KETCHUM — Carrying a huge photo she took of two downcast, rope-leashed horses from the Owyhee herd, Elissa Kline of Hailey waved at drivers passing Chapter One bookstore on Main Street Wednesday afternoon, listening for occasional honks of support.
She and about 10 other people concerned about the plight of wild horses in the West bundled up against the cold to demonstrate against what they see as a cruel policy by the Bureau of Land Management to round up and transport many of those horses.
They hope to get the government to institute a moratorium on roundups or “gathers,” including one of 2,500 horses that started in the Calico Mountains Complex area of Nevada on Monday, and to investigate the policies and the practices of the BLM when it comes to wild horses.
“All of America’s wild horses are being managed to extinction,” said Golde Wallingford of Clayton, who has been an activist on this issue since she saw a stallion shot during a roundup a few years ago. “If they take the amount of horses they want to take, there will be no wild horses left.”
Wallingford said there are about 16,000 horses left in the wild in the U.S., fewer than the number the BLM claims, and that millions of dollars are unproductively spent each year to round up and hold the horses. For example, she said, it cost $403,000 to round up 366 horses in Challis this past summer, and 11 horses were killed during that action.
She said the BLM’s claims that the horses compete with cattle grazing are overblown, as are agency claims that the horses don’t have sufficient habitat. Wallingford wants the agency to affirm that the horses are a public resource that should be preserved just as the public lands are.
Not all the protesters are as frustrated with the BLM as Wallingford. Hailey activist Doro Lohmann, who started Silent Voices Equine Rescue this year, has been working with the agency to keep gathered horses in Idaho that would otherwise be transported to holding facilities in the Midwest. From the Challis herd gathered this summer, she said, 19 horses are now relatively content on six acres south of Bellevue.
“We’re trying to find a different way in to the BLM,” Lohmann said. “The more opposition there is, the more they seem to exercise their authority and their power.”
Lohmann said her group hopes to change how and when horses are managed and rounded up, potentially shifting policy for the whole agency and not just Idaho.
The ongoing roundup in Nevada is particularly dangerous for the horses, Wallingford said, because they are chased by helicopters across snowy, uneven ground for miles, overheating the animals in cold weather and causing them to sicken.
Celebrities such as Sheryl Crow are asking the government to halt roundups such as the one in Nevada, at least until more oversight can be applied.
The protesters in Ketchum were asking citizens to apply similar pressure, calling U.S. senators to ask them to bring out of committee the “Restore Our American Mustangs” Act (Senate Bill 1579), which passed the House this summer. It would ban helicopter roundups and restore millions of acres as wild horse habitat.
Ariel Hansen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-788-3475.