Do Wild Horses Need Endangered Species Protection?

Equine advocates are taking a new approach to get wild horses much-needed protection by petitioning the Department of the Interior to have horses who roam on federal public lands listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The petition was filed by Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Cloud Foundation over concerns that if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) doesn’t change the course its on soon, the agency will mismanage these American icons into extinction.

In 1971, Congress recognized the value of wild horses as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” who “contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” It enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which was intended to protect wild horses from “capture, branding, harassment, or death.”

Sadly, the BLM has failed, and continues to fail, to uphold its duties and continues to remove and warehouse thousands upon thousands of wild horses. According to FoA, more than 200,000 horses have been driven off of public land since the Act was passed, while thousands more still face the threat of removal.

Wild horses have already disappeared from Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and things are getting ugly in other states, including Utah and Nevada. Now there are believed to be fewer than 33,000 horses live on 26 million acres of BLM lands, while almost twice as many are in BLM holding facilities as the government continues to pointlessly spend millions of dollars every year on more gathers and holding costs.

Yet the agency still wants to reduce their numbers by another 30 percent and will continue to subject them to terrifying, incredibly inhumane and indiscriminate roundups where the young, old and pregnant are forced to run for their lives as they’re chased by helicopters.

FoA and the Cloud Foundation cite these excessive roundups and removals as a major threats to their populations, thanks mainly to private livestock grazing, in addition to habitat loss (they’ve already lost 22 million acres) and inadequate regulation.

Now concerns continue to be raised about how these threats will continue to hurt them and whether the small herds that are left in the wild will be able to survive, while further fears have been raised that the government will open the door to legally allow horses in holding to be sold for slaughter.

“The tragedy of horse roundups exists because the BLM appears devoted to turning arid western public lands into feedlots for cows and sheep to appease cattle producers,” said Priscilla Feral, president of FoA. “Friends of Animals finds this morally and ecologically reprehensible, as wild horses are driven off lands to leave the bulk of water, forage and space for two domestic animals owned by ranchers.”

Even though they’re legally protected, the BLM treats wild horses like an invasive species who have no right to the land, but scientific research based on fossil records and DNA evidence has proven that they did originate here. The belief that they’re a native species was also upheld last month by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals during a lawsuit that argued the BLM was breaking the law by rounding up too many horses.

“Misclassification of wild horses as a non-native species is politically, not scientifically driven,” said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “Wild horses are severely endangered but without recognition of current scientific evidence of their native status, they could become extinct.”

While these organizations fight for more legal protection, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is urging people to speak out for wild horses by opposing helicopter roundups in Utah and Nevada by midnight June 18. Comments can be emailed to: and

Photo credit: Thinkstock


JoAnn P
JoAnn Paris8 months ago

Petition signed.

hELEN hEARFIELD8 months ago


Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a year ago

Thanks for posting.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe4 years ago

YES - these horses SHOULD BE labeled as ENDANGERED, and protected at all costs!
I suspect the cattle men are paying off the BLM to allow so many of their cows to graze, and get rid of the horses!

Bermuda Voter
Bermuda Voter4 years ago

This is a broad problem.
The land is cleared of wild mustang horses, in part, to lease the land for petrol (oil & gas) companies to FRACK our wild American west, natural home to bison and Spanish bloodline horses interbred with the naturally selected healthiest survivors escaped from ranches, etc, AS IT SHOULD BE; horses have evolved over 1000s of years to live on sparse rugged terrain. They should be afforded sanctuary with multiple small SOLAR and WIND power generating facilities compatable with horse presence and grazing.

Bermuda Voter
Bermuda Voter4 years ago

Please sign my petition: Stop rounding up and slaughtering wild mustang horses!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

All the damage that ranchers have done and continue to do to public lands I feel is illegal due to the protection act for the horses. The BLM is and has always been in the pockets of the ranchers. Sally Jewel, huh. She made all the right promises to protect the environment and wildlife and the first thing she does when put in office is turn her back on everyone who supported her and the wildlife she was supposed to protect. She even refused to attend the VERY important and confrontational wolf hearings. She is a disappointment of the worst kind. BLMis-management, ranchers and USFWdis-Service are all one tight-knit happy family working against the wildlife and lands they are supposed to be protecting. These horses ARE protected. BLM must be held accountable for their actions against the horses.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

signed....and the ranchers are the ones pushing for cutting down wild horses and burro's.

Ranchers are the ones that not only over graze the public lands, they are the ones killing the wolf and other wild animals for the herds to eat and drink. In some places there are 30 herd animals to 1 wild horse/burro.

They do not know how to share. And we pay for it all, with the tax's.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

If putting these creatures on the endangered list is what it takes to stop the cruelty and terrible mismanagement by the BLM, then DO IT ! And it seems like the BLM has been up to no good on a lot of fronts for as long as I've been voting.It is time to investagate them for criminal activity since they seem to be just too happy to give over our public land to ranchers, loggers and minners. Stop them now and restructure that whole dept. to actually protect our public lands since that was what it was ment to do, and if it wasn't designed for that, then let's redesign it for that purpose.