Friday, May 29, 2009

A Cowboy Nation Destroys The Horse It Rode In On

Deanne Stillman has written many articles about our local Coyote Canyon Horses as well as this excerpt from her acclaimed book.

A Cowboy Nation Destroys the Horse It Rode in On Posted by Deanne Stillman, May 26th, 2009

In the annals of the modern West, 1998 was an especially violent year. In May, Kip Kinkel whacked his parents, then shot up his Oregon high school, killing two students and wounding 25, kicking off a wave of school shootings that has yet to subside. In October, Matthew Shepard was found stabbed to death and tied to a fence in Wyoming, like an unwanted coyote. By the end of the year, the situation had reached a bizarre crescendo: in the mountains outside Reno, just beyond the old mining town of Virginia City, 34 wild horses were gunned down at Christmas time. I learned of the incident in a series of newspaper articles published as the crime scene unfolded. Each day, they became more horrifying. At first, there were six dead horses found in the Virginia Range. A couple of days later, there were 12. By the end of the year, as people gathered at Times Square to ring in the New Year, 34 horse carcasses had been found in the mountains, and the crime scene stretched for five miles.

That incident propelled me into writing Mustang, and during the 10 years that I worked on it, I learned that a bizarre war is underfoot across the American West. It is a variation of the old range wars of the 19th century, and it is waged by stockmen and sagebrush rebels with copies of the Second Amendment tucked into their back pockets, and it is backed by Republicans and Democrats and a federal agency that circumvents the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, along with small-town officials who march to the great American battle cry "Don't tread on me." Their target is the wild horse, and it has been going on for decades.

In 1973, in Howe, Idaho, ranchers on snow mobiles and saddle horses chased a herd of 32 mustangs for 45 days, driving them into a narrow canyon and trapping them on a shelf. Some jumped off the cliff to their deaths. Others panicked and jammed their hoofs into rocks. To make them more manageable, ranchers sewed hog rings into their noses. The fright escalated, and some horses broke their legs as they scrambled on the rocks. "We didn't know what to do," one rancher said. "We disposed of them by cutting their legs off. I mean it was gruesome. We sawed that one sorrel mare's legs with a chain saw." When it was over, the six surviving horses were shipped to a packing house in Nebraska. A few days later, the dead and mutilated horses were found at the foot of the cliff.

In 1989, over a period of months in Nevada, at least 500 mustangs were mowed down by rifle fire. When coyotes came to feed, they, too, were killed. In 1992, 54 burros — protected under the same law as wild horses — were gunned down on Good Friday outside Oatman, Arizona. In 1999, four wild horses and two burros in the Spring Mountains in Nevada were shot and killed. (In the same year and the same state, this time in Fallon, a grazing and military town, eight cows were raked with automatic weapons, one while giving birth, by two Navy airmen.) In 2000, 37 wild horses were shot to death in the Rock Springs area of Wyoming — one of the largest federally sanctioned livestock grazing regions in the country. In 2001, seven wild horses were shot to death in eastern Nevada, and six more later that year. In 2002, nine wild horses were gunned down by two ranchers in Utah. In 2003, possibly as many as 500 Nevada mustangs — known for the record as the Fish Creek horses — died after being rounded up in an ongoing territorial dispute between a pair of Shoshone Indians and the feds. They had been adopted by a rancher in California, but left without food in government corrals as they awaited relocation, and then dumped in the wilderness after they starved to death. In 2006, a mare and stallion were shot to death in Gerlach, Nevada. The mare had aborted her foal during the incident and it too perished. In fall of that year, seven horses were shot and killed near Pinedale, Arizona. The Bureau of Land Management offered rewards, but no one has come forward, and more recently the agency has done so again, in the case of 13 burros gunned down outside Phoenix this year as the Easter season unfolded.

In the beginning of my research, I didn't know what to make of these horse and burro killings, other than the fact that they were a scourge on a nation that reveres freedom and names its greatest road-trip car, the Mustang, after the one animal that most represents the open road. I had known for a long time that people go out into the wilderness to whack wild animals, and also that the government has its own brutal policies to take out animals it views as unnecessary — often at the behest of the cattle industry. As I began to investigate how we had gotten to this place, I saw a disturbing pattern emerge: horse murders on a large scale began in the 19th century during the war to wipe out Native Americans.

As settlers advanced into the frontier and wars broke out on the Great Plains, the cavalry was stymied by the formidable horsemanship of the tribes. It became clear to the U.S. government that the only way to vanquish them was to strip them of their ponies. And so began the brutal campaign that prefigured the government's war against the wild horse today. In 1858, Colonel George Wright ordered the massacre of 800 horses that belonged to the Palouse tribe, east of what later became Spokane, Washington. The site is now known as Horse Slaughter Camp, and it has a stone marker. On Thanksgiving night in 1868, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked Black Kettle and his tribe along the Washita River in Oklahoma, killing the chief and many of his people, and then their 800 ponies. The Cheyenne woman Moving Behind, who was 14 at the time, would later remember that the wounded ponies passed near her hiding place, moaning loudly, just like human beings. There would be other horse massacres, including the mowing down of 1,500 Comanche steeds in 1874, carried out by an army colonel known to the Indians as Bad Hand. Like others who have trafficked in violence against horses, he later went mad.

By the end of the 19th century, Native Americans had been dismounted and conquered. At the time, there remained vast rivers of horse running across the West, descendants of the four-leggeds that had returned to this continent with the conquistadors after disappearing during the Ice Age. With the Indians and buffalo and wolves purged from the range, and the car and train upon us, the horse was no longer needed and it was time for it to go. Thus began a sad era in American history, known in some circles as the great removal. Hundreds of thousands of mustangs were taken from the range in brutal round-ups. Many were sent back to Europe in tin cans and others were shipped to foreign wars, where they perished in battle or were consumed by famished soldiers. Alas, the campaign to purge wild horses from the land where it came from continues to this day.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were two million wild horses in the West. Today there are at most 20,000, their ranks depleted by repeated and voracious round-ups carried out by the agency tasked with their management, the multi-use Bureau of Land Management, which is dominated by the cattle industry and various other industries based on extracting natural resources from public lands. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act that protects mustangs is often not followed and was rolled back in recent years; a new bill, H.R. 1018, now on the House floor, seeks to expand it. But meanwhile, the wild horse remains imperiled, with the BLM now actually offering payments of $500 to anyone who wants one of the thousands of mustangs now in government housing. In this time of economic turmoil, this is a bribe that can quickly double and triple itself, as desperate and unscrupulous people take the cash and then turn around and sell the horse to "killer buyers" — who sell it again to the slaughterhouse.

Around the world, we continue to fight wars. But in the West, we are at war with ourselves. In the Virginia Range on Christmas a little over ten years ago, one of the mustangs died as she faced the setting sun — land of the Thunder Beings, according to the Lakota Indians, the place where horses come from. I like to think that as the light faded, she caught a glimpse of her ancestors and then closed her eyes and joined them.

Alas, what we have done to Native Americans we are now doing to ourselves, stripping ourselves of our great partner — the animal this country rode in on. As the horse goes, so goes a piece of America, and one of these days, bereft of heritage, we may all find ourselves moving on down the road.

÷ ÷ ÷

Deanne Stillman is the author of Twentynine Palms, which Hunter Thompson called "a strange and brilliant story by an important American writer." It was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and one of its Best Books of 2001. Her work appears in various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, and Slate. For the past twenty years she has lived in Los Angeles, close to her beloved desert, which she has explored by foot and on horseback.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wanted: BLM to act Responsibly

In a letter written to the county Supervisors Bill Horn, Dianne Jacob, Greg Cox, Pam Slater and Ron Roberts; Kathleen Hayden of Coyote Canyon Caballos d'Anza writes:

Honorable Supervisors

Excerpt from following article "The BLM is eyeing two types of pasture: one for 200 to 1,000 wild horses and one for 1,000 to 5,000 animals. Gorey said the agency would pay the landowner around $475 per horse per year."

"Wouldn't our county and others benefit from this federal income as well? Certainly there are lots of historic grazing lands in the public domain that are just waiting to burn.
BLM claims overpopulation of wild equids on rangelands without telling the whole story.... that federal herd areas have been diminished and zeroed out through fatally flawed defective land management plans that eliminate wild horses and burros from their native ranges. By operation of law, wild herds are required to have sufficient habitat where they are managed for healthy genetic viability.
To date the resulting situation is criminal. However it can be corrected and effectively managed by public participation at the local level with non profit organization partnerships with land owners. "Land owners" includes most, if not all, public agencies managing historic grazing lands and conservancies.
Restoration of our local Coyote Canyon Heritage herd is a microcosm of the bigger picture. Solutions begin locally and so does setting the example for the rest of the country to see. Please take the lead.
Yours very truly,

Kathleen Hayden

Wanted: Homes for old horses

Wildlife » The BLM is seeking bids because of overpopulation on rangeland.

By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 05/13/2009 10:41:48 AM MDT

Older mustangs, being held at the Salt Lake Wild... (Paul Fraughton / The Salt Lake Tribune)

The federal government wants to find a couple of additional retirement homes for old mustangs.
The Bureau of Land Management is seeking bids to house up to 6,000 Western wild horses unlikely to be adopted because they are too old and because the agency needs to decrease the mustang population on rangeland, said spokesman Tom Gorey.
Although the BLM has 11 pasture refuges in Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota -- along with numerous short-term holding corrals, including three in Utah -- the agency is "maxed out," he said, with 30,000 mustangs in captivity.
The BLM is eyeing two types of pasture: one for 200 to 1,000 wild horses and one for 1,000 to 5,000 animals. Gorey said the agency would pay the landowner around $475 per horse per year.
The pasture plan has emerged since the BLM last year set aside an unpopular idea to euthanize horses instead of leaving them on the range. But critics have pounced on the latest proposal, too, arguing the high fertility rate in wild herds is a direct result of the BLM's disruption of natural behavior.
"This is a travesty," said Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Lantry, S.D.
Sussman said her group has studied herd behavior and found that, when left to themselves, the horses don't multiply at the rate they do on public lands because the natural mare-to-stud ratio isn't disturbed.
Last year, it looked like the dilemma was solved when Madeleine Pickens, wife of natural-gas magnate T. Boone Pickens, said she would adopt 36,000 wild horses and put them on a million-acre sanctuary. That proposal stalled when she asked the BLM for a stipend that would go for the horse -- not the landowner, who might not use the money to care for the animal.
On Tuesday, Madeleine Pickens told The Salt Lake Tribune she wouldn't offer a bid to the BLM under its new proposal, but would continue to try to establish her own sanctuary.
"They just don't have any business sense," she said of the agency's wild-horse managers. "Any time you take an animal off its range you are responsible for it for the rest of its natural life."
Pickens said her refuge would be controlled by a nonprofit organization, and the land wouldn't pass down to her descendants. "This is a forever deal so those horses are taken care of."
Gorey said wild-horse herds double their population every four years. In 1971, the agency estimated there were 17,000 horses and 8,000 burros on the range. Now, there are more than 32,000 horses and about 3,800 burros. Gorey said the optimum free-roaming population is 26,000, given current range conditions.
Captured wild burros always are taken in by others, Gorey said, but horse adoptions are on the decline, leaving too many in what are supposed to be short-term holding pens. "Our goal, our ideal," he said, "is to put as many horses into private care as we take off the range. But we're not in that position."
Tammy Howell, a BLM wrangler at the Salt Lake Wild Horse & Burro Center in Herriman, said sorting out the pasture bids could take a year, because of environmental studies.
Right now, most of the horses in the Salt Lake Valley corrals are headed to the prison in Gunnison, where inmates gentle mustangs for private adoption.
Once the new pastures are open, Howell said, "we'd probably have some [mustangs] that would go there."
"I know there are people out there who believe we should just leave them out on the range," Howell added. "They would eat themselves out of house and home."
The wild horse and burro management budget is up $26.5 million from last year's $41 million, Gorey said, but it's still not enough.
Janet Tipton of the Intermountain Wild Horse & Burro Advisors Inc., a nonprofit volunteer organization in Tooele County that works with the BLM to gentle the animals, said keeping the wild horses on the range requires active management.
Arid conditions in the West force the horses to travel long distances for food and water. Some don't make it. "Starvation is a terrible way to die," Tipton said. "It takes forever and, to me, it's inhumane."
Moving aged horses to pastures is a good alternative, she said. "Give [them] a place where [they] know exactly where there's food and water all day. They graze in nice grass. They have shelter."

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Look for WHC

Had to change the template for the PETITION to fit properly in the margin. Please sign the petition!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Support for Mustangs

Hello Kathleen,

THANK YOU for forwarding Craig Downer's letter. His fact-based research on
the WH&B issue and the eloquence with which he writes is highly respected
and should seriously be considered in all BLM actions concerning the
management of the Wild Horse and Burro Program. Reading this letter made
my heart ache even more for our wild ones and further sparked the desire
to do more for their survival.

The following are some of the great WH&B publicity opportunities that
occurred at the Wild Burro Rescue booth at World Fest Events last

The event went extremely well in regards to publicity and education
concerning the plight of wild horses and burros. We were interviewed by
the TV program "Animal Planet" and did we ever get the word out on how the
Wild Horse and Burro Program has been mismanaged! We also plugged the
equine welfare bills before Congress so hopefully our interview will be
televised soon.

Katia Louise, the producer/host of a talk radio program for animal
protection ( interviewed us as well. Then
an independent Los Angeles TV station stopped by for another interview.

I spoke to various filmmakers wanting to document the story of the wild horses, and shared with them some of the background materials on the WH&B issues including info on your
organization, two of Cindy MacDonald's in depth reports ("The Use of
Helicopters to Remove Wild Horses and Burros from Public Lands" and "The
Jackson Mountains Wild Horses: A Case Study in the Mismanagement of the
BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program"), and author Deanne Stillman's article
"They Also Served -So Long Mojave Burros". I also included the House of
Representatives Committee on Natural Resources' July 9, 2008 letter to the
BLM calling for accountability concerning the agency's years of
mismanagement of the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

An ASPCA Animal Cruelty agent stopped by and expressed interest in getting
the ASPCA involved. What really grabbed his attention was equine
photographer Carol Walker's picture of mustangs panicking in a BLM holding
pen that I had enlarged plus a poster of 12 pages from Cindy MacDonald's
reporting "Using Helicopters to Remove Wild Horses and Burros..."

And finally we got a lot of signatures on the Petition to Congress from
the American Herds website and many visitors participated in the Postcards
to Congress Campaign.

Although World Fest Events was not the best venue for donations, it was
great for getting the word out about our wild ones. Our next events will
be the Hollywood Farmers Market where quite a few celebrities frequent and
in July, a fair in Malibu. Now these two events will be much more high
profile in regards to eduction and publicity opportunities.

Thank you again for all of your support.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Opposition to Helicopter Round-Up of Mustangs

May 19th, 2009

Bureau of Land Management

Wild Horse and Burro Program

1340 Financial Blvd.

Reno, NV 89520

Attn: Jo Lynn Worley

Re: Helicopter Hearing for 20th May, 2009

Dear Sir/Mame:

I am opposed to helicopter roundups of wild horses and burros, for these are both unnecessary and cruel. They result in many injuries and deaths. And they have already greatly disrupted the social structures of the Western herds and decimated these populations, either entirely eliminating them from their legal areas or reducing them to non-viable population levels, even according to BLM’s very questionable standards of 150 for Minimum Viable Population (MVP). According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission Equid Specialist Group (1992), 2,500 individuals are necessary for the long-term survival, or viability, of an equid population living in the wild, and 500 for a tightly managed domesticated population. It is apparent from this erudite guidance that the BLM is again setting the horses and burros up for inbreeding and die out – something that seems to have been its plan all along.

I have noted the excellent work of Cindy MacDonald on her web page: Here is revealed what has happened in many of the zeroed-out herd and herd management areas, both in Nevada as throughout the West. The horses and burros are no longer present in spite of their legal right as the principal species named for these areas under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. In their place are many livestock and/or big game animals. The Delamar HMA of Ely District, Nevada, is one herd I have visited – a beautiful place for wild horses but now only full of cattle, for zeroed out. Clover Mountain, South Pancakes, also Ely District, and in southern California Coyote Canyon for Spanish mustangs and Clark Mountain for a distinctive race of burros – also zeroed out in spite of the law and their popularity with the public. And the list goes on ad nauseam.

Why aren’t BLM and USFS employing C.F.R. 4710.5 & .6, a.k.a. Closure to Livestock, in order to maintain viable herds on what is, in fact, only a small fraction of the public lands legally designated for the wild equids? Clearly, the federal government is in the position to assure viable populations, but is refusing to do so and is, in fact, siding with the traditional enemies of the wild horses and burros in the wild. Alarmingly, 1.6 million acres of legal wild horse territory have recently been zeroed out by BLM in its Ely Nevada District alone. In Montana, 6 out of the original 7 herd areas have been zeroed out representing 83% of the legal acreage, and the one remaining herd, the authentic Spanish Pryor Mountain mustangs, has a non-viable so-called Appropriate Management Level below 150. In New Mexico 77% of the legal acreage has been zeroed out. In California, 65%! In Wyoming, 54%! In Colorado, 45%!. Refer to my Columbus Day-2008 speech “Forever Wild and Free” for fuller details (

Presently before Congress, Bill H.R. 1018 would reinstate the proscription against helicopter and other mechanized roundups as well as against sale to slaughter buyers, a.k.a. the Burn’s Amendment, both of which are being used to further decimate the herds. By breaking up the band and herd social structures, these roundups cause remaining horses to reproduce at very young ages, something that is prevented when the family units are in tact. Also these greatly traumatize the horses who are captured, causing them to experience an equid version of Post Combat Traumatic Syndrome that remains with them for the rest of their lives! – Business as usual cannot be allowed to continue for our nation’s scant remaining wild horses and burros, for the motto of such is: “the only good horse or burro is a slave or dead horse or burro”, similar to what used to be said of the Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Mountain Lion and even the naturally living Native American. Nationwide, there are now less wild horses and burros that were present on the public BLM and USFS lands at the passage of their protective act in 1971 when they were considered to be “fast disappearing from the American scene” – and this tells a lot about who their worse enemies are, i.e. those charged by law with protecting them and their right to freedom in their legally designated herd areas!

As a wildlife ecologist, I recommend that America’s Wild Horse and Burro program be revamped. Its focus must be placed on restoring truly long-term viable wild living horse and burro herds in areas of adequate size and resources to sustain such. Through the astute employment of Reserve Design, the wild herds can fill their ecological niche to become self-stabilizing populations and in the process greatly aid in preventing catastrophic fires now menacing the West. This they can do, true to their semi-nomadic life style, through the widespread consumption of dry flammable vegetation. In this alarming era of Global Warming, they are here to help if we can only recognize this and allow them to be themselves. Together with other components of the ecosystem, they will greatly aid in restoring the West: its soils, its waters, its biodiversity, its vitality and its beauty as the returned natives they, in fact, are, if we people can only learn to appreciate them in depth and just give them the chance.

In closing, as before, I offer my collaboration in this most crucial and timely challenge.


Craig C. Downer

P.O. Box 456

Minden, NV 89423


The 2003 Coyote Canyon Mustang round-up stole the last remaining wild herd from California!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sulphur Springs Mares and Foals (seven now!)

Went to Warner Springs, Anza Borrego Desert, CA today to shoot more footage of the Sulphur Springs mares and foals. There are now seven foals; a black one was born last night to a grulla mare. You can see lot's of photos of the little guy here, running along with his herd.

All these magnificent mares and foals are in the custody and care of the Coyote Canyon d'Anza, who's stated mission is to return a foundation herd back to free roaming in San Diego County.

Fallbrook Film Factory is sponsoring a documentary currently being produced by Dharlin Entertainment about this mission and the plight of the American Mustang (and the total mismanagement of the BLM!)

We were in the desert today to film more footage (oh, yeah, it was 103 degrees in the shade!)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Beauty Mountain - Great Place for Mustang Herd!

A letter and photographs sent to the San Diego County Supervisors:

Honorable Supervisors Bill Horn, Dianne Jacob, Greg Cox, Pam Slater and Ron Roberts

In regards to our previous request to support restoration of our local Coyote Canyon Heritage Herd and California Riding and Hiking Trail Camp, the attached pictures were taken of the BLM Beauty Mountain area. First picture is the California Riding and Hiking Trail. This countryside was historically open to the vast wanderings of the Coyote Canyon Herd. One can go nearly everywhere the herd went by following historic routes including the CRHT , PCT , and Anza National Trail. As you see this would be a great place for a CRHT campground/wild horse herd area and is all public accessable from both San Diego and Riverside County.

Thank you for your consideration to this urgent matter.

Kathleen Hayden

Coyote Canyon Caballos d'Anza Inc

CRHT BCHC Task Force leader