Could a Lawsuit Mean Life for Our Wild Horses?

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir

As of November 17, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had received over 10,000 public comments in response to its plan to remove the Calico Complex wild horse herds in Nevada. Their response was to sign a “No Impact” decision, which means public comments played no part in their decision and they will proceed with the roundup on December 28.

Hope now lies with a lawsuit filed by In Defense of Animals and wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, which is scheduled to be heard on December 16.

The lawsuit was filed on November 23 in a federal court claiming that the roundups of wild horses are in violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which was put in place to protect our horses and burros and ensure they have a home on western lands and remain free of “capture, harassment or death.”

Thus far, the BLM is failing miserably. Since 1971, the BLM has removed a staggering 270,000 wild horses and burros from public lands, in addition to taking away more than 20 million acres of their habitat. Wild horse and burro herds have disappeared from six states entirely.  

Currently, the BLM has rounded up more horses than it can afford to care for. Approximately 33,000 wild horses are being kept in holding facilities, which is costing taxpayers something to the tune of $27 million a year. The BLM also wants more money to continue with roundups that will result in an excess of wild horses in holding facilities where they will wait for slaughter or death.

The Problem

According to the BLM, western rangelands can’t support the current number of horses and burros. However, they have not provided any scientific evidence to support this claim.

The National Academy of Science estimates that the population growth estimates the BLM uses are double the actual number. Oddly, they also seem to see nothing wrong with grazing 8 million cattle on this land. According to Downer, the wild horses and burros, of which there are approximately 36,000 left, consume only 5.3 percent of the total forage consumed in combination with livestock. When forage consumed by big game animals is taken into account, wild horses and burros are responsible for less than 2 percent. He also adds that these wide-ranging herbivores are perfect for reducing dry flammable vegetation, re-seeding native plants, and building soils.

According to the Animal Law Coalition, “[interior Secretary] Salazar and the BLM do not mention the thousands of cattle grazing and drinking and fouling water on these lands, BLM’s land sales, development, increasing recreational use, and mining as well diversion of water from herd areas. Wildlife ecologists say if public lands are “degraded”, something that is disputed, these factors are far more to blame. In fact, citizens living in the areas where there are wild horses and burros, including small ranchers, contradict BLM’s assessments the range is “degraded” or lacks sufficient water for these few remaining animals.”

Incidentally, modern molecular biology has also shown wild horses to be a reintroduced native North American wildlife species. Horses reintroduced by the Spanish were genetically equivalent to those that had gone extinct in North America 12 to 11 thousand years prior. The American wild horse evolved over the past 500 years and adapted to the same ecological niche as its native ancestors had once thrived in, according to the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. 

The Numbers

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the federal government spends at least $144 million each year managing private livestock grazing on federal public lands, but collects only $21 million in grazing fees—for a net loss of at least $123 million per year.  These numbers were reported in 2005. Money was spent by the BLM and the Forest Service on activities such as managing permits and leases, building fences, developing water projects and reducing predators.

All of this to graze cattle that make up an estimated 3 percent of our nation’s beef supply. 

What Can Be Done

The BLM is on a mission to rid the west of wild horses and burros. They’ve made a mockery of the public comment process and will continue to mismanage our public lands while wasting millions of our dollars doing it.

Wild horse advocates are calling for a congressional investigation, public hearings and a moratorium on all roundups until a management plan that works in conjunction with current laws can be executed.

Contact your representatives and senators asking them to support a moratorium on roundups pending a Congressional decision on a sustainable management plan.

Sign the American Wild horse preservation Campaign’s petition on Care2.

Urge President Barack Obama and BLM Director Bob Abbey to stop rounding up our wild horses and burros:

BLM Director Bob Abbey: 

Phone: 202-208-3801 or 866-468-7826
Fax: 202-208-5242

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden: 

Phone: 202-456-1111 or 202-456-9000 Fax: 202-456-2461

creative commons


Pattie Segura
Pattie Segura7 years ago

i can't take this, my gut hurts. signed though

Andrea H.
Andrea H8 years ago


Meghan C.
Meghan C8 years ago

Petition signed!

Rachel C.
Rachel C8 years ago

Horses are and have been vital to American settlement and living. To take away the very few that still have the ability to be FREE is a disgrace. Please help these horses to let them live free and serve as a symbol of their ancestors that honored the human race with their loyalty...

Lilith Graves
Lilith Graves8 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Frank Mancuso
Frank M8 years ago

If the first Americans didn't hunt the horses they might have sailed on ships discoverd and conqured Europe. Shall we Americans repeat the mistake?

Teresa Mac Tavish


Sally M.
Sally M8 years ago

more..................Generally speaking antelope and horses do not eat the same food. Antelope prefer forbs which comprise 65% of their diet, and horses eat wild grass. No competition there.
The main predators for antelope, besides humans, are wolves, coyotes, bobcat, and cougars.....there is a balance noted here for the predators, whom we all love too, to have a chance of survival.
But antelope are most at threat from fences. They cannot jump the sheep or cattle fences, nor migrate because of them.... and highways, dams, and other human devices. Antelope go under fences and some ranchers are taking the barbs off the lower strand to allow the antelope to go thru.

And on these ranches and lands should be our magnificent wild horses.............they all live together peacefully and benefit each others survival. Just get rid of the 5 million cattle and sheep and cattle fences.....................THEY ARE THE NON NATIVE SPECIES!

Sally M.
Sally M8 years ago

Actually one of the first, if not the very first, bills President Obama signed into law was for protection of wolves. Somehow this protection has been overruled...(Defenders of Wildlife knows what has happened) and salazar is doing nothing to stave off the killings...I am violently opposed to killing wolves, in fact this is my main wildlife concern. But wolves and horses go together.
Do you know that more than half of the wolves in the US starve to death? Less than half the wolf pups born will live, and that is generally because of no food. Horses do not take the food from the fact they coexist very nicely.

And as for pronghorn, or antelope as we call them in the west, they are not endangered...only two subspecies, found in Mexico and along the US border, are endangered...and more so if the dumb wall between our countries continues because they will not be able to roam and migrate to seasonal grazing lands.

By the end of 2002 over 5 million antelope were hunted
because Fish and Game considered their numbers high and it provided hunters with another animal to kill. Antelope in the 18 states in which herds are found, live on good land but do compete for grazing land in the bad years with the stupid cattle. Here we are with the real problem being cattle, not horses!

Lauren Hale
Lauren Hale8 years ago

Thanks for the article