Several years ago, I bought over 1,500 acres in Northern California for the purpose of saving the poor wild horses and burros who were being driven off their land for the grazing of cows & sheep. The amazing Barbara Clarke runs this beautiful sanctuary and has written an excellent piece on this issue & our government’s prejudicial treatment of them. Please read and support the Roam Act, SB 1579, which would provide these magnificent animals more protection. Thank you.
Opinion by Barbara Clarke
In a recent documentary about the problems involved with the reintroduction of the nearly extinct Mexican wolf, a rancher was quoted as saying “we don’t want them”. No science. No statistics. No reason or clear argument. Just “we don’t want them”.
That statement is the crux of the whole problem facing animals in the west today and the basis for Ken Salazar’s opinions as to how to manage the dwindling herds of wild horses. The ranching community still believes in the notion of manifest destiny: the right to claim the west for human endeavors.
And this is no small notion. For Salazar, a product of five generations of ranching, the belief that the west belongs to ranchers and by extension cattle, is deep and pervasive. For over one hundred fifty years the livestock industry, by sweat and blood, has clawed its way across the continent in search of the ever needed forage for hungry cattle and sheep. This neo-exploration was and still is backed by the government through subsidies and ridiculously low grazing fees.
And even though the prairies and rangelands had once supported millions of grazing wildlife including buffalo and mustangs, by the beginning of the twentieth century the once lush rangeland west of the Mississippi had been reduced to stubble, with native grasses obliterated and alarming damage done to waterways.
Anything and anyone that threatened this quest for manifest destiny or was seen as competitors for forage, was soon eliminated. Native Americans were pushed off of ancestral lands and whole species were slaughtered in the name of protecting livestock and grazing. Wolves, coyotes, eagles, bears, ground squirrels and wild horses all found themselves in the cross-hairs of powerful weapons with the full support of our nation’s leaders.
The American government wanted the west. The ranchers gave it to them. And in no small way this has made cattle and all the issues surrounding them, politically untouchable.
So it is no surprise that with the appointment of a fifth generation rancher to head the Department of the Interior, the president, who espouses change – but is granting a $26 million dollar increase in budget for Salazar to remove horses – has opened the door to an increase in the agonies that accompany manifest destiny. Wolves, coyotes, ground squirrels and wild horses are fighting for their very lives.
Wild horses, which have a clear fossil and DNA linage to our continent, are being pushed off of lands set aside for them by congress in unprecedented numbers in the dubious name of saving them from starvation or protecting eco-systems. Yet observers at roundups continue to see healthy horses being captured, thriving rangeland and most notably, no decrease in the number of cattle allowed to graze the same supposedly sensitive areas.
This rush to sweep the wild horses off the rangeland has the full support of Salazar. And why not? When he looks at the mustang, he sees them through a hundred and fifty year lens of ranching. Wild horses are competitors for forage, inhabit areas wanted for mining, the infamous and powerfully backed Ruby Pipeline and California Heliostat projects, and do not generate hunting fees. So Salazar wants them removed. But not only removed, he wants them transplanted back east……somewhere, on pseudo-sanctuaries, at a cost of $96 million dollars, where he believes people will actually pay to watch once wild horses eat grass all day.
His plan, therefore, to move them to areas in the east, is not surprising, nor is his revisionist view of wild horse history. It is the final chapter in the long saga of claiming the west. Soon the horses, like the buffalo and the wolf and so many other beings, will be mere shadows of the species they once were. And our president, and his appointees, can go down in history as those who stole the magnificence of the west from our children.
Barbara Clarke is director of the 2000 acre DreamCatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary in Northeastern California, home to 225 horses and burros and supporter of the ROAM Act SB 1579 which provides added protections for wild horses. (530) 260-0377
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