Are wild horses Federally protected icons of the American West or are they expendable livestock?
To date 81 horses captured in the Calico roundup have lost their lives. That's 4% of the 1,922 horses Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed from public lands in Nevada. The cause of death varies from broken neck and spines, to foals whose hooves separated from the bone, to mares with the inability to adjust a change in feed. Most of the death occurred in the short term holding facility. When you add the 40 plus foals that should have been born in that facility but were spontaneously aborted, the figure goes above 6%.
BLM officials are patting themselves on the back. They are more than pleased with these results. Wild horse advocates are not. "What livestock operator would be happy with loosing that many cattle?" asks advocate Willis Lamm.
Does the BLM assign any value to a wild horse?
Perhaps it's a matter of perception. Only a few of the Calico deaths will be logged as caused by roundup activities, the "Less than .5%" often quoted by BLM officials. Apparently the success of a roundup is gaged by how many horses were captured and how many deaths are counted as being caused by the roundup. The Calico roundup falls within those distorted guidelines. But what of the rest? Where are they counted?
Until recently, information on deaths in short and long term holding facilities was unknown to the general populace. Mr. John Q. Public living in Los Angeles or New York had no idea of the deaths occurring in the facilities. He may never know the real number.
The Broken-Arrow facility where Calico horses are currently housed does not keep track of in-facility births. The foals do not exist until they're freeze branded at 4 to 5 months old. A foal that dies in that time frame receives no mention, not even as a statistic. Babies seem to be the most expendable of all.
John Neill, BLM facility manager, says, " We just have a mental toll of how many are born." He guessed at about 80 foals so far. In regard to deaths, Neill said, "I really don't want to give a number on that. It's not accurate. There's been a couple who haven't made it, a couple that were euthanized." When asked about BLM policy, Neill replied, "as far as I know, it's not policy, it's just standard practice in the facility."
Officials would have you believe that wild horses in long term holding pastures live out their lives in the lap of wild horse luxury, a fuzzy dream come true. Like so many things with the Department on Interior, all is not as it appears. Once you make your way through layer upon layer of documents to excavate information, disturbing facts come to light.
BLM policy on euthanasia criteria is but one of those documents. Laying out liberal guidelines, it calls for euthanasia should the horse be unable to tolerate the stress of transportation, preparation or long term holding, or if it is considered to be more dangerous than most.
Evaluation of body condition is to be carried out annually in long term holding facilities. The guidelines state,
Animals that are rated less than a body condition score of 3 will be euthanized in the field soon after the evaluation by the authorized officer or their designated representative, this can be the contractor. The horses that rate a score of 3 will remain in the field and be reevaluated... in 60 days to see if their condition is improving, staying the same or declining. Those that are declining in condition will be euthanized soon after the second evaluation. Euthanasia will be carried out with a firearm...
BLM Mustang - before photo by Willis Lamm
Though it is true that a body condition rating of 3 on a scale of one to nine is not a good sign, it's not an automatic death sentence either. The BLM wild mare shown in the photo above would undoubtedly have been shot if it were in a long term holding facility. Given half a chance, this mare bounced back quite well. ( see photo below)
BLM wild horse -after photo by Willis Lamm