by George Knapp
Forty years ago this week, the American people spoke with one voice on an issue that clearly touched the heart of the nation. The Wild Horse and Burro Act was signed into law, over the objections of the powerful cattle industry. Congress was flooded with more letters and telegrams about wild mustangs than for any other issue save the Vietnam War. They insisted that wild horses must be preserved on public lands. That demand became law.
But it is doubtful horse lovers are popping champagne corks to celebrate. The law, or what’s left of it, is a hollow farce, a piss-poor replica of what we thought we were getting, about as authentic as a gift-shop Jackalope.
The timing of the anniversary oozes irony. Forty years later, teams of mercenary horse hunters prowl Nevada’s public lands. They are paid a bounty, about $350 per captured animal. The two principal contractors that do this work have raked in tens of millions from their friends in the Bureau of Land Management. And I do mean friends. Some of those awarded fat contracts formerly worked for the Department of the Interior.
Right now, in an area of Northern Nevada known as the Calico complex, wild horses are running in terror across some of the roughest terrain in the West. Calico was the site of the bloodiest mustang roundup in history. Two years ago, I was there for part of it. BLM ignored all warnings about conducting a huge roundup in the middle of winter. The contractors used helicopters to frighten the mustangs, running them for miles across snow-covered ground, their hooves smashing onto sharp volcanic rocks. Dozens died on the spot. Some pregnant mares aborted their young. Others died in holding pens. A few literally ran their feet off — their hooves were worn to bloody stumps, so they collapsed and died.