Horses: Wild, But Not Free | Retro Report on PBS
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Horses: Wild, But Not Free | Retro Report on PBS

October 25, 2019


♪♪ Today, in parts of the country where herds of wild horses
still roam, there is a curious
yearly ritual. Anywhere the
Bureau of Land Management decides wild horses are
overpopulating public lands, it sends in the helicopters. Like flying sheep dogs,
the aircraft chase bands of horses out of the hills,
herding them, coaxing them, scaring them
into a funnel-shaped corral. Whether the roundups happen
in the heat or in the snow, they follow the same pattern, and they end
when cowboys on the ground release what’s called
a Judas horse — a domestic animal trained to lead its wild disciples
into captivity. Watching the drama
from the sidelines are contenders
in a high-plains standoff. -If it was just
a little bit warmer… -Wild-horse advocates
like filmmaker Ginger Kathrens are against
the culling of the herds. -It doesn’t happen very often,
but on occasion, a horse might come in
and might slip on the ice… -Sometimes, she confronts
the BLM directly. -We want to go on record
as saying that we don’t think that this roundup
ought to start today. We think it’s too dangerous,
too cold, and too risky. Helicopter roundups
are incredibly stressful on the animals. Foals will sometimes
literally have their hooves fall off their feet. -On the other side,
ranchers paying to graze sheep and cows
on public lands. They say unchecked mustangs
are damaging the range, eating grass that ought to be
feeding domestic stock. -I have a place in my heart
for the wild horse, but there would be
a lot of us out of business if we didn’t have public lands
to graze on. [ Helicopter blades whirring ] -So, how did this situation
get so tense that the federal government
is sending in herders in helicopters
to mediate this standoff? It’s a classic tale
of unintended consequences. In 1970,
the wild-horse population had fallen from
approximately a million at the turn of the century
to less than 18,000 — victim of a pet-food industry
hungry for cheap meat. -Get that horse! / -Hyah! -The 1961 movie “The Misfits” dramatized the brutality
of capturing wild horses, a practice which enraged a
growing number of animal lovers. -Shut up! Murderers! -The mustang, maybe more than
any other animal in America, is a symbol. It means freedom.
It means defiance. It means scrappy but noble. In a sense, it means us, right?
It is the American. And to have something
that we hold in such esteem at the same time not only abused
but turned into dog food was just something that
people could not deal with in their minds. -Knowing that animals
were being hunted down, slaughtered, butchered, and sold as pet food
just really burned me up. -Greg Gude was a young boy
when he discovered the plight of the mustang in the pages of
an illustrated children’s book. It’s main character
was a tenacious Nevada activist
with a catchy nickname. -Velma Johnston has fought for the protection
of these animals all her life, and she is known
as “Wild Horse Annie.” -Wild Horse Annie
enlisted schoolchildren in a national
letter-writing campaign. By some accounts,
they flooded Congress that year with a volume of letters second only to mail received
about the Vietnam War. But Greg Gude
didn’t need to write letters. His father, Gilbert Gude,
held one of Maryland’s seats in the U.S. House
of Representatives. -I lived with my congressman. I could lobby
at the dinner table. I think it probably
took a hunger strike. -An 11-year-old boy
persuaded his father, a congressman,
to introduce a bill to protect wild horses and
burros on the Western plains. Then the boy,
Greg Gude of Maryland, appeared today to testify. -And so, a few months later
in December of 1971, the wild horses were saved. -Today, President Nixon
signed a bill to make killing them
a federal crime. -This largely halted
the commercial capture and slaughter of wild horses
roaming the West, but it wasn’t long before
mustangs were making news again. -It may surprise you to hear
there’s a surplus of wild horses in what was once the Wild West. -Soon as the law passed, there were essentially
more horses than the government
knew what to do with. There’s only a certain amount
of grass out there, especially in the West, and most of it’s
already spoken for. -Ranchers who rely on public
lands for their livestock say what’s at stake is their
claim on the American West. -I roped my first wild horse
when I was 11. That was in 1952. There are people
that think the wild horse is a symbol
of the American West. I think every rancher
will tell you that we’re riding the horses
that built the American West. -Garrett says activists
have brow-beaten the BLM into culling too few mustangs. Of course, activists like
Ginger Kathrens see it differently. -If you’re wondering
why our public lands are overgrazed or degraded, you need to look at the millions
of head of livestock — cattle and sheep — that are
permitted to graze out here. -If you talk to advocates, spend some time
at a roundup with them, eventually they’ll talk about
how the BLM is in the pocket
of big ranchers. And if you talk to the ranchers and you spend any time
at their ranches, they will talk to you about how the BLM’s in the pocket
of the advocates. -The BLM removes approximately
4,000 horses a year, hoping to find them
permanent homes. But periodic exposés
over the years reveal that the animals
sometimes met a different fate. -NBC News has been told by just
about everyone we talked with a large number of BLM horses
likely end up slaughtered. -The BLM sort of binges and
purges when it comes to horses. They’ll ignore the problem
of overpopulation until it gets really bad, and then they’ll do
something they regret. So, in the ’80s,
they sold a bunch of horses to people
that then slaughtered them. And in the ’90s, they started
doing the same thing again. You know, they would sort of do
a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of thing where, “We’re
gonna sell you the horses. Don’t slaughter them.
We’re just never gonna check.” -The BLM insists it does not
knowingly sell horses to so-called “kill buyers.” And today,
the growing number of horses and fewer people
willing to adopt them have given rise to what may be the biggest unintended
consequence of the 1971 law. -The Bureau of Land Management
is probably the largest horse owner in
the continental United States, maybe the world. -There are more than 46,000
formerly wild horses and burros living in corrals and long-term
holding pastures in the midwest, eating grass
on the government dole. The BLM spends almost
$50 million a year to board these captured animals. The Government Accountability
Office has warned the ballooning holding costs
will overwhelm the program. -I mean, we’re talking
40%, 50%, 60% of our budget is going to just holding
and caring of animals. We’re full up.
There’s nowhere to go. There’s nowhere to go with them. I really don’t know what to say
other than it’s not sustainable. -The BLM estimates
the number of wild horses on federal range lands
could soon exceed 100,000. Drastic measures like euthanasia
provoke a strong public outcry, so the agency treats some horses
with birth control and recently added a new program
offering up to $1,000 to anyone who adopts
a wild horse. -It’s unclear what’s gonna
happen when they no longer have the money
to expand the system. Do they leave horses
on the range and get sued? Do they sell horses
to the market and have them slaughtered? Do they euthanize them
in some massive, crazy process and just bury them
in a big pit? Seriously, when they run
out of money, what happens? -It’s a problem, and not
an easy one to solve. -They’ve really
made a mess of it. Are they wild horses
when they are in captivity? -It’s awful. We have to manage wild horses
on the range. -I don’t think anybody likes it, but nobody can find
a way out of it. The law really did save
the wild horse. The question is, “What do we do
with the horses we saved?” ♪♪

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  1. There are too many of them you f**** morons. I wish I could have a horse steak, but because of these f**** morons I can't. It's an animal.

  2. They discard what they can not sell ..consentration camp for wild animals..wolves would eat them wait already depopulted those as well

  3. I swear ranchers are part of the problem. First they kill all the predators. Then they get mad at too many prey animals. (Yes I’m aware that wild horses are not native to America) but legit question. If ranchers want to cull these horses and pen them why not have the ranchers pay the costs of rehoming and sterilizing these horses.

  4. All this money spent containing them could be used for birth control for the mares. As the beef industry grows it keeps taking and taking. Bob Garrett and all these other ranchers don't have a place for the wild horses in their hearts because they can't see past their wallets. Theres not an ounce of integrity in any of those ranchers or the Blm. Offering 1,000 for anyone adopting a wild horse is absurd. Thanks for adding to the already growing issue of people obtaining free or cheap horses only to starve them and leaving it to the small animal shelters and humane societies to clean the mess up. Public lands my ass! Government rental lands is more like it. Everyone of those idiots in the Blm needs replaced. They do nothing but waste tax payers money. There's not going to be a solution in the best interest of wild horses and that's a sad fact. I'm ashamed of the way this is being handled.

  5. Nature should always come before capitalism and private business… You want to graze your cattle (which are not natural spe ies) for your private profit? Go buy your own damn land and stop doing it on public land. Public resources should never be allowed to be used for private profits.

  6. I think we need to call these horses what they actually are- an invasive species. Now, I'm not saying I support the ranchers, but we should be treating the horses like we would any invasive species by supporting native predator species that can keep the invasive population in check and keep it from hurting the ecosystem. Of course, I'm sure the ranchers won't be fond of that, but if we want a truly ecological solution to this problem, these options have to be on the table.

  7. Either reintroduced hunter species like coyotes or wolves, or neuter the damn horses? Maybe I’m too ignorant but is it really that hard? Can’t you like clip the horses ear to show that they’ve been neutered. Just target the females mostly.

  8. This video made me really hate ranchers at the beginning but made me question everything by the end. They looked like the bad guys but they're trying to comply and it's still an issue with no solid answer

  9. " No horse sense". ……At one time to own a horse was essential for survival…if a man stole a horse ….in many places he was put to death by hanging……..but now because selling horse meat big business any other alternative outside of that…. is not even considered a serious alternative.,…and at the same time…….there is no shortage of temporary "bandaid solutions" to placate the crowds…….

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