Wild Horse Wars

A series by: William E. Simpson II – Naturalist, Wild Horse Ranch – Siskiyou County, CA


The morning sun illuminated the Cascade-Siskiyou Mountains around my cabin in the wilderness. Just outside my window stood a beautiful wild mare with her new foal, and I wondered. Her mighty stallion standing watch nearby for any approaching predator, and again I wondered; will there be any of their kind left in America in 20-years?

There is literally a war being fought right here in the United States between Ranchers (livestock industry) and a handful of genuine wild horse and burro advocates who are trying to save native species American wild horses from extinction; at all costs. And yes, I could be considered an advocate for American wild horses and a plan to save them.

Some of us, including myself, are funding our efforts out of our own back pockets instead of asking others for money.

And there are a few ‘non-profit’ wild horse activists (not sanctuaries) making a very good living off the plight of American wild horses. These activists, who pay themselves handsomely from donation-income present a problem when it comes to implementing any genuine solution. These activists are faced with a conflict of interest; let me explain:

If the conflict between public land stakeholders and wild horse advocates is suddenly solved satisfactorily for a majority of stakeholders, then most of these well-paid activists would have to find new jobs. And therein is the problem.

That said, there are a few activist/advocates organized as non-profits still out there who work as advocates and activists for a pittance out of the sheer love they have for our native species wild horses, which are a National Treasure. One of the many such people that comes to mind is Mr. RT Fitch, a man whose love for wild horses and animals is sincere. He is one of the serious advocates who would be happy to work his way out of a job if it would save America’s wild horses. That, I admire.

As this series will reveal; there is corruption, death, raging wildfires, deadly toxic smoke, high adventure, and colorful characters, lots of them. Some people might say I am one of those ‘characters’ in the political and ecological rodeo swirling around America’s wild horses and their management on public lands.

But there is also hope through a unique, highly understudied, and misunderstood solution that has already been proven effective, but is being intentionally ignored by people in both the government and by a few organizations in the ranks of wild horse advocates and activists. That solution is called the ‘Wild Horse Fire Brigade‘.

You see, unlike most wild horse advocates or activists, I live among free-roaming native species American wild horses in a mountain wilderness, where I have been privileged to study them for the past seven years.

Bill Simpson studying horses grazing – photo: provided by William E. Simpson II.

The first five years of my research have been condensed into an easy-to-understand Study, which has been published at the peer-reviewed online journal GrazeLIFE.

I have to say that living among wild horses has been an amazing and enlightening experience. But life isn’t easy in the wilderness and sacrifices have been and are continuing to be made in order to live in an area that is very remote and off-grid. Large predators, like mountain lions and bears that regularly kill adult horses, roam the area.

But lions and bears aren’t the deadliest killers; some people would agree that mankind holds that position. Nevertheless, recently evolved catastrophic wildfires are devastating the western landscape, its forests, and wild animals by the millions annually.

Losing approximately 10-million acres of forest annually in the United States, along with the tens of millions of animals annually, where 20-80 animals are killed per acre of wilderness landscape burned by catastrophic wildfire, is clearly not sustainable for very long. We may have already passed the point of no-return, assuring yet another great extinction event on the planet. Only this time, instead of a comet or meteor, it will be mankind’s fault.

During the 2020 wildfire season in California, one wildfire termed a ‘giga-fire’ consumed approximately one million acres of land! Much of the landscape incinerated contained forests and wildlife habitat. The result was that one fire, out of hundreds burning that year in California, killed millions of animals; some were endangered or threatened species.

In 2018, the toxic smoke from the 38,000 acre Klamathon Fire that raged around my wilderness cabin, claimed the life of my wife of 47-years. We stayed behind when everyone else left or was evacuated as the fast-moving wildfire approached our part of the mountains. We stayed behind because of the wild horses. We had no idea how free-roaming wild horses would deal with an oncoming fast-moving catastrophic wildfire, and we had some serious concerns from past experiences.

Prior to the Klamathon Fire of 2018, we had already witnessed the loss of many beautiful wild horses and other wildlife that had been mortally wounded by the 100-year old barbwire fence from cattle ranches that had failed long ago. With the wooden posts rotted away long ago, much of the old legacy barbwire lay hidden like snares in the grass and brush, waiting for any animal rushing by.

Over the years, I have discovered dead and dying deer, elk, wild horses, and even hawks that had been caught up in the barbwire. But that’s just part of a much larger story in this series.

In addition to all of the man-made hazards that wild horses face, along with their evolved natural predators in their day to day existence, the Bureau of Land Management (‘BLM’) and the United States Forest Service (‘USFS’) are also culpable in their current path to extinction via their so-called ‘management plans, which are highly flawed and based on obsolete science, as well as fabricated lies.

The BLM has been caught red-handed lying to Congress (in print) about wild horse ecology. Their fabrications about wild horse behavioral ecology and related demonizing of wild horses over the past many decades have resulted in what is now arguably the widespread abuse they suffer under BLM and USFS management: 

Here is just one example of animal abuse caught on news-camera video of BLM contractors abusing Congressionally protected wild burros:

Some Americans may be aware that in 1971, Congress passed the ‘Free-Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act’.  And as a part of that Act, Congress set aside about 52-million acres of public lands for these majestic beings….

According to that Act of Congress and the will of a majority of American citizens, the Act states in part that; “free-roaming wild horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death…”.

A survey of how the BLM and USFS and their cronies handle wild horse and burro management shows that the BLM and the USFS actually do all of the things to wild horses that are arguably prohibited by the Act of Congress and its intent.

And it all seems to be in name of making money with the livestock industry.

There is no doubt that mistakes were made when the Act was passed; the science from the 1960s was incomplete, and as we now know, obsolete. Adding lies to that makes matters much worse today.

The now antiquated management concepts used by the BLM and USFS, including commingling wild horses and burros with livestock into what are known as Herd Management Areas, comes from livestock management methods used in times dating back before the BLM was even formed (ca. 1938), and before the period of 1950 through 1970, when the science from that period was used in the implementation of the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act on the American landscape.

The antiquated science concepts from that period of time (1950-1970) is now well-known to be flawed. One example of the kind of thinking by scientists back then was that, animals didn’t make or use tools and only man did that. We now know that is not true; many animals, even some fish make and use tools.

For example: In the early 1960’s Jane Goodall discovered that the apes of Gombe Africa made and used tools. Yet, many of the professional anthropologists of that time condemned and discounted her work and the discovery. Today, we know that Ms. Goodall made one of the great discoveries of that time.

New revelations in evolution, paleontology, biology and genetics inform those of us who are still willing to learn, that wild horses evolved in north America 55-million years ago, and are native species symbionts on the north American landscape. It’s a plain fact that native species American wild horses are keystone herbivores that co-evolved with the flora and fauna of north America. Mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes are all naturally evolved predators of wild horses.

Shockingly, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been intentionally misinforming the Congress of the United States as well as the public and our elected officials! And those lies are continually repeated as hear-say by other people in and around the livestock industry and by the United State Forest Service.

The BLM has been and is currently engaged in an ongoing campaign of willful ignorance and a campaign of misinformation via their ongoing propagation of manifestly false statements, including but not limited to this whopper:

“Wild horses have no natural predators …” is a false statement promoted by the BLM.

That false statement appears in a so-called management plan that was presented to the Congress of The United States in writing titled; Report To Congress – Management Options For A Sustainable Wild Horse And Burro Program’

Only a corrupted agency would propose to manage any resource starting with a lie.

William E. Simpson II is a naturalist/rancher living among and studying native species American wild horses. He is the author of two published books and more than 100 published articles on subjects related to wild horses, wildlife, wildfire, and public land (forest) management. He has appeared on NBC NEWS, ABC NEWS, theDoveTV and has been a guest on numerous talk radio shows including the Lars Larson Show, the Bill Meyer Show, and on NPR Jefferson Public Radio.

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.

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