By Bera Dunau, Daily Hampshire Gazette
November 3, 2021
WORTHINGTON — Huck and Puck, two wild burros captured in Nevada by the Bureau of Land Management in 2019, have been given new homes in Worthington, saving them from possible slaughter through the efforts of the American Wild Horse Campaign. However, the group is still fighting for the policies that put the burros at risk of death to be changed.
“These animals really should be on their federally designated habitat,” said Mary Koncel, an employee of the campaign. “They have good homes there if they were managed properly.”
Calm and peaceful, Huck and Puck, a pair of gelded males, are not shy around people and allow themselves to be petted in the forever home that Koncel and her husband, Dick Wagner stepped up to provide them at their residence in Worthington. How these two animals, who once ran freely in the American West, came to find a home in a western Massachusetts hilltown is a direct result of federal government policies that the American Wild Horse Campaign says are misguided and charting a disastrous course.
Wild horses and burros, free-roaming wild donkeys in the western United States, were granted federal protection under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Their management is mostly the responsibility of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which has been pursuing a policy of rounding up thousands of these animals every year in an attempt to keep population numbers down. The American Wild Horse Campaign, however, says this is the wrong approach to be taking.
“We believe that the bureau of land management should be slowing down their roundups,” said Grace Kuhn, communications director for the American Wild Horse Campaign.
Kuhn said that the limits that the bureau places on wild horses and burros on federal land are not based in science. She also said that the roundups cause increased levels of reproduction amongst the herds, through the phenomena of compensatory reproduction.
“You should use science as your guide,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn said that the campaign advocates for a big increase in fertility controls for wild horses and burros through darting, as well as the protection and reintroduction of predators, and the reduction or elimination of the grazing of livestock on wild horse and burro lands. Kuhn said that wild horses and burros are only present on 12% of public lands, that less than 2% of the nation’s beef supply is produced on public lands and that the vast majority of public land ranchers are corporations.
Kuhn also said that some horses and burros can be relocated to areas of federal land that are currently underpopulated.
The roundups have created a situation where tens of thousands of wild horses and burros are in captivity. In order to deal with this, the Bureau of Land Management started its Adoption Incentive Program, where those adopting a wild horse or burro receive $500 upon adoption and another $500 after 12 months. However, the American Wild Horse Campaign and the reporting of the New York Times have demonstrated that a number of those who adopt under the program proceed to sell the horses and burros to auctions where people buy burros and horses for slaughter.
Huck and Puck were bought at one such auction, rescued by Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary, which the American Wild Horse Campaign, works with. The Oklahoma auction is frequented by buyers who purchase horses and burros to sell for slaughter outside the country. These auctions are referred to by the American Wild Horse Campaign as kill pens, and Kuhn said that they contain a pipeline to slaughter for these animals.
“This is a federal program that’s using taxpayers’ money to essentially allow pretty unscrupulous folks to make money,” Koncel said.
Koncel grew up in Chicago, where she first began riding horses. She’s been working for the American Wild Horse Campaign since 2017, having gotten a master’s degree from Tufts University with a final project on wild horse adoption in New England.
Kuhn said that the campaign has rescued 123 confirmed Adoption Incentive Program horses and burros from kill pens. She also said that the cash incentive is a terrible idea and should be stopped.
“Adoption is not the problem,” she said.
Huck and Puck have only been in Worthington for two weeks, and Koncel said that she and her husband are excited to learn more about burros, which they’ve wanted for a while.
“We’re prepared for the challenge,” she said. “They’re a little bit easier than I thought.”
Koncel has had a formerly wild mustang named Rain for 10 years, and she and her husband decided to get the burros because their other horse died last year.
“We decided we wanted to adopt burros to keep Rain company,” Koncel said.