Protect Our Wild Horses and Burros: The Nation’s Symbol of the Historic and Pioneer Spirit of the West

Dagnija Tomsons

Illustration / Dagnija Tomsons

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service manage almost 700 million acres of land that is owned by federal, state and private lands from the Homestead Act of 1862. This land is located mainly in the 12 western states.
The BLM was started back in 1946 by U.S. Representative Richard M. Nixon to provide health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Also, it’s there to manage the public land resources that are used for livestock grazing and recreation, but also to protect the land in general.
The free-roaming horse and burro organization was started in 1971 under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This began when a woman named Velma Johnston followed a truck which had blood coming from the trailer that was attached. The trailer was holding horses that were being led to slaughter. Johnston responded with a writing-campaign supported by a large number of students to get these horses some form of protection. The campaign was known as the “Pencil War” and Johnston was named “Wild Horse Annie” for her spirited act of trying to protect our nation’s wild horses and burros.
As stated in the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1917, “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
The BLM seem to be doing their best to protect these wild horses and burros by rounding them up once their herds have gotten too large or are in danger of death, by putting them up for adoption. The process is long and explained below:
Roundup. Since 1976, the BLM has used helicopters to round up the horses and burros. They fly low, corral the horses into waiting trucks and drive them to holding pens for adoption. The amount of time this process takes depends on how many adoptable horses they can find, but it can take up to days or weeks. The horses in the pens are then separated by age and gender, including mares and their foals. After branding with a freeze-mark and counting the horses that can be put up for adoption, the staff then tries to reunite the mares with their foals.
Adoption. Before the horses are offered to the public for adoption, they are held in one of the adoption preparation facilities for their first veterinary check-up. Veterinary care is provided to all wild horses and burros throughout their time in BLM facilities. After the horses and burros are deemed healthy, they are sent to one of the many adoption facilities held by the BLM. There is a long process for adopting a horse or burro, but the information and documents are all on the BLM’s website.
Senior Jessica Imel, who has owned horses for 5+ years, said, “I think in theory it’s a great thing, wild horses are a part of the land and should be protected, but I think they are going about it in the wrong way. The people in charge probably have little to no experience or knowledge about horses, so they aren’t actually aware of what would be necessary to maintain healthy herds. I don’t agree with taking wild horses for adoption when there are plenty of horses bred each year up in slaughter-houses. I personally think wild horses should be protected in the wild by people who understand horses.”
Though the adoption process is pretty straight-forward, the fact that they sold almost two thousand federally owned wild horses to Tom Davis who is known to kill horses is not acceptable. The task of the BLM is to protect the horses from slaughter, and yet they purposely sold them to Davis. He thought that the staff would know that the animals would be sent to slaughter with the number that he was buying. People that wish to adopt a horse can only take up to four horses per 12 month period.
“The agency also did not stop selling horses to Mr. Davis after receiving reports that he was sending the horses to slaughter,” according to Kellan Howell from the Washington Times.
According to the US Forest Service website, “The characteristics that were important in the Old West days are still found in our wild horses and burros: strength, endurance, and reliability.”
Wild horses and burros are believed to be the nation’s living symbol of the remaining spirit of the west. In order to preserve that spirit, horse lovers wish to protect them in any way possible, including forming organizations and protesting at local events or online. Consider the Wild Horse Protection Act, a non-profit organization that posts regular activities and events based around the nation’s wild horses. They are one out of many groups that are trying to make these majestic creatures known and protected.