Saving The Onaqui Pt 7
With only 25 days left until the roundup of 400 of our 475 Onaqui Wild Horses the battle to preserve their freedom rages on.
Pleas made far and wide to the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior and even President Biden have fallen on deaf ears. Even more unfathomable, President Biden released his fiscal year proposed budget for 2022 which calls for increases the wild horse and burro management by $35 million dollars. This increase is not targeted to help manage on-range herds humanely with the use of equine contraception such as PZP, but instead is directed towards even more mass removals of the wild horses and burros from public lands. The report goes on to blame wild horses and burros for climate change, yet mentions nothing about decreasing livestock grazing in these same areas. An excerpt is included below:
“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 absurdity of this stance by our new administration was met with shock and heartbreak through the Wild Horse Advocacy community. Using the Onaqui HMA as one example, grazing permits have been granted by the Bureau of Land Management allowing thousands of head of cattle and sheep (15,000 AUM) to consume the forage at the same time it’s being argued there is not enough food or water to support a mere 475 wild horses. 475 wild horses equates only to use of only 15% of the HMA resources as compared to 85% use by sheep and cattle.
The Wild Horse and Burro Act calls for these public lands to be managed for multiple uses, however the focus should be on creating a fair system that allows for equal rights to land use by all – not the current methods which are completely void of scientific backing and heavily skewed in favor of the livestock industries. The National Academy of Sciences has outlined an extensive plan for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program overhaul in their 2013 Report report, yet 7 years later the changes still have not been implemented.
No one is arguing that ranges across the United States are facing dangerous drought conditions for wild horses among other wildlife. And no one is arguing that an outcome for the horses is sought which will be in their best interests. But do those interests involve spending the rest of their lives in an overcrowded government holding facility or worse?
In 2019 the BLM rounded up 243 Onaqui horses killing 2 in the process. Of those 241 surviving horses approximately 50 were adopted. Fifty. So when Gus Warr, Manager of the Wild Horse and Burro program in Utah, assures people in his public announcements that the Onaqui are very adoptable horses you have to wonder then what happens to all the others if the Onaqui are touted to have such a high rate of adoptability yet only 20% actually had the fortune of finding homes.
This has been a long standing problem nationwide as well as in Utah. There are much more humane methods of wild horse and burro capture such as bait traps, yet helicopter roundups remain the primary method used despite the trauma to horses, separation of family bands, indiscriminate captures and exorbitant cost to taxpayers. Mr. Warr was quoted in the Salt Lake City Tribune as saying ““In my 20 years with the program I found it the best way to gather the horses. As long as you have a good pilot, they don’t have to be roped or choked down.”
What he doesn’t mention in this article is the broken necks and broken legs he speaks of to attendees at the last Onaqui roundup (Documentary Unbroken Spirit @ 8:46). Not only is was this 2021 roundup scheduled without having a new Environment Assessment or public commentary, but it is scheduled for July where temperatures regularly soar over 100 degrees. Mares are still heavily pregnant and foals are being born as recently as four days ago to the Southern Onaqui herd. Those little foals hooves haven’t even hardened yet, and being run for miles across a hot desert at this young age literally causes them to grind their hooves completely off. I’m guessing the foals would disagree this is “the best way to gather horses.”
Friends of Animals filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on June 14, 2021 in the federal courts to stop this scheduled roundup. Their 39 page document cites multiple reasons for their motion including irreparable harm to genetic diversity. “The most recent genetic report for the Onaqui Mountain HMA comes from samples that the geneticist received in 2005 and showed that the “herd has genetic variability that is at a critically low level.” Onaqui25939. The analysis indicated that the loss of variation was fairly recent and likely due to a bottleneck in population size. Id. Despite these alarming reports, there is no indication that the Onaqui population was monitored and there was no follow-up analysis to determine the genetic variation or variability in this population before BLM issued the 2018 Decision. Nonetheless, BLM removed 241 wild horses, nearly half of the estimated population, in 2019.10”
Imagine gathering over 80% of the existing herd only to handpick 52 mares and 52 stallions to return to the range a couple weeks later based on the age of stallions and how easy the mares are to dart with PZP in the field. There have been no plans communicated on what will happen to the 2021 foals – will they be separated from moms and kept in holding pens, will they be returned to the range before being properly weaned, or do they face a worse fate? This massive removal also lacks consideration for the fact that the Onaqui live in two distinct herds – one in the northern section of the range and one in the southern. These herds do not intermix and if genetic viability was already identified as a problem in the past imagine now with one herd likely being eliminated altogether.
On July 2, 2021 a rally to preserve the freedom of the Onaqui Wild horses is scheduled to take place at 8:30am at the south steps of the Salt Lake City State Capital. Actress Kathryn Heigl, Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy , The Cloud Foundation, Jason Debus Heigl Foundation and Red Birds Trust have come together to garner awareness to the atrocities unfolding across the west to all wild horses and burros as well as to advocate for the preservation of freedom of our own local Onaqui herd.
With so few days remaining for our beloved horses to roam free on the range emotions run high, but it’s lovely to see so many advocacy groups, photographers and horse lovers unite. Every day I spend with the wild ones, which is now as many as possible, it helps to hit the reset button on all the human mayhem unfolding and serve as a reminder of why we’re all doing what we’re doing. Although the horses have a very strong voice and beautiful way of communicating not everyone can or will take the time to listen so it’s left up to us, the ones who know them and love them to be their voice.
So please mark your calendars and come join the
Rally for Freedom of the Onaqui
Friday, July 2nd at 8:30am at the
Salt Lake City State Capital building.
You can click this link for more information, parking directions and to RSVP.
It’s with high hopes I look forward to an amazing turnout of likeminded passionate people advocating for the protection of our beloved wild horses and burros.
More information can be found from the following sources among others: