Category Archives: Wild Horses

Roaming Wild: New Mustang Movie Brings Issue into 21st Century

Sylvia Johnson’s movie, Roaming Wild, screened at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale, Colorado Wednesday, March 19th, to an SRO crowd. The first-time feature film director worked on the project for several years and has put together a refreshing look at the wild horse management scenario in the American West. Featuring three people who represent three important issues facing the mustangs and the BLM, Johnson approaches ranching/grazing, the specter of slaughter, and one man’s tireless efforts to use fertility-control drugs to protect a New Mexico herd. The film also takes a look at a little known Utah herd, whose ancestors were Pony Express horses. It’s a must-see for mustang fans and those unfamiliar with the issue.

Johnson joined From Western Colorado ‘s Amy Hadden Marsh on KDNK Community Radio’s Valley Voices for a conversation about the film.

NOTE: The file below took a few seconds to download so please wait for it.


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BLM Sells Wild Horses to Colorado Dealer with Links to Slaughter

ProPublica repoter Dave Phillips has written an article about the BLM selling wild horses to a Colorado livestock hauler who has ties with slaughterhouses.  And, Democracy Now featured a segment about it on today’s newscast. From Western Colorado says check it out.

Stay tuned…

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Rain Rescues West Douglas Wild Horses


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today that the White River Field office is suspending the emergency round-up of the West Douglas herd on and around Texas Mountain, south of Rangely,CO. The round-up, also known as a gather by the BLM, began on July 15th after Judge Rosemary Collyer in DC District Court gave the go-ahead to gather no more than 50 horses within 30 days.  In other words, after 30 days, regardless of how many horses had been removed, the round-up had to stop. Or, if BLM captured 50 horses before the 30-day limit, operations ended there.

According to the BLM’s tally, which was posted on the White River Field Office’s webpage throughout the round-up, 19 horses were shipped to the Canon City facility early last week.  And, BLM spokesperson Chris Joyner said one foal whose dam could not be found was put in foster care.

After that, BLM took a day or so to observe the horses around the trap sites.  I should add here that the round-up did not involve typical helicopter drive-trapping. Instead, BLM used a water- and possibly bait-trapping technique in hopes that the horses, whom BLM believed were suffering due to the drought, would come into the trap to get a drink.

Apparently, that stopped working late last week. No horses were gathered all week despite a few days of attempts.  So, either the horses got wise to the traps or the rain doused drought conditions, which made the emergency situation moot. BLM says:

The resource conditions that warranted an emergency gather do not presently exist. The area has received rain on and off for the last 10 days. The horses have dispersed themselves throughout the HA and are no longer coming to the water trap.

BLM has placed a Suspend Work Order on gather activities “for the next 30 days” but says this is conditional:

However, these present conditions are likely to change quickly and we could be right back in an emergency situation…Should the drought problem return to West Douglas HA we will resume work to remove the affected wild horses through the stipulation outlined in the gather EA.

The current unknown is whether the 30-day Suspend Work Order starts today or if it’s good only until the end of the original time period for this particular gather. If it means 30 days from today (July 30th), simple arithmetic shows that somehow the BLM could have added on 2 weeks to the original order. In other words, the original order was set to expire 30 days from July 15th, which was when the gather began. Now, with the new 30-day Suspend Work Order, gather operations appear to have basically been extended for 2 weeks, even though BLM will simply be observing conditions on the ground.

To the agency’s credit, it has been more accessible this time and has posted videos and photos of the horses on the White River Field Office’s webpage, which is something new. Chris Joyner was friendly, helpful, and well-versed about wild horses. But, you know, this is what proper mustang management is all about. Too bad it hasn’t happened before now on the West Douglas Herd Area.

Stay tuned…and thanks for listening.

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Utah Wild Horses Saved from Slaughter

Two Utah men could face 25 years in prison  for allegedly buying 64 mustangs from the BLM under false pretenses and attempting to take them to Mexico for slaughter. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Robert Capson of West Jordan, UT told BLM that he wanted to breed the mustangs for rodeo stock in Toele County. But, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, he loaded the horses into a trailer owned by his partner in the alleged crime, one Dennis Kay Kunz of Willard, UT, and headed in the opposite direction. Apparently, BLM was wise to the plan and intercepted them at  Helper, UT on their way south.  The two men will appear in U.S. District Court at some point in the future. The horses were transferred to a BLM facility in Herriman.

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Wildfire on Colorado’s Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range

A wildfire in a remote area north of Grand Junction, Colorado has grown to over a thousand acres as of this afternoon.  Lightning strikes from last week’s storms may have ignited the blaze, known as the Cosgrove Fire, most of which is burning in the north- central area of the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range. According to Norm Rooker, BLM Fire Information Officer, there are no structures or operating natural gas wells in the area.  David Boyd, BLM public relations officer for the region, said yesterday that the agency is managing the fire to avoid burning the mustangs’ summer and winter range and that the herd was not in danger.   The BLM and Marty Felix, of Friends of the Mustangs, a Grand Junction-based mustang advocacy group, believe that if the fire is managed properly, the results of the burn could increase forage for the herd.

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Poll: Mouthwatering Mustangs?

Mustangs at Colorado's BLM Canon City Holding Facility (C) ahmarsh 2009

There’s a bit of a twit about a Canadian cooking show that aired on May 16, 2011.  According to CNN’s Eatocracy website, the lesson for the day was how to cook traditional French food, including horsemeat.  Apparently, Food Network Canada, the show’s producers, justified the idea by playing the goodwill culture card:

Horsemeat is also considered a delicacy in many cultures around the world. While we understand that this content may not appeal to all viewers, Food Network Canada aims to engage a wide audience, embracing different food cultures in our programming.

The article stated that eating horsemeat is not just about wild horses but the photo that accompanied the article clearly suggests otherwise. Instead of showing retired race horses or petered-out pleasure ponies, the photo gives us a view of what looks like a herd of captured wild horses against a dramatic, anonymous high country backdrop.  If I were a Canadian who knew little about the wild horse controversy raging in the United States, I might connect the show with wild horses. Like, did the meat sizzling on the show’s stoves come from mustangs captured in the American West?  Is my local butcher featuring mustangs this week?

No one except maybe the top chefs and perhaps Food Network Canada knows where the meat used on the show came from; however, an Eatocracy poll from January 5, 2011, says the article, shows that “a substantial portion of the population expects to see a shift in perception toward horse meat consumption in the United States” .  The poll, titled Making a Meal of Mustang, followed brief coverage of the 2011 Summit of the Horse, which convened in Las Vegas, NV that same month.  The January poll showed that almost 35% of 24, 213 responses thought that the US would never eat horsemeat.  Of all the 5,547 responses to a previous June 22, 2010 poll about eating horses, 42% said no way, no how. 

But, what population? It’s unknown whether participants included those living in the US,  Canadians speculating about US food preferences, or both.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, mustangs in the American West were hunted down and rounded up, and many of them were sold to supply the growing pet food industry. Now, seven months away from the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which federally protects these animals, we’re still talking about sending them to slaughter.  Only this time, some are trying hard to create a market for human consumption, which if successful could mean that federal protection is nothing more than government sanctioned mustanging. 

And, speaking of eating wild-caught horses, From Western Colorado wants your input and we’ve created another poll.  This time, we want to know if you would really make  a burger from horses raised on the ranges of the American West.  Poll is open until midnight  June 17, 2011.

 And, thanks for listening…

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Reprieve for Colorado Wild Horses: Part II: Can’t Let ‘Em Roam, Can’t Round ‘Em Up

Earlier this month, the White River Field Office (WRFO) withdrew its plan to remove the West Douglas mustangs in northwestern Colorado.  This is the second in a series exploring the controversy surrounding this herd. In the previous post, From Western Colorado wrote that BLM began making management decisions about the West Douglas herd in 1974; however, it is uncertain exactly when the initial Management Framework Plan (MFP) was written. There is no date on the document; however, references within the plan suggest that it was written in 1975 or early 1976.

 Back to our story…

 According to the initial MFP, two factors influenced BLM’s administrative decision to zero-out what is now known as the West Douglas herd. First, the carrying capacity of the range east of Douglas Creek had not yet been determined and BLM believed that transferring the horses living west of Douglas Creek into that area could overburden the land. Secondly, BLM believed that the horses west of the creek were migrating from their original range due to increased oil and gas activity. But, the same document stated that “oil and gas exploration, oil shale development, and saline minerals development with sufficient stipulations to protect the wild horse habitat” east of the creek was okay p. 7). The agency went on to say, “It is not presently known the degree of impact that the minerals program has on wild horses in the area”  (p. 7). In other words, studies about the impacts of energy exploration on wild horses did not exist for either herd yet stipulations were planned to mitigate those impacts solely for habitat east of Douglas Creek.

 In 1981, BLM’s White River Field Office (WRFO) established the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, combining the Piceance Basin herd and the horses east of Douglas Creek. The initial Herd Management Plan once again supported removal of all horses west of Douglas Creek. Rangeland studies were included in this plan but only for the Piceance-East Douglas horses. For all intents and purposes, the West Douglas horses ceased to exist…on paper.

 Four years later, the WRFO updated its overall resource management plan, which reiterated total removal of the West Douglas herd; however, concerns were raised that this decision was  informed by the amount of forage allocated to livestock on the grazing allotments within the West Douglas Herd Area (WDHA). BLM stated that the proposed removal was based on a lack of physical boundaries to the south and west of the HA, which allowed the horses to migrate off their designated range, and had nothing to do with livestock grazing (p. 2).

 The American Mustang and Burro Association (AMBA) appealed this decision to the DOI’s Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) as a violation of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. The appeal was denied for technical reasons, effectively drawing attention away from grazing concerns. In early 1997, however, the WRFO updated its management plan for the Twin Buttes grazing allotments within the WDHA and said the mustangs must go. Again, AMBA appealed, stating that giving all the forage to livestock was the basis for removing the mustangs. And, again, the appeal was denied. The BLM insisted that the decision to remove the West Douglas horses was based on projected energy development, as stated in the mid-1970s: ”[None] of the planning documents…established any relationship between removal of wild horses from the West Douglas Herd Area and forage allocation” (p. 3). But, why wasn’t that relationship established?  Because the studies had never been done.

 The WRFO also updated the overall resource management plan (RMP) in ’97  but  Colorado State BLM officials were concerned that the RMP might not accurately justify total removal, and with good reason. Not only were there no studies to back up the decision but there was also another legality to consider. In 1989, the Animal Protection Institute of America appealed round-up decisions in Nevada to the IBLA with surprising results. According to the BLM/USFS 8th Report to Congress: Administration of the Wild Horse and Burro Act (1990), the IBLA defined the process of determining how many mustangs and burros the range can sustain (AML) as “synonymous with restoring the range to a thriving natural ecological balance and protecting the range from deterioration.”  In response to the Nevada appeals, the IBLA ruled that all wild horse and burro removals must be supported by rangeland studies: 

[S]ection 3(b) of the [1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act] does not authorize the removal of wild horses in order to achieve an AML, which has been established for administrative reasons rather than in terms of the optimum number which results in a thriving natural ecological balance and avoids a deterioration of the range (p.2).  

From 1974 -1997, however, the WRFO maintained what was essentially a zero AML and, other than census flights and a few partial round-ups, did not actively manage the West Douglas herd.  This explains the lack of documentation. The AML was set at zero and since there weren’t supposed to be any horses out there, BLM did not engage in management practices, such as herd and habitat monitoring or manipulating forage and water, to support the horses.

So, in 1999 Colorado State BLM officials instructed the WRFO to review the 1997 decision, which resulted in the proposed amendment to the 1997 Resource Management Plan, dated July, 2004.  Even though the 1997 RMP temporarily provided for a herd of up to 60 horses in the West Douglas HA, the proposed amendment, which called for “the creation of a [West Douglas] Herd Management Area,” was the first time BLM explored the idea of permanently and actively managing horses there. Unfortunately, the WRFO denied the amendment, upholding the decades-old, unsubstantiated decision to remove the West Douglas herd. This has led to a brushfire of litigation, which has now spread to local ranchers; yet the horses still roam free. Was the denial of the proposed 2005 amendment a help or a hindrance to the BLM?

 Stay tuned for Part III: Wild Horse Dilemma Buffalos BLM

And, thanks for listening…

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