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Born to be Wild: Saving Mustangs & Burrows

| Sand Canyon Journal | August 22, 2017

Wild horses couldn’t drag one local couple away from their mission. Fred and Tony Santoro aim to make sure that mustangs and burros can continue to live in their natural habitat, free from government intervention and destruction by the thousands.

More than 10 years ago, the Santoros of Canyon Country added some very special horses to the number of Sand Canyon’s equine residents. They adopted two wild mustangs from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. Their names are “Misty” and “Nevada.”

“They were beautiful, and actually ‘friendly’ in a casual sense of the word. They came up to the fence (remember, they were captured from the wild and had no direct contact with humans),” said Freda “Fred” Santoro. “They also seemed to hang out together and ate together. They captured our hearts.”

The Santoros have spent more than a decade keeping abreast of governmental action affecting the fate of horses and burros in the wild, including the methods used by agencies to limit their burgeoning numbers. The couple receives news alerts from several non-profit organizations dedicated to monitoring the treatment of the wild animal population.

According to the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, Congress will soon vote on a budget concern that may result in the destruction of thousands of these animals.
“The Department of the Interior is currently attempting to cut the fat from its 2018 budget by killing off up to 46,000 wild horses and burros in BLM holding facilities, and even more ‘excess’ wild horses & burros on the range,” said a press release from the WHFF.

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Another non-profit group, the American Wild Horse Campaign, or AWHC, sent an email saying the BLM is planning to round up and remove almost 10,000 wild horses from their homes on the range in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and Colorado in the coming months.

“Every one of these majestic and innocent horses will be in danger of being killed by this agency that is seeking permission from Congress to destroy healthy wild horses and burros and sell them for slaughter,” the AWHC email said.

Fred Santoro said that Misty and Nevada were in danger of being destroyed for the same reasons 10 years ago.

“If not adopted, that most likely would have been their fate. That being EXACTLY what the situation is today,” she said. “BLM rounds them up. … If not adopted they sell them to (buyers) who ship them to Mexico and France, etc. for horsemeat.”

The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of managing wild horses and burros on public lands in 10 western states. The responsibility was set up in 1971 with the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

“By creating this whole program they gave us tools to gather, remove, adopt and to have humanely euthanized excess horses where there’s no adoption demand,” said Jason Lutterman, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. “The BLM has never used that option. Our emphasis is finding good homes.”

One reason the BLM has not been euthanizing the animals is a prohibition that was placed on killing healthy wild horses and burros. Upcoming Congressional voting on budget concerns may withdraw that prohibition.

“It takes $50 million just to feed those horses that aren’t adopted,” Lutterman said.

More than half of the horses live in Nevada where there is no grassland, but rather, arid desert conditions, according to Lutterman, who said it takes about nine football fields of pasture to support one horse.

“We’re really faced with a challenge, especially on the range, where there are three times too many horses and burros,” he said. “Most animals, like deer and elk have natural predation or they’re hunted. Every large species is managed on the range in some way.”

While the BLM cites limited water and food from foraging as problems with overpopulation of grazing animals, non-profit groups believe it’s lobbying by ranchers that sway government agencies in the direction of thinning out wild herds.

What’s Being Done

Of the more than 70,000 wild horses and burros estimated, about half are held in off-range pastures and corrals managed by the BLM or contracted out. Adoptions take place through the corrals, while mustangs in the wild get supplemented food in winter, which is supported by taxpayers. Non-profit groups such as the Mustang Heritage Foundation work with the BLM to increase adoption opportunities through training, which increases the chances a horse will find a home.

“Mustangs are great horses to have,” Lutterman said, making a case for adoption. “Compared to domestic horses, wild horses are a lot more intelligent, more sure-footed. They’ve been evolving and adapting, they’re more resilient.”

The Santoros found that to be true. They said that training their mustangs to become saddle-ready was not that difficult.

“We did hire cowboys that we trusted to be gentle with Misty and Nevada and the end result was amazing,” Fred said. “They have unique personalities, mischievous and inquisitive, and I could not imagine life without them.”

Unfortunately, adoption numbers are down. Only about 3,000 per year are being adopted through the BLM. And one of the biggest problems managing predator-free animals is their reproduction rates. One of the government programs involves “shooting” birth control into wild mares. Fertility control requires a fairly close proximity, plus a means to track which horses receive the chemicals. More research is needed, also, to create longer lasting birth control, as the current system only works for one year, Lutterman said.

Taking Action

“The massive helicopter roundups will decimate the wild populations in those areas, leaving the public lands available for increased cattle and sheep grazing by ranchers who pay bargain basement rates to graze private livestock on public lands,” according to the American Wild Horse Campaign.

To prevent helicopter-led roundups, removal and destruction of these animals, the organization suggests action by citizens.

“A strong show of public opposition will make a powerful statement to Congress that Americans want our iconic wild horses and burros protected on our public lands, not rounded up and destroyed,” said the AWHC. “We have a much better chance of stopping this lethal legislation in the Senate … but only if your senators hear from you. Please don’t wait to give America’s horses a voice – call Congress today!”

Misty and Nevada enjoy their life in Canyon Country, and their owners urge others to save as many as they can from governmental intervention.

“Becoming aware of their plight has been my passion in doing all that I can to support keeping these amazing wild horses and burros free and wild,” Fred Santoro said. “As an individual, I feel frustrated in not being able to get the word out to many people! We need as many people as possible to be made aware of this crisis, and calling their congressman and senator(s) to voice their opposition to the rounding up and slaughtering of these innocent and beautiful animals will have a huge impact on their fate.”

Contacts for Reaching Leaders:

Rep. Stephen T. Knight
California District 25
Phone: (202) 225-1956

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
California U.S. Senate
(202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Devi Harris
California U.S. Senate
(202) 224-3553

Donald J. Trump
(202) 456-1111

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About Martha Michael

A professional writer for decades and the editor of multiple products from Valley Publications, Martha is in a constant search for new challenges. While maintaining her editing post for more than eight years, she also opened an antiques business and authored her first book, “Canyon Country,” by Arcadia Publishing. Martha manages two blogs—one for business and one that is more personal—and works to market and perfect her craft in every arena. Lack of energy is never a problem, and Martha is daily generating ideas, taking photos and talking to members of the community. She believes strongly that “everybody has a story.”

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