Saving The Onaqui Pt. 6


4 year old Onaqui bachelor stallion Eclipse preparing to weather a raging storm in the West Utah desert

42 days. 

1,008 minutes.

The ticking of clock has grown louder by the day since the March 2nd announcement of the removal of 400 of our beloved Onaqui horses by the Utah Bureau of Land Management.  Heavy hearts and clouds of hope have hung in the balance as the appointment of Secretary Deb Haaland to the Department of the Interior became a reality.

Leading wild horse advocacy groups, such as American Wild Horse Campaign, sung words of praise and offered reassurances of previous battles won because of Ms. Haaland’s help.  However despite thousands of pleas, phone calls, messages and letters sent from wild horse supporters spanning the globe, Mrs. Haaland has remained silent.  Instead of helping keep our wild horses in the wild the Biden administration took the stance last week of increasing the proposed 2022 BLM (Bureau of Land Management) overall budget by $311.9 million dollars.

The increase specifically in the Wild Horse and Burro Act is explained as follows: “The 2022 budget includes a $35.0 million increase in the Wild Horse and Burro Program to support the health and resilience of rangelands. Excess wild horse and burro populations undermine the health of public rangelands and supported species, making them less resilient to stressors from climate-driven changes. These degraded landscapes can also contribute to climate change, as they are more susceptible to wildfire occurrence, which exacerbates excess carbon. To help mitigate that problem, the request supports continued efforts to constrain the growth of animals on the range and to cover rising holding costs. BLM will also continue to emphasize non-lethal population management tools; transfers to other Federal, State, and local entities; and private placements”. (

The breakdown in millions of dollars is shown below:

2020 Actual2021 Enacted2022 RequestChange (Increase)
Land Resources
Rangeland Management105,921105,921124,79218,871
Public Domain Forest Management10,13510,13514,7294,594
Cultural Resources Management18,63119,63121,1861,555
Wild Horse and Burro Management101,555115,745152,59636,851
Subtotal Land Management236,242251,432313,30361,871

Link to view full report:

As the funds allocated to the Wild Horse and Burro program increase, the actual number of animals left on our public lands drastically decreases.  Envision a teeter totter which has become grossly imbalanced and the person at the top is unable to escape.  That is the current position our wild horses and burros now face. 

In Utah alone, according to Wild Horse and Burro manager Gus Warr, there are 5,500 animals housed at our off-range pens in Delta and they expect to add another 1,200 during the 2021 roundups.  This will bring the total to 6,700 wild animals spending the remainder of their lives in the confines of federal corrals on land leased from ranchers.  Just in Utah.  Never mind Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado and beyond.

These off-range facilities aren’t beautiful pastures filled with green grass, butterflies, and fairies as they’re depicted to be.  They’re sterile corrals where families are ripped apart and horses are housed by age and gender. Once wild horses are processed in mass, given free brands, vaccines and stallions are gelded.  Mothers are separated from their babies because unlike in the wild where they nurse to often 2 years of age, in government facilities 6 months is considered the acceptable age to wean.

The one term that is consistent among anyone who has been to one of these facilities is the term “broken.”  For those who only have been around a domestic horse and have not yet had the privilege to see how the wild ones live the stark reality likely appears far less dark.  But for those who have been blessed enough to be welcomed into the world of the wild ones the reckless disregard in which their populations is being destroyed nothing short of horrifying. 

It’s taken decades for humans to wrap their minds around the levels of complexity found in elephant herds and the intricate role that each member plays in the family.  It’s taken so long in fact that elephants are faced with a very real threat of extinction.  The bonds found in wild horse bands are no less strong and band members no less meaningful than those of wild elephants.  The difference is the majority of the population has yet to figure this out.  And considering the massive rate of removal from public lands which poses a real threat to genetic diversity, it’s reasonable to see that America’s wild horse population is at a real risk of pending extinction as well if things don’t change soon.

You know there’s something very wrong when our US government has latched on to a new plan called The Path Forward which was developed in part by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and the Utah Governor’s Office among others.  It goes without saying that the goal of this plan is mass removal of wild horses and burros from our public lands allegedly to prevent degradation of the land yet thousands of head of cattle and sheep continue to graze without interruption on allotments issued by the BLM.  

Since when do you have ranchers and politicians in charge of managing wild animals instead of scientists and biologists? And how in the world can people even read that sentence and think it makes any logical sense.

But it’s the reality we are faced with and unless there is drastic change it will continue.

“More than 1,200 Groups, Businesses, and Individuals Call on President Biden to Impose Immediate Moratorium on BLM’s Mass Roundups of Wild Horses and Burros.” This is just one recent headline garnering national attention along with the outpouring of support from actress Katherine Heigl who is a Utah resident and advocate for the Onaqui Wild Horses. Along with her mother, Nancy, a nonprofit was formed in 2008 in her brother’s memory called the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.  It is a wonderful organization dedicated to animal welfare, rescue, affordable medical care and advocates against all animal abuse.

Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy have been working tirelessly to intervene in the 2021 scheduled roundups, include those of the Onaqui horses here in Utah.  I was fortunate to be able to work with Director of Campaigns Scott Beckstead along with Katherine to see that billboards were put up along the interstate between the Salt Lake City and Park City to raise awareness for protection of Utah’s heritage and wild horse herds and a website was launched to provide information and accept donations as well.  You can visit it here: 

Yet even with all of this national attention and public outcry, here we find ourselves with only 42 days left to make a change.

42 days before the helicopters take flight and 400 of 475 horses, including heavily pregnant mares and brand new foals, will be forced to run for their lives.  296 of which will lose their freedom forever. 

Families also will be lost. 

And as is too frequently the case, lives will also be lost.

One small bit of hope is that the 2022 budget must still be approved by Congress.  So flooding your local Congress person with messages as to the gross misspending of tax dollars to remove healthy wild horses and burros currently living on your public lands FOR FREE is well worth mentioning.  Removing horses and burros is a multi-million dollar business as I already detailed in previous blogs, and money is a very powerful motivating factor for far too many people and as they say the root of all evil.

More information can be found from the following sources among others:

The Cloud Foundation

Wild Horse Education

Center for a Humane Economy

Animal Wellness Action

One Comment on “Saving The Onaqui Pt. 6

  1. Pingback: Saving The Onaqui Pt 8 | Wild Horse Photo Safaris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: