Grace Kuhn: We need the tonic of wildness in our lives

By Grace Kuhn, Special to The Salt Lake Tribune

December 17, 2021

“We need the tonic of wildness.”

Fifty years ago this week, President Richard M. Nixon invoked these famous words of Henry David Thoreau when signing the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Noting that he took “special pleasure” in “signing strong legislation to protect these noble animals,” the president highlighted that wild horses and burros deserve protection as “an ecological right — as anyone knows who has ever stood awed at the indomitable spirit and sheer energy of a mustang running free.”

Nixon observed that “demands of the market for [horses’] processed products, competition for forage used by domestic livestock” and other commercial forces had pushed wild horses and burros to the brink of extinction.

Velma Johnston, aka Wild Horse Annie, is largely credited with generating the grassroots advocacy that secured the act’s passage. At the time, she called out the “powerful forces” aligned against wild horses and burros, including the “domestic livestock industry ... and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management — custodian of the public lands — which looked upon the commercial harvesting of the animals as an expedient means of range clearance to make more forage potential available to the vested interest groups.”

Five decades later, these vested interests remain aligned against the mustangs. They have turned the law intended to protect these iconic animals on its head, and are the driving force behind the massive roundup and removal of wild horses and burros from our Western public lands.

The result is a corrupt and devastating federal program that by next year, will confine more wild horses and burros in holding facilities than remain free in the wild.

If this trajectory continues, few, if any, truly wild, free-roaming horses will exist in the coming decades. Half of all lands designated as wild horse and burro habitat have been eliminated over the past five decades, and administration after administration has allowed the systematic removal and elimination of wild horses and burros from our public lands in the West.

In signing the act, Nixon recognized the “outpouring of concern for the preservation of wild horses and burros on our Western ranges.” He saluted the “determined young defenders of the wild horse who have helped give impetus to this effort.”

Today, we must again reignite that outpouring of public concern as the only way to counter the forces that continue to threaten the very existence of wild horses and burros in Utah and other Western states.

With nearly 60,000 wild horses and burros stockpiled in holding facilities and a government cash incentive adoption program that’s sending truckloads of these innocent animals into the slaughter pipeline, the stakes could not be higher.

We call on newly appointed U.S. Bureau of Land Management Tracy Stone-Manning to address this failure to live up to the act’s promise and to bring about more humane treatment of these iconic animals.

Take the first step in fighting back by visiting and adding your name to the growing grassroots movement to Keep Wild Horses Wild.

When people speak, change can happen.

Originally posted by The Salt Lake Tribune