Wyoming’s War on Wild Horses

 Photo by Meg Frederick.


Representatives Winter, Banks, Davis, Neiman and Sommers and Senators Driskill and Lauresen of the State of Wyoming recently introduced a resolution into the Wyoming State Legislature to “allow federal land management agencies and agency partners to implement best management practices for wild horses and burros by allowing for equine slaughter and processing for shipment…” This, of course, is outside of the special stipulations placed upon the 1971 Wild and Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act. The Act does state that “additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist [can] be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible,” but over and over and over again, the American people and Congress have said “no” to that. In fact, in 1981 and 1982, the BLM did euthanize 47 “excess animals.” The public outcry was tremendous, and it lead then-BLM Director Robert Burford to ban the destruction of healthy wild horses or burros for the purposes of management.

This introduced resolution is a warning shot across all our bows. Resolutions are sometimes utilized as political fodder to show that there are discussions in the wind about an issue. Resolutions can add emphasis to a subject important to a State, assembly member, or organization. They can also be a check point to see if an idea catches hold. In other words, resolutions are useful for testing the waters, but they don’t mean that something necessarily is going to change or that anything will be acted upon.

This is an opportunity, even though it feels very unusual and counterintuitive, to educate.

Of course, Return to Freedom is strongly opposed to the idea that “excess” horses gathered from the ranges be killed and /or used for food or products. In general, this is not a popular idea with most Americans. But unfortunately, it is not an unsavory idea to some people, or to some associations and organizations. Even when we adamantly disagree we have to recognize the fact that other organizations and individuals think differently than we do.

Opportunity exists here because we have done legwork. It is always rewarding to work alongside those who share our same values and humane vision for wild horses and other wildlife. Being able to engage in discussions with diverse groups and varied stakeholders can be equally rewarding and is vitally important. Groups like The Path Forward and the Free-roaming Equid Ecosystem Sustainability (FREES) Network work together to find entry points for common ground to mitigate adverse outcomes. This allows us to reach out strategically to organizations who have committed, to each other, to work together where that common ground exists. We want to participate in discussions with other coalition-like groups who are beginning to coalesce around the idea that not one organization or person’s ideal is going to happen, no matter how good we think an idea or ideal is: the idea may be impossible; it has to be implementable; there has to be an appropriate budget and staffing; there has to be the logistical needs set up to accomplish the task; and there has to be support. Bipartisan, diverse coalitions with unified messages need to maneuver through these societal, political or management morasses.

The legislators for the Wyoming state assembly may not be aware of things that the members of The Path Forward, for example: bipartisan, divergent stakeholders that have agreed to put a line in the sand where lethal methods of managing are concerned, and have agreed to search for non-lethal solutions. This has been powerful in engaging Congress in the issue. This is an opportunity to reach out to a state that operates very differently from our own, and it is an opportunity to allow us time and circumstance to educate these state assembly members about a different way of utilizing really good science, really good modeling, and a really good understanding of the actual limitations that exist around the wild horse and burro program’s ability to immediately achieve sustainability overnight. We are going to take this as an opportunity to help educate, and guide adversaries into a new way of thinking about an issue that has divided stakeholders and politicians alike. We can do this because of the very difficult and perhaps often misunderstood work that we have done in diving straight into completely uncomfortable and messy coalitions. Knowing how important it is, we know that we have to try because the stakes are so high. In instances like these that feel so daunting, we can utilize our solid network of people and organizations with very diverse agendas. We do this so that we can achieve a broad collective for impactful change.

We’re looking this hard in the eye as an opportunity and we’re going to take it because we’ve laid the groundwork to be involved beyond our outrage. To be involved with essential face-to-face meetings that don’t devolve into yelling and screaming, but evolve into true partnerships, focused on humane, on-the-range management that upholds the spirit and intent of the law to protect and preserve our mustangs and burros.