SONOMA, Calif. -- Almost two years after staging one of the largest wild horse rescues in history, wildlife advocate and owner of the legendary Durell Vineyard, Ellie Price, was about to witness the happy end of a very long journey. This summer, together with a group of supporters and friends, Price looked on in anticipation as 115 Mustangs, rescued in 2010 from a livestock auction in Fallon, Nevada, and housed in leased feedlots ever since, took their first tentative steps towards freedom. The horses were released into the wild at the new Montgomery Creek Ranch; a 2000-acre wildlife refuge, established by Price just outside of Willows, California. Ranch manager Mike Holmes, who has overseen the care of the horses since their rescue, will reside onsite to ensure the continued health and safety of these and future wild horses and other animals released to the refuge. Over time, Price plans to work in concert with neighbor ranchers and landowners to make Montgomery Creek an agriculturally sustainable and biologically diverse habitat for wild horses and other local wildlife.
"These wonderful horses have brought great joy to my life, and the experience of releasing them into the wild was deeply gratifying," says Price, who is working closely with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (www.wildhorsepreservation.org) to raise awareness. "I have been profoundly inspired by the animal welfare advocates who work on the frontlines to promote the use of humane and sustainable practices. I am fortunate to have the resources to save these particular horses, but there is so much more we need to do to protect wild horses and other threatened wildlife. That's why groups like Wild Horse Preservation really need our help."
The Plight of America's Wild Horses: While American Mustangs are iconic and historic symbols of our country's freedom, their current plight is both tragic and relatively unknown. Today, only about 30,000 wild horses roam freely on public land in 10 western states; protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Unfortunately, wild horses are viewed as competition for cheap, taxpayer-subsidized cattle grazing on public lands by ranchers who hold long term leases, originally granted by the federal government to encourage settlement of the west. By the numbers, domestic cattle outnumber wild horses on public land by a staggering 50:1. Despite federal law, protection of wild horses often takes a backseat to commercial use of public lands including ranching, big game hunting and energy development. As a result, the BLM has employed an inhumane and unsustainable program of rounding up and removing wild horses from public land.
The BLM's stated goal is to "adopt" out the captured horses, but the reality is that the number of horses removed from public lands annually dramatically outpaces adoption demand. As a result, 50,000 of these formerly wild horses are now stockpiled in holding facilities at great taxpayer expense. While a few are successfully adopted, many end up at auction where they are sold to kill buyers who truck them over the border to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. This would have been the fate of the horses rescued by Price, had she and others not intervened.
"While I am grateful that I was able to help these horses, rescue and re-homing is not an ideal or sustainable solution to wild horse management," states Price. "That's why I'm working with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign to encourage the BLM to use birth control vaccines to manage herd populations and keep wild horses in the wild where they belong. It's the most humane and, in the long run, cost effective way to manage wild horses on the range - so that both they and we can continue to enjoy their freedom."
Those interested in helping to protect America's wild Mustangs are encouraged to visit and support the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign at www.wildhorsepreservationcampaign.org.
About Dunstan-Durell: Durell Vineyard owner Ellie Price and partner Chris Towt produce 600 cases annually of Dunstan estate Pinot Noir ($50/bottle), Chardonnay ($40/bottle) and Pinot Noir Rose ($24/bottle) from the legendary Durell Vineyard. The wines are made by consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz from Durell blocks reserved exclusively for Dunstan Wines. In addition to being one of Sonoma's most celebrated vineyards, Durell is home to a number of wild horses rescued by Price, who is an avid horsewoman and animal welfare advocate. Price and Towt's shared passion for horses is evident from the horseshoe on the label - a rendering of one uncovered during vineyard planting - to the Dunstan name which comes from the 10th century legend of a blacksmith named Dunstan who, in return for shoeing services, struck a deal with the devil to never enter a home with a horseshoe above the door. Dunstan Wines are sold via the winery website (www.dunstanwines.com) and wine club and at select restaurants and wine shops in CA, CO, FL, NY and TX. . Vineyard tours and tastings are available by appointment only.