(Cover Image: Stallions chasing each other, McCullough Peaks, Cody WY. © KWeigand/WesternGalleries.com
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
– Sir Winston Churchill
Many Americans would like to see a more balanced way of spending taxpayers money and the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) range management of our public land across the western states.
Many factors are involved: wind, solar, mining, oil, gas, coal, timber, monuments, wildlife, hunting, camping, hiking, off-roading, conservation, chemical treatments (land/streams), cattle/sheep livestock grazing, wild horses, etc.
As you can imagine, there are many opposing viewpoints, legal issues, and groups deeply embedded, and wild horses are stuck somewhere in the middle of this on-going, hotly debated, and goliath system.
Just over Wyoming's northern border, the famous Pryor Mountain Herd in Montana, has approx 190 horses on 38k acres. They've been DNA tested and are believed to be descendants of the 1804-05 Lewis & Clark Expedition who were traded or stolen among the Crow Native American Nation near Yellowstone Nat'l Park. Generations of these historically important living symbols have been practically isolated for a couple hundred years on their rugged Arrowhead Mountain Range home, which is also sacred ground for the Crow Nation.
The stallion Santa Fe, moves his family over the ridge at sunset.
Pryor Mountain, Montana. © KWeigand/WesternGalleries.com
These horses have old Spanish characteristics, colors & markings, with strong legs, and hooves.
Many people want to preserve these beloved icons, and keep safe numbers left in the wild with a minimum of 150 adults.
DID YOU KNOW?
Partial proceeds of our wild horse and equine print sales are donated to non-profits who are dedicated to keeping safe numbers of wild horses left - in the wild.
VISIT THE GALLERY
QUICK LOOK BACK IN HISTORY
WILD HORSE TIMELIINE:
1500-1600's - Spanish Conquistadors bring European horses back to North America.
1680 - The Great Pueblo Revolt in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Historians agree that Native Americans gained many horses with this victory. But recently, more people are claiming that wild horses were well established throughout the Wild West before the 1680 Revolt.
1700's - By around 1700 the Nez Perce Native American Nation has developed their own selective horse breeding program - The American Appaloosa.
1800's - Early mountain men (John Colter in 1804), the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804+) and eventually many other European settlers cross the Western frontier encountering Native Americans, while establishing military forts, towns, and ranches.
Men capture and break wild horses as a means of travel, to work their cattle, & they sell them to the calvary, or others, for profit.
By 1900: Some say approximately two million horses are roaming wild and free, but no one knows the exact number.
1900's: Cattle ranching and other industries are expanding across the western states. Many horses are killed.
1946: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was formed as part of the Department of Interior. They oversee about 10% of the USA's surface land, and many powerful groups/lobbyists/corporations are intertwined, including energy, wind, solar, minerals, mining, oil, gas, coal, timber, cattle & sheep ranching, public use, recreation, wilderness, hunting, off-roading, monuments, etc.
By 1950's: Many ranchers consider wild horses as a nuisance, or pests, who are competing with their cattle/sheep for grass & water.
Horses are shot and poisoned at watering holes. Anyone could kill, abuse, or capture horses for cash profits, including selling to slaughter houses.
Velma B Johnston (1912-1977), aka Wild Horse Annie, while driving to work one day in Nevada, noticed horses being transported leaving a blood trail from the trailer. This led to her nation-wide grassroots campaign on wild horse abuse. She and her husband were often threatened, but her brave efforts led to public awareness. The Wild Horse Annie Act was passed in 1959, prohibiting poisoning of watering holes & use of motorized vehicles to hunt down horses/burros on public land. This didn't include Annie's recommendation that Congress should start a horse/burro program to completely protect and manage the animals, but it was a start.
1968: Because of the efforts of local citizens in Lovell WY and surrounding area, Pryor Mountain in Montana was established as our Nation's first Wild Horse Range as they wanted to preserve that herd. It's still Montana's only wild horse herd.
By 1970: Overall wild horse population massively reduced to approx 18,000.
December 1971: Because of Velma Johnston, aka Wild Horse Annie, and her nation-wide campaign, the federal government passes the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971 with President Nixon signing it into law for their preservation. It's now illegal for the public to kill, abuse, or round up unbranded and unclaimed horses or burros on public land. The BLM is appointed as their caretakers.
Late 1970's: The BLM designates well over 200 HMAs (horse management areas).
2013: BLM reports 177 HMAs. Millions of acres and entire horse herds have been removed by the BLM for other land uses, such as cattle/sheep grazing.
2020-2022: With increased annual budgets, the BLM rounds up a high record numbers of horses only to keep them in pens and holding facilities. Many are filled to the max.
2023: With a large influx of money received through their annual budget, thousands more horses are targeted for round-up in the next few years, knowing that they will end up in over-crowded pens and expensive Off Range Holding pastures.
OFF-RANGE HOLDING EXPENSE
WHAT IS OFF-RANGE HOLDING?
A few individual large ranch land owners are diversifying their ranch income by working with the BLM. They receive BLM contracts to pasture large numbers of wild horses (usually 500 - couple thousand) on their private ranch.
They are paid monthly for each horse, per day, that they keep in their pastures, with grass and water.
These ranchers are greatly benefitting from this BLM program. They can earn millions of dollars each year with very minimal up-front costs.
Afterall, most ranchers already have pens, fenced pastures, ranch trucks & trailers, hay fields, tractors, etc., for their own cattle & hay operations, and they don't purchase the horses.
Although untamed, captured horses are no longer living in their natural wild family state. They have been captured, branded, processed, separated from family, with a forever altered lifestyle.
One rancher can receive all males, and another rancher can receive all females (mares). If mares are pregnant when captured, their undocumented foals who are born on private ranches are eventually weaned and can be transported back to BLM pens.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TAXPAYERS TO PASTURE A WILD HORSE ON SOMEONE'S RANCH?
According to the BLM's website year ending 2022*: (*ref: blm.gov, wild horse & burro program expenditures)
Total # Off-Range Horses (no burros) = 59,760
Total Off Range Holding Costs = $83.4 Million
Average cost is $1395 for one horse in 2022. (This doesn't include all costs.)
Since horses can live 20-30+ years:
$1395/per year x 20 years = $27,900* +/- per horse
(*This is just a simple mathematical average as an example using 2022 numbers. It doesn't include BLM round-up, & other costs. It doesn't include future increasing pasture lease prices.)
In the last ten years, Off Range costs have doubled:
2012... $42.9 Million
2022... $83.4 Million
This escalating cycle gobbles up an average of 60%-64% of the Wild Horse & Burro Programs's total annual budget!
With more round-ups planned in 2023, thousands more horses will be added to this program, as many of BLM's pens/holding centers are already full.
How much will this cost taxpayers in 10 years? In 40 years?
MILLIONS OF ACRES ARE INVOLVED
TOTAL SURFACE LAND:
The BLM manages approx 245 million acres.
Each year approx 18,000 grazing permits are issued to ranchers on approx
155 million grazing acres across 11 States
WILD HORSE / BURRO PROGRAM:
26.9 million grazing acres, across 10 States
Only approx 11% of BLM land is allowed for horses/burros
And much of the horse's land (which is often dry desert) has to be shared with livestock & other industries.
• Livestock is allowed on 128 million+/- more grazing acres than horses.
• 89% OF BLM LAND HAS NO WILD HORSES/BURROS.
How many livestock (cattle/sheep/goats) are grazing public lands?
Millions & millions.
There may not be any current BLM livestock head count reports available, but the USDA does report a total of 89.3 million head beef cattle inventory (as of Jan. 1, 2023). And reports say that cattle grazing on public land provide about 2% of the US beef supply...
So, 2% of 89.3 million = approx 1.7 million cattle grazing public land designated for US beef supply.
NOTE: This mathematical example does not include all of the other millions & millions of cattle/sheep/goats grazing the land.
McCullough Peaks, WY. © KWeigand/WesternGalleries.com
How many wild horses are grazing public land?
Approx 40-60k wild horses
Head counts vary, but wild horses are tremendously outnumbered by millions & millions of livestock.
BLM's REPORTED PRIMARY WILD HORSE CONCERNS:
OVERGRAZING & HIGH POPULATIONS
Over the years, the public has been told...
" Wild horses are greatly over-populating the land and over grazing...
Remember that since 1900, wild horses have often been treated as 'pests'.
Many people, such as large land owners/ranchers, oil & gas mining/truck drivers, etc, have been wanting to eliminate the horses - and this tradition continues on.
Horses are still accused of being the main culprit for land deterioration. Basically, wild horses are a scapegoat.
Their "caretakers" are demanding quick removals to prevent starvation and help restore the land.
DO THE MATH.
- Look at the numbers of wild horses living on the range vs. livestock.
- Compare the amount of acreage that is allowed for wild horses vs. livestock.
After looking at the numbers, one can easily see that livestock is the BLM's preferred choice of animals grazing the range.
History has shown, after claims of possible "horse starvation", the horses are either 100% removed, or greatly reduced to very low numbers (unsafe DNA/genetics). And within a few short days or weeks, they've been replaced with larger numbers of livestock released on the same land.
It's understandable why many people are asking for a new government department to be formed, to transfer the management of wild horses/burros away from the BLM.
HOW MANY HORSES SHOULD BE LIVING ON EACH HMA DESIGNATED AREA?
Many scientists, veterinarians, and horse specialists agree that each HMA need a minimum of 150 breeding age adults to help prevent in-breeding, preserve safer genetic lines, and to help support the horse's natural habitat of strong family ties and bonds.
Washakie, the iconic black paint stallion McCullough Peaks WY.
© KWeigand / WesternGalleries.com
NATURAL HORSE FAMILY ROLES, BONDS, AND HIERARCHY
A band, or family, can range from 3-15+ horses.
But most of the time a band is small, with 8 or less horses, including foals.
Within each band, there is a dominate stallion with a small family of mares and foals. Mature band stallions are usually at least 4-6 years old, and they fight hard to start, grow, and protect their family.
Sometimes there can be a younger 'lieutenant' stallion, or son, who is not allowed to breed, but may be helpful in defending the family against other aggressive stallions. But eventually, a lieutenant stallion may also challenge the dominate stallion for control of the herd.
The dominate stallion is the protector, and is constantly on the lookout for threats such other stallions, or mountain lions who prey on foals. He keeps an eye on any wandering foals and mares, rounding them up by 'snaking' them back to the family. His goal is to keep his family safe and may quickly put himself between his family and any possible threats (including human).
The more dominate stallion(s) earn a higher status (hierarchy) among the wild horses living in each HMA. A less dominate stallion will often move his family away from an approaching dominant stallion/family.
Each band has a lead mare, and she often decides where they eat and when they go to water. She often leads the family with the stallion sometimes bringing up the rear, while always on the alert for threats.
To help control some of the population growth, the BLM and volunteers have been darting thousands of mares with PZP birth control. PZP has been proven successful in most cases.
Rowdy bachelor stallions roam the territory in groups. These guys are a mixture of younger stallions who need to mature in order to fight a band stallion, or they can be former band (aged) stallions who have lost their family to a stronger stallion. Bachelors hang out together often playing, biting, kicking, and harassing the families, trying to steal a mare.
For human visitors, its exciting to observe a group of bachelor stallions running around stirring things up.
Young males 2+ years can be kicked out of the family band by the dominate stallion. They usually end up joining a bachelor stallion group.
Young females 2+ years, especially when they begin their first heat cycle, may quickly be stolen, or gathered into another family by another dominate stallion.
DO WILD HORSES HELP ATTRACT TOURISM?
Horses have long been admired for their grace and beauty, and our wild horses are living reminders of the old Wild West days.
Visitors come from around the world to watch and photograph our wild horses while using nearby lodging, dining, fuel pumps, and other activities.
Yes - Wild Horse Viewing - is appealing to many, and it helps support local towns and small business economics!
Wild horses first evolved in North America, crossed over to Europe/Asia, and eventually brought back to America. They were here long before barbed wire fences were stretched across our western frontier, and they deserve to be able to retain their natural wild family state - on their original designated grazing lands - for future generations to enjoy.
What do you think the future holds for our Wild Horses?
HOW CAN YOU HELP WILD HORSES?
Anyone can help wild horses by simply learning and becoming more aware of their current issues.
Take action by submitting your commits to officials like the BLM.
There are wild horse non-profits, advocates, herd watchers, photographers, artists, etc., all helping in many different ways. If you can, consider purchasing merchandise (VISIT THE GALLERY) and partial proceeds are donated to non-profits such as: The Cloud Foundation
Thanks for visiting!
There is no guarantee that the numbers shown here are currently accurate. Numbers change, and with the different viewpoints and different groups, they can say different things. As you can imagine, Wild Horses are in the middle of a very long, expensive, emotional, and on-going complex battle.
© KWeigand / WesternGalleries.com
All Rights Reserved