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The real story on wild horses

Colette Kaluza
Colette Kaluza

Wild horses and burros across the American West are being decimated by outrageous helicopter roundups.  Why is this happening? 

The 1971 Wild Horse Act reads wild horses and burros “shall be protected and considered in the area where presently found as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is mandated to prepare Herd Management Area Plans for the wild horses. There are 177 herds in the western United States, 83 of which are in Nevada, and all require management plans according to their unique environments.  

Wild horses share their habitats with sage grouse, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, and other animals. Because of the interconnected web of life, these animals are being threatened by a lack of Herd Management Area Plans, which is allowing for an increasing presence of profit-driven industries, foreign and domestic, while livable habitat is shrinking.  

Unfortunately, individual herd management plans are rare. For 40 years BLM has promised to prepare these management plans, but it spends less than 1 percent of its budget on management planning. Effective management would take into consideration genetic variation, the foaling season, range improvement, road placement consideration, habitat preservation, and removal of fences to allow access to water and forage, and also would rethink the unjustifiable number of horses removed.

What is happening now is not a plan or real attempt to protect the horses and their habitats. Despite claims to the contrary, BLM is simply rounding up horses using helicopters and removing them in greater numbers than ever before in history and causing unnecessary injury and death, not to mention increasing our tax burden. Those who advocate fertility control as a solution, while they may be well-meaning, are actually detracting from the real problem: It is not too many horses, but rather a loss of habitat. The loss of habitat is the real reason for horse removal and an uncertain future, at best.  

What is even more alarming is that because of the acceleration of BLM roundups, the agency is increasingly warehousing wild horses. This is causing an increased taxpayer burden, so now they are talking about killing the wild horses to make more room and save money. The warehouses are at capacity. If we don’t get a handle on the Herd Management Area Plans soon, the alternative is death.   

Federal public lands belong to the American people, unlike any other country in the world. It is our right and duty to protect our lands and the animals that live there. To help us with this, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970 to allow public participation in governmental actions. BLM, by not creating the mandated Herd Management Area Plans, is in violation of this environmental law by interfering with the public’s right to participate.

NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.  While we, the public, may be permitted input on their already-in-progress round-up plans, we are not given the opportunity for input on the preparation of Herd Management Area Plans, which would be conducted through an Environmental Assessment process as spelled out in NEPA.Nothing except Herd Management Area Plans will protect the habitats of the wild horses and all the animals that share their habitats.

We must act now and tell Congress to fund Herd Management Area Plans, not helicopter roundups, and to hold a hearing to investigate BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. And please encourage them to support HR 6635, the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 2022, which calls for an immediate stop to these large and outrageous helicopter roundups so the Government Accountability Office can look into alternatives.

(Note: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced the federal bill after viewing video footage of a colt being chased by a helicopter causing its leg to snap in the roundup known as Pancake.)

Colette Kaluza is a Nevada resident and volunteer for Wild Horse Education, a Nevada-based nonprofit, which fights for the First Amendment right for access to view roundups, and its Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy Team. She is known for capturing the video footage of a colt being chased by a helicopter, leading to its broken leg at the Pancake roundup, which prompted the introduction of the “Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 2022.”  She also has the distinction of documenting all 42 continuous days of the recent wild horse roundup at the Triple B Complex.


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