Mustang Mythology

Why do people get all misty-eyed over wild horses? I’m no exception. The times I’ve witnessed them galloping through Utah’s canyon country I immediately forgot that they are an exotic, habitat-killing species.

Several years back, Ted Williams in Audubon magazine wrote about the “ecological havoc” caused by the estimated 30,000 hoofed beasties that roam the West.

Now that’s an “inconvenient truth.” It’s also an issue so politically and emotionally charged that for years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has effectively been hamstrung in its efforts to reduce the feral horse population (and the damage to native ecosystems) on public lands. Williams nicely captures all these swirling currents in his piece.

Everyone with a stake in the debate acknowledges that the current BLM policy–which consists of sheltering captive horses at enormous cost and trying to adopt them out–is not working.  To ease the burden, late last year the BLM floated the idea of eauthanizing some of the captive population.

Predictably, that didn’t go over well with horse lovers.

Yesterday, the wife of T. Boone Pickens tried riding to the rescue in Congress with an idea to build a sanctuary for the entire wild horse population that would then act as “living museum.”  As the AP reported, Pickens claimed that

her planned million-acre refuge in Nevada should receive a federal stipend of $500 per horse per year — or $15 million a year for 30,000 horses — in return for taking the animals off the government’s hands.

It’s not clear from the AP story why the BLM is balking at the scheme, since the cost of the current program far exceeds this. But there’s something about this notion of a “living museum” that fascinates me. It’s as if we have to find a way to keep the mythology of this Western iconic species from going extinct.

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