America’s Wild Horses
Author Sharon Ralls Lemon said, “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.” Anyone who has seen a wild mustang gallop across the plains has to agree.
Wild horses – mustangs – in North America live in ten western states: Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, California, Idaho, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota and New Mexico. No one really knows for sure how many wild horses there are, but it is estimated fewer than 48,000 horses and 10,000 burros are left on 31 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Mustangs live in small herds that generally consist of one stallion and two to eight mares, their foals, and various young mustangs. A herd will wander and graze within a specific territory. The horses will tolerate other herds near the edges of their territory, and will even join them in warding off attacks from predators. Their social order is well established. When a threat appears, the lead mare will lead the herd away from the danger. Meanwhile the stallion remains to defend the herd and its territory, snorting fiercely while pawing the ground with his front hoofs to raise a cloud of dust.
Today, the law requires the BLM to manage our public lands using the multiple-use concept, and to balance the needs of the land, wildlife, and wild horses against those of livestock growers, and a wide variety of other public interests. Often the BLM takes this to mean that wild horse population numbers must be lowered. The BLM uses a number of methods to control wild horse populations on the lands that they manage, but focuses the bulk of its efforts on rounding and removing wild horses from the range.
Gathers and removal of horses from public lands should be a last resort, and reserved for resolving major conflicts with endangered species, protecting the health or well-being of the horses themselves, or preventing dramatic degradation of the landscape.
These icons of the West need human intervention to save their habitat and strengthen their ability to live their lives on our Western plains. The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust works with Friends of a Legacy in our common mission to protect and preserve habitat for wild horses.
You can learn about HSUS programs to help wild horses at http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/wild_horses/.