In the vast, rugged landscapes of Nevada, a heated battle is being fought to protect the iconic symbols of the American West – the wild mustangs. Over the past ten days, nearly a dozen of these majestic creatures have lost their lives in a large Mustang roundup. The deaths have sparked outrage, prompting calls to outlaw the use of helicopters to capture these animals on federal land.
The images of the fallen horses, including five young foals and four horses with broken necks, have shaken the nation. One particularly heart-wrenching incident involved a lead Palomino stallion known affectionately as “Mr. Sunshine.” A witness caught on video the horrifying scene of the horse breaking its leg while trying to escape the temporary trap coral, only to be pursued relentlessly for over half an hour before being euthanized. Such cruelty has ignited a fierce debate about the ethics of roundups.
Laura Leigh, the founder of Nevada-based nonprofit organization Wild Horse Education, expressed her anguish at witnessing the suffering inflicted on these animals. She has been fighting against roundups in court for over a decade and passionately advocates for putting an end to these practices altogether. Leigh’s sentiments are echoed by Nevada Democratic Representative Dina Titus, who is pushing for House legislation to ban the use of helicopters in capturing wild horses.
The Bureau of Land Management has been the subject of criticism and lawsuits in the past due to similar incidents during roundups. After facing legal challenges, the bureau adopted a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program in 2015, which aimed to prohibit helicopters from making contact with the mustangs. Despite these efforts, the agency still resists calls to completely halt the use of helicopters, citing their necessity in accessing remote herds.
BLM maintains that the roundups are essential to control the overpopulation of wild horses in Nevada, particularly in areas like the Antelope Valley, Goshute, and Spruce-Pequop. The agency argues that these overpopulated herds are causing significant ecological damage to the range, impacting other wildlife species such as sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and elk.
Critics, however, question the true motives behind the roundups, suggesting that they are a means to appease ranchers who view wild horses as competition for limited forage in the arid, high-desert environment. With scarce annual precipitation, the region’s resources are indeed precious and subject to intense competition.
The American Wild Horse Campaign has been actively advocating for the protection of wild horses and is now using graphic photos and videos to expose what they consider the BLM’s inhumane approach to wild horse management. Grace Kuhn, a spokesperson for the group, emphasized that the treatment of these magnificent creatures falls well below the standard expected for such iconic animals.
Despite the grim circumstances, stories of resilience and defiance have also emerged during the roundup. One wild mare stood as a symbol of determination, evading capture twice and leading helicopters on a thrilling chase before finally being caught. Her spirit has inspired onlookers and serves as a reminder that the fight for the preservation of these magnificent creatures and their natural habitats must continue.
In response to the outcry, the BLM has defended its record, stating that injuries resulting in death from gathering activities are minimal, accounting for less than one-half of one percent. The agency maintains that helicopters provide a safe and efficient means of managing large herds across the vast landscapes of Nevada.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 22 July 2023.
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