution to the problem. some kid in utah, single handedly, stopped the sale of the very lands that your mustangs and various critters roam around in. the sale was to open the public lands for mining and oil etc. this kid threw his shoes at the u s govt. this is the only type of action that matters during these radical and extreme times we are living in.
    do something!

  27. Danny Ray said on December 26th, 2008 at 7:14pm #

    My Dear Mr. Longer, you just don’t understand, cane toads ars SOOO!! gross. Horseys are cute and cuddley. and when I was a little girl I always dreamed of being a princess and having a cute pony.

    Sorry about that, I could not resist it. This welfare ranching you people keep talking about seems to be the ony welfair where you mail a check to the goverment. if you want to stop it just mail the BLM a check for about 20 million cow units and put a stop to the wicked ranchers screwing the public. but you do not seem to want to put your livelyhood on the line ,you FOA’s just want the goverment to step in and do all the dirty work. And what do you plan on having all those ranchers who are certainly not rich do. take tickets at your ski resort?
    What you are telling me is that you don’t give a damn about the poor people in Flyover country do you. as long as you have your dreams.

  28. Danny Ray said on December 26th, 2008 at 7:39pm #

    Sorry everyone I posted that when I was mad and had I read it over again I would not have sounded so bitchy. I get tired of east coast liberals telling people who they would not have a cup of coffee with how to run their life. My wife is from a ranch just west of Raton NM and believe me those people live from hand to mouth. They have been living that way for three hundred years and I can’t think of them doing anything else. But each year the BLM thru people like FOA and other groups that the closest they get to a mustang is the ford dealership. Put more and more restrictions on how they can live.

    As for all you mustang lovers out there I am with you. i just spent the last two weeks of elk season on a very nice Dun mare that my Brother-in-law rescued as a foal when its dam died up near the picketwire.( at least that’s what he said. it could be the comanche in him that just makes hime happy to come home with other peoples stock)
    she was one on the nicest and best riding mares I have ever set. and even tho we were in 6 inches of snow most of the time I swear she gained weight.

  29. Hue Longer said on December 26th, 2008 at 7:55pm #

    rabbits and foxes are cute too…I think the problem here is that people are getting selective about love. There’s “what’s good for mankind” and all the debate over what that implies or entails and then there is the noble idea that man’s “needs”(whether or not they are mutual) shouldn’t matter over the environment—which I agree with (though I’m a practicing hypocrite).

    But horses (or bilge dumped starfish), ARE a man made problem. It differs in only magnitude and control compared to active ranching. I don’t think it’s a rancher vs. wild mustang activist issue. unnatural selection and other human folly is literally killing all the life on the planet. I don’t know that it matters though…I’m sure the cane toads and cockroaches and mutating viruses will thrive and just like the cute burro killing off eco systems, it’s not their fault either.

  30. Ellie Maldonado said on December 26th, 2008 at 8:25pm #

    Hue, burros and other conscious living beings *deserve* protection because they have personal interests. They care about their lives, their babies, and their groups just as we do ours. Humans have used and transported them with discrimination because “they’re only animals” — until woops, all of sudden they’re inconvenient. And now the same exploiters want to kill them. In my view, that’s neither just or respectable.

    Rabbits were released into the wild of Australia for the purpose of hunting them. I believe the same is true of foxes. That of itself would lead me to question the wisdom of human domination.

    As long as conscious beings live under human control, their personal interests will be violated. It’s high time, I think, to end the discrimination, and respect their right to be free.

    Certainly, using horses to militarize the border is completely unacceptable.

  31. Hue Longer said on December 26th, 2008 at 8:54pm #

    correct on the rabbits and foxes…and horses for other human “needs”—no difference. What would you do with the remaining cattle should everyone stop eating them? Release them to see if they can breed and multiply? They have families and care for their young too . What I’m saying could be considered absurd because turning back the clock almost looks hopeless now (and there were plenty buffal0 eating and stampeding grass lands before development and feral horses), but beyond caring directly for an empathetic creature, there is plant life which keeps all mothers feeding children. The cattle, horses, burros and tractors destroying it is a man made problem

  32. Kathy M said on December 27th, 2008 at 11:11am #

    Ah but there are LOTS of feral cat colonies!

    Capture/spay/re release programs are allowing them to live without continuing to grow in population. Capture and kill was not slowing the population growth at all. It just left room for more cats to move in and establish colonies after the originals are removed.

    The American people do not want THEIR mustangs to be killed, and politicians thinking its an easy fix should note that. I do believe the people working for BLM (at the corrals/horse level) do care about the horses.. The problem is they do not control the fate of these horses.

    There needs to be a group in charge of the system who cares about the long term survival for the wild herds, but would be able to make honest and fair decisions about what is in their best interest.

    Many mustang would chose their partners over a return to the wild. Mustangs living undisturbed are born and raised in a social society. They are raised by the herd, and are far better minded then the domestics we separate and put in boxes from the day they are born.

    Do Mustang folks know what their mustangs are thinking and feeling? If they are doing it right.. yes most of the time they do. If they are puzzled or unsure, they have only to mention it to other mustang folks and solutions and advice streams in. Mustang folks LOVE to share the joy these horse bring.

    And yes! One would be committing a grave error if they try to MAKE them do something. However if they trust you, and make no mistake that TRUST MUST BE EARNED. They will go where you ask, and do as you wish.. and in return they will tell you when you are heading into a bad situation IF you listen.

    They are the best 4 wheel drive. Standard equipment??
    They come with a brain, 2 eyes, 2 ears, and a nose which all work far better then ours, instinct born from hundreds of years of life in the wild… and a heart 10 times bigger then yours. ;D

    They may look plain and scruffy to some, but to those who take the time to look inside.. oh how they shine!

  33. Marie said on December 27th, 2008 at 11:24am #

    Yikes! Fabulous article, Lee, the fact that it stirs so much emotion tells much about it. One more opinion in this forum will hardly make a difference, will surely be brushed off as emotional tripe by the more intelligent here. What gives me the shivers is the righteous indignation that just doesn’t allow for any other point of view. The identification of any living species as a feral or a weed, cute or ugly, etc etc… immediately lends itself to a ranking of that being, and humans throughout history have destroyed or enslaved what they perceive to be below them on this artificially created chart. Humans are just a blip on the radar screen of history but have the greatest capacity to cause damage in the shortest time. Was it an old Twilight Zone episode that made the hunter experience the fear, pain, exhaustion that his prey did? Only then did that hunter understand the consequences of his actions. I’d like to think that we all have the capacity to empathize with any creature, given the time and inclination to evolve as such. Until then, I’ll just shed a tear for the damage that is done and the lives that suffer under dominance.

  34. Ellie Maldonado said on December 27th, 2008 at 12:18pm #

    Hue, perhaps you’ll agree that if we could turn back the clock, yet lack respect for nonhuman animals, we’d create the same problems all over again. But it’s not too late to understand they are personal beings who have a right to belong to themselves. As recognition of their interests grows, the so-called “need” to breed them for food, or exploit them for sport or other non-reasons would gradually decline.

    Instead of controlling them, we’d recognize our obligation to control ourselves, and to respect the habitats that free-living animals depend on. If they aren’t hunted or robbed of their homes, they can adjust their populations within their habitats, according to their food supply.

    Most domesticated animals cannot survive on their own. So if everyone stopped eating meat, I think it would be unconscionable to release them to the wild. Since a decline in animal use would be gradual, there wouldn’t be millions of animals in need of our care. I think those who do need care should be protected in sanctuaries, where at least they can live free of exploitation.

  35. Hue Longer said on December 27th, 2008 at 7:16pm #

    I agree somewhat Ellie, but the long nosed echidna doesn’t (it’s true, I’ve asked them). Perhaps a refuge and sterilization would be in order for the horse and burro as you suggested for the cow? When you say yes to these guys roaming free, you are saying no to others. Man fucks up and the horse is innocent but that’s not every other animal’s fault

  36. Priscilla Feral said on December 29th, 2008 at 10:01am #

    In a nutshell: Public lands don’t belong to cattle ranchers. Horses shouldn’t be rounded-up, corraled, slaughtered or privatized because
    cattle ranching is a big industry, and some pundits here fantasize about
    controlling the activities of every other animal other than themselves.

    An end to cattle breeding is a decent idea.

    Keep the grazing of goats, sheep, and horses off of refuges and public lands. Use the lands to grow crops to feed people directly. These are radical, progressive ideas fitting for a discussion on DV. Rhetoric about “elk season” is offensive.

  37. Priscilla Feral said on December 29th, 2008 at 10:23am #

    CORRECTION: In the first sentence of the last paragraph above,
    it should read: “Keep the grazing of goats, sheep and cows off of
    refuges and public lands.”

    It’s horses who belong on public lands.

    Livestock production produces an environmental crisis, as
    ecosystems have been devastated by ranching. Over 300 mmillion acres of federal, state and other public lands are used as feedlots for
    cows and sheep, and ranching operations receive subsidies, thanks
    to taxpayers. Horses can be protected and the ecology restored by
    overhauling the BLM’s agenda, which operates for private gain.

  38. Dave Shishkoff said on December 29th, 2008 at 12:06pm #

    Thank you, Lee, for this challenging and important piece – your words are needed.

    I look forward to the day when other humans get over their self-interests, and consider that other species have interests as well, and that we can live in harmony with the rest of the planet (rather than dominating and exploiting every element possible.)

    Horses are no exception, and despite being feral or wild (neither make a difference when considering their interests), surely we can allow them to live their lives without harassment, and leave them space to do so. Is that really such an unfair or unreasonable request?

  39. Ellie Maldonado said on December 29th, 2008 at 12:08pm #

    Alas, since I haven’t had the pleasure of talking with echidnas, I googled “burros and other animals”. Burros were blamed for degrading the habitat of desert tortoise — but the burro and tortoise have co-existed in the same area for over 150 years. And burros were blamed for competing with bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert — but bighorns were reintroduced to the area with a corresponding boom in trophy hunting permits. Hunters, of course, want to keep the population of their victims high, even if it means inflating them artificially, as killing burros would do.

    It’s all part of a notion, as Lee Hall explains, that assumes humans have a right to control other animals. If we respected their right to live on their own terms, we wouldn’t create the problems we have now. Sanctuaries should be reserved for dependent animals who can’t survive on their own, and we should protect the freedom of those who can.

    As it happens, I found more reasons why free-living horses and burros help, rather than harm, other animals: Unlike cows, who lack upper teeth and often need to pull grass from its roots, equids can graze without disturbing roots. What equids eat can continue to grow.

    Unlike ruminants, horses and burrows don’t digest seeds. Their digestive process returns seeds to the land. Horse’s add humus to the soil, which retains moisture and in turn prevents fires.

    In winter, equids break the ice with their hooves to open water sources that other animals depend on. In summer, they hoof down subterranean waters that are also used by other animals.

    Yet while agribusiness pollutes the environment, the BLM claims free-living equids must be controlled to protect the ecology. I think it’s obvious the BLM is in bed with ranchers and hunters — and now that they’re using horses to militarize the border, they’ve added bigots to the list.

  40. Maryanne Appel said on January 13th, 2009 at 11:54am #

    So many harsh, bitter comments on this discussion list! The kind words, reasonable claims, unbiased opinions, and well-thought-out arguments, all of which make sense to me, were presented by Lee, Priscilla, Dustin, Ellie, and a few others. They speak on behalf of those who can’t; not looking for comfort, convenience, or profit from other beings, but simply because it is the right thing to do.

    Too often, humans consider anyone (other animals) or anything (plants) as invasive, “weeds,” while it is our own humankind that encroaches on just about every other species on the planet. Allowing horses and burros to live free of human intrusion is the right thing to do. Even if these equids were not native to our continent, what right does anyone have to disrupt their lives, separate their families, and remove them from the only home they know? To my knowledge, most of us (I’m excepting the true Native Americans here) living in the U.S. today are not indigenous either.