Advocates want Endangered Status for Wild Horses

Advocates want Endangered Status for Wild Horses

A group of advocates wants wild horses designated as endangered on grounds that the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 has failed to protect the animals.

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A group of advocates wants wild horses designated as endangered on grounds that the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 has failed to protect the animals.

On June 10 Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Cloud Foundation petitioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list North American wild horses residing on public lands as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); the act provides for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals as well as the habitats in which they are found. The act also requires federal agencies to consult with the ESA's lead agencies (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to ensure their actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or its habitat.

In their petition, the advocates claim that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—charged by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act with managing the animals—gathers the horses from public lands to protect the rangelands' environmental integrity, but that those public lands are subject to damage from livestock grazing. The petition also claims that BLM practices have resulted in a loss of ranges available to wild horses, as well as a loss of herds in Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

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

Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, declined comment on the petition, saying, "this is a matter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider."

Meanwhile, Jay Kirkpatrick, PhD, of the Montana-based Science and Conservation Center, said there are certain problems connected to including wild horses on the endangered animal list. The large number of BLM horses precludes the animals' representation on the list, he said, adding that wild horses are not eligible for protection under the ESA because they are not considered a species native to the United States.

"None of the government agencies involved recognize wild horse as a native species," Kirkpatrick said. "They classify it as non-native, exotic species, thus precluding it from even being considered.”

Ultimately Kirkpatrick believes that trading one federal agency for another will not change the horses' situation.

"Even if someone designated them endangered, it does not change one thing with regard to managing them," he said. "(The wild horses) are not free-ranging, but fenced, like many dogs in a big kennel or many bison in a big fenced park. So the issue of (wild horses) being classified as endangered is a moot point."

Gavin G. Shire, acting deputy chief of the public affairs office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency has received the petition and will be reviewing it.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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