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Know the West

Wildish Podcast: Wild horses in a not-so-wild West

Episode One: Is federal mustang management reaching a breaking point?

 

From High Country News in collaboration with Alan Wartes Media, Wildish is a six-part podcast series that chronicles the complicated world of wild horse management in the Western United States. Wildish is meant to confound you. It does not offer a simple solution to one of the region’s most intractable natural resource conundrums. It is a serial on humans. You’ll hear from the activists who ache for freedom — for the wild horse to be wild — and from those who flinch at the mythology attached to the species. You’ll also get to know some of the well-meaning people inside the Bureau of Land Management, the agency stuck in the middle, faced with balancing the horse as a relic of the Wild West with its undeniable impacts on the modern Western landscape.

Episode One

In 1971, Congress created one of the most intractable resource management conundrums when it passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The law, which called for protecting wild horses and burros as living symbols of American history, sparked a population boom in the West. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Land Management, there is an overpopulation crisis. The 10 Western states have enough public land to support 27,000 wild horses and burros, but today, the population is approaching 100,000. The wild horses and burros that are gathered via helicopter and put into holding facilities devour more than half of the annual budget of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. And the costs go up every year, even as the population increases. The many stakeholders have very different visions for how the species ought to be managed, but the end result is that wild horses are not very wild anymore. If wildlife managers, landowners, wild horse advocates and the BLM cannot work together to come to a solution, the Wild Horse and Burro Program will reach a breaking point. In this first episode of Wildish, host Anna Coburn introduces some of the people on the frontlines.

Anna Coburn is a producer and seasonal interpretive ranger at Curecanti National Recreation Area. She is based in Gunnison, Colorado. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.