Many people are not aware that there are still herds of horses roaming free on public lands throughout the western United States. For one particular group of horses, their days of freedom are numbered. If not for a local group wanting to preserve the herd, the fate of this herd is certain extinction at best, and for many, even worse - ending up on someone's dinner plate.
Made up of three distinctive herds, the horses that roam the open ranges of NW Nevada, NE California, and Southern Oregon are collectively referred to as the Sheldon Horses because this area was declared the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in 1931.
The horses were there long before the area was a refuge, and their lineage can be traced all the way back to a time before the Civil War, when they were used as stock for the US military. These horses were rounded up and used in wars in the US and Europe as recently as WWII. They were shipped across the country and some were sent overseas to serve our country. If you’ve seen the movie “War Horse” you have an idea of what these horses have endured. It is estimated that upwards of 8 million horses died in WWI alone.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) considers the horses a “non-native species” and has been subjecting them to brutal round ups and experimentation with fertility drugs and field sterilization surgeries for years. As part of their Comprehensive Conservation Plan, the FWS will be rounding up the last remaining horses sometime in the late summer of this year. Because they are not on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management Land, they are not “protected” under the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Since the FWS does not have holding facilities for the horses they round up, they rely on contractors for their disposition. In the past, contractors have sent horses directly to slaughter. To prevent this, the FWS has charged contractors with adopting the horse to suitable homes. However, it is suspected that at least one of the current contractors has allowed the horses to enter the slaughter pipeline. It is estimated that there are at least 430 horses remaining.
The Mustang Project, a 501 (c) 3 organization located in Northern California and founded to provide a program for youth and mustangs, would like to save at least part of the remaining herd and provide sanctuary for them. They have offered to take those horses most at risk – the older horses that are not suitable for adoption and deserve to live out the remainder of their lives in peace. The Mustang Project is hoping to provide sanctuary for at least 200 horses, but would like to provide sanctuary for a majority of the horses if possible. If they are able to take any younger horses, those horses could be gentled and used by youth in the program or adopted out. As part of the sanctuary, there will be a visitor education center that will highlight the Sheldon herd’s history, and the history (and plight) of all of the nation’s Mustangs.
The Mustang Project is currently working to secure suitable property for the sanctuary, but this is a time sensitive situation. Property must be secured and a proposal to FWS submitted by mid-March. There is only a small window of opportunity to act, or this historic herd that has lived wild for generations will be gone forever by the end of this year. The Mustang Project needs the support of the public in order to make this happen. Donations are needed to help purchase land, and sponsors will be needed to help pay for the care of the horses. For more information about The Mustang Project, the Sheldon horses, or how you can donate toward preserving our country’s living
heritage, please visit: http://www.themustangproject.org/sheldon-horses.html and www.facebook.com/TheMustangProject.