2011 Holiday Newsletter

/ Herd Challis

Read some of the feature stories from our newsletter below…

Download our 2011 Holiday Newsletter. In it you’ll find:

  • The Challis Herd Roundup and Rescue
  • 2011 pictorial Year in Review
  • First annual Harvest Hoedown with the Herds
  • Legislative Update
  • Great holiday gift ideas

Through cold steel bars a mare says goodbye to her stallion … forever.

Up until the summer of 2009, nearly four hundred beautiful wild horses ranged free in the remote and austere mountains near Challis, Idaho. For generations the Challis herd roamed that land … stallions courting mares and forming family bands, young foals growing up in the safety and guidance of their herd, surviving decade after decade under the endless skies and within the shelter of the mountains. Photographer, Elissa Kline, had been documenting the Challis herd in the wild since 2004. Her photography documented the lives and relationships of these resilient horses year after year. “I probably photographed 150 horses over the course of five years,” she said. “They were thriving. Their hooves were strong. They were beautiful beyond words. I’d see the same families season after season, year after year, and they were still together.”

But their blissful reality would not last much longer. The 163,720 acres of public lands that these horses called home, were the target of a wild horse roundup by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

In July, 2009, a helicopter would appear on the horizon, move towards the herd and shatter their world forever. Chased for miles over rugged terrain by the relentless object in the sky, the herd reached the trap site in terror and said goodbye to their home, family bands and freedom, forever.

Kline, who had visited, photographed and come to love these horses was there to witness the unfair assault on these wild animals. “My friends and I hiked to a ridge near the ‘operation.’ In sweltering heat, we watched the helicopter chase herds of horses, family bands as small as 4 and as large as 30, from beyond the horizon, up and down mountains at full speed. Horses slick with sweat, some foals less than a month old struggling to keep up, separated from their mothers…”

More than half of the 400 horses on that range were removed and shipped to destinations unknown. Years and generations of deeply formed family bonds were destroyed. The photo on our cover catches the heart wrenching moment when a mare and her stallion, two horses that had shared their lives and raised young together, are abruptly ripped apart forever…

Elissa Kline’s work and passion for these beautiful, gentle creatures ultimately inspired their rescue effort. Though they could not save them all, three determined women secured a privately owned six acre pasture nearby and gave twenty wild mares and one stallion (who was gelded by the time they were able to get him) a chance to avoid the fate that awaited the rest of their herd. And that fate is a mystery. Some of the young ones were probably trucked from auction pen to auction pen, part of our Government’s wild horse adoption program. While the older ones would go to long term holding facilities where they would live out their days if not sold to the highest bidder. Whatever their fate, life as they had known it was gone forever and the best they could now hope for was the good will of men.

But for 21 horses from the Challis herd there remained a thread of hope. They spent the next two years on this six acre pasture, their rescuers working continuously to raise money for their feed and the small plot of land they now called home. Many of the mares were pregnant and consequently the herd increased by nine; five fillies and four colts were born in the spring of 2010. With hay costs rising, and horses that ached for freedom on the vast range that was once their home, the women reached out to Return to Freedom for support. Touched by their story and inspired by the heartfelt compassion of 3 women, Return to Freedom helped raise money for hay and lease costs. In 2011, we agreed to take this herd and offer them a home on the large scale conservancy we are creating in the Western United States. In the spring of 2012, the Challis herd will join our Calico and Silver King herds at the conservancy. There, they will rebuild their lives and their herds and live as nature intended them to.

Though we cannot give back everything they lost, we are trying to put some of the pieces back together. This past summer, two of the Idaho mares were joyfully re-united with their stallion, now gelded. Return to Freedom won’t rest until we find the stallion in the photo and return him to his grieving mare. We don’t know where he is or how we’ll get him back but if it can be done, we will make our best effort to make it happen. We hope that one day we will see an end to these cruel and unnecessary roundups, that we will find a way to live in balance with the natural world around us and that wildlife communities will no longer be made to suffer as humankind runs roughshod over all that is unspoiled and untouched. Until then, your support helps us to right some of the wrongs, to sustain hope and to inspire change.

Legislative Update

“The Government spends over 60 million dollars of American taxpayers’ hard-earned money each year to round up wild horses and remove them from public lands owned by all Americans. Sadly, it’s left to people like you who care enough to help the horses we can still help… ” —Singer/Songwriter Carole King

America’s natural resources and the vast open spaces of our public lands have long been coveted by various private interests. Such has been the case since the time humans discovered resources worth fighting over and we suspect such will always be the case. Meanwhile, the wildlife that call these open spaces home, and that rely on our natural resources to thrive, are caught in the middle. While great strides were made in 2010, 2011 has not been a good year for horses – wild or domestic in the United States. After last year and the unprecedented controversy and attention that was focused on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) wild horse and burro program, we have experienced blowback this year.

On Capitol Hill, the BLM’s wild horse budget was fully funded by Congress, giving the agency the resources necessary to roundup and remove approximately 9,000 wild horses and burros from the range in Fiscal Year 2011. At the same time, the BLM adopted out fewer than 3,000 mustangs — an all time low that has boosted the holding population of captive mustangs to an astounding 43,000. By contrast, fewer than 33,000 wild horses and 5,000 burros remain free in the wild. Worse, the BLM seeks to drive the national wild horse population down to fewer than 26,000 — a number equivalent to the population that existed in 1971 when Congress deemed the mustangs to be “fast disappearing” and in need of protection.

At the state level, we saw assaults on wild horses in Nevada, where the livestock industry is pushing legislation to deprive wild horses and burros of their right to access water in the state, and in Wyoming, where a grazing association has sued the BLM seeking removal of nearly half the state’s remaining mustangs from public and private lands in the southern portion of the state.

Meanwhile, the threat of slaughter — always hanging over the heads of horses, both wild and domestic — looms larger, thanks to the removal of anti-slaughter protection language from the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. It’s always darkest before the dawn and we are seeing small bits of daylight breaking through an otherwise bleak landscape:

The National Academy of Sciences has begun a review of the BLM’s wild horse and burro program. The goal of the review is to bring badly-needed science to the BLM’s management approach. RTF is concerned, however, about potential bias on the part of some of the appointed review committee members, and we spoke to these concerns during public testimony at the committee’s first meeting in Reno, Nevada, in November.

The BLM has promised to reduce the numbers of wild horses removed from the range in 2012 while increasing application of non-hormonal birth control (PZP) to wild mares. Return to Freedom’s advocacy arm, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), has, through litigation, so far stopped the BLM from implementing a devastating strategy to castrate wild stallions and convert viable, free-roaming wild horse populations into non-reproducing or minimally reproducing herds. AWHPC has also been granted the right to intervene in the grazing association litigation in Wyoming, a development that will hopefully prevent the federal government from settling this case by agreeing to remove most or all of the wild horses from a 2 million acre swath of land in the state.

Tens of thousands of American citizens have written to Congress and submitted comments on official BLM policies and plans, speaking up in defense of the mustangs and against the destructive federal policy that drives them off our public lands to make room for commercial livestock grazing.

Prominent media – from CNN and the BBC World Service to The Economist and The Atlantic Monthly have brought the plight of America’s mustangs to the attention of international audiences.

Despite small steps toward progress, we are still facing a deeply intransigent agency that resists change and remains hostile to the very animals it is mandated to protect. We are reminded of the challenges before us as the BLM launches the second massive roundup in two years in Nevada’s Calico Complex while we continue to care for the victims of the first Calico roundup the over 100 Calico mustangs we have rescued and intend to reunite with their families at a national wild horse preserve.

At RTF we believe that America’s free-ranging wild horses are a vital and irreplaceable part of our western heritage. In 2004 we launched the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign to mobilize a network of citizens willing to speak up and take action for the mustangs. Today that campaign represents a coalition of 40 diverse organizations and more than 9 million Americans. We’re also working hard to create a large scale wild horse conservancy in the western United States by spring 2012. We don’t intend to walk away from this fight until America’s wild horses, and their habitat, are no longer under siege.

Download the full 2011 Holiday Newsletter