By George Knapp, Las Vegas City Life
Maybe you are one of those hard-bark, Western cowpoke types who doesn’t exactly get misty-eyed by the vision of a herd of wild mustangs majestically galloping across the sage-dotted open ranges of Nevada. You think of the mustangs as pests or varmints, an invasive species that needs to be eliminated from public lands so there will be more than enough water and forage for the rightful end-users of the public range — cows.
You remember as a kid when you read all those history books about the vast herds of wild cows that roamed North America in prehistoric times? No? Well, maybe you learned from Western movies about how cows are native to these parts, you know, and about how saber-toothed cows terrorized early settlers and thus had to be domesticated. Clearly, in the eyes of some, millions of cows on the public ranges are not a problem and are not an invasive species, but a few thousand wild horses — which are native to this continent — are destructive, invasive pests that need to go.
No matter what your point of view might be, you have a chance this week to let the government know what you think about its wild horse program. Public meetings are being held to gauge public opinion about horse roundups that almost certainly are planned for a few places in the nearby Spring Mountains, including the idyllic mountain community of Cold Creek, home to a small, beloved herd of mustangs.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Just because these are public meetings at which the public will be asked for its opinion, you should not assume you will be allowed to actually say anything to the government PR folks who run the get-togethers. They have no intention of standing there and allowing the public to tee off. Typically, the feds and their PR handlers will not allow anyone to stand up and speak. Rather, members of the public are allowed to submit written comments that are carefully and meticulously gathered up, and then — presumably — are promptly shredded for use in recycled toilet paper. They surely play zero role in government decision-making.
Even if you somehow pull off a miracle and manage to tell the BLM that you hate the idea of yet another horse roundup, as hundreds of Nevadans have done over the past several years, it will make not one bit of difference. The decision on when and where and how many horses to capture has already been made, and no amount of opposition to the roundups will matter one tiny bit to BLM or the Forest Service. Their disdain for the public, and especially for wild horse advocates, is palpable.
The other day at a BLM corral near Reno, three BLM wranglers put on a little show of defiance and contempt when they tried to capture a single painted mustang from one of the holding pens. Instead of saddling up their horses to enter the pens where the skittish, recently captured mustangs were baking in the hot sun, these three burly yokels crammed themselves into the front seat of a flatbed truck and then tore into the corral like they were imitating Bo Duke trying to get away from Boss Hogg. Video recorded by a horse advocate shows the rootin’-tootin’ cowpokes repeatedly fishtailing their truck and spinning around to take another run at the paint, while scattering every other horse in the pen. They even made a point of coming over to the women with the camera to taunt her, knowing that the video would make not a whit of difference to their bosses, even if it went viral.
The BLM’s virtually unstoppable plan to round up the few wild horses that remain in Southern Nevada comes less than two weeks after the wild horse program was described as abysmal failure in a study conducted for the National Academy of Sciences. The blistering report ripped the BLM a new one, and, in particular, declared the continued program of roundups and long-term storage as counterproductive — for the horses, the range and especially the taxpayers. One likely effect of the constant roundups is that the horses go into survival mode, meaning, they reproduce far in excess of what they might naturally do.
So how did BLM react to such a thorough and embarrassing rebuke of its ongoing policies? A spokesman thanked the NAS for its report, saying the bureau “welcomed it.” (Translation: Go fuck yourself.) And, said an official, the BLM will take the recommendations under advisement. (Translation: You can stick this report far up your scientific ass.) One needs look no further than the plans being evaluated at this week’s meetings — plans that call for more roundups of more horses — to understand what the BLM thinks of the NAS scientists and the taxpayers.
BLM will never stop the roundups on its own. Never. The only time it has been thwarted is when citizens have gone to federal court to fight it, and those victories are few and far between. Despite overwhelming public support for the mustang herds, the horses have fared no better in Congress in recent years. Horse advocates don’t quite match the political muscle of the cattle industry. Now, more than ever, money talks.
Like I mentioned, maybe you’re one of those who don’t care about the mustangs, or even one of those who despise them. Nonetheless, you still have a stake in this failed program. The costs have jumped from $20 million a year in 2000 to more than $75 million this year. The main reason is that BLM likes to round up mustangs (based on nonscientific projections about as reliable as a Mystic 8 ball) and then ship them off to private pens owned by friends of BLM managers or former BLM employees, where they languish, out of sight, for the rest of their lives. In light of the fact that there are now more mustangs in captivity than remain on the range, it’s no wonder the program is getting so expensive.
There are better ways to do this. The constant pattern of roundups and warehousing simply doesn’t work. The NAS study made some suggestions for improvement, but unless BLM is lassoed, hog-tied and forced to change, there is no chance in hell the prevailing anti-mustang sentiment in the bureau will ever do things differently.