I recently got the opportunity to chat with one of my favorite people, Grace Kuhn, from the American Wild Horse Campaign. Grace and I have worked together on a number of projects, campaigns, calls to action you name it. I remember when we first met, she was so new to the issue and now this woman can run circles around just about anyone regarding this complex issue, and the atrocities performed by The Bureau of Land Management. Working for the number one organization fighting for protections, she has been a fierce voice for our wild horses and burros, tirelessly working to change the narrative fed by the agency and our media. Enjoy this interview packed with helpful insights and information.
This can be a really frustrating issue, what first made you aware and brought you into wild horse advocacy?
Growing up on the East Coast, I was totally unaware of the existence of wild horses in the American West. It wasn't until 2011 when I met a woman who worked for the recently established American Wild Horse Campaign that I became educated on the issue. I had always been a lifelong advocate for animals, rode horses in my youth and – I couldn’t believe what she was telling me was happening to them. How had I not known about this before? After conducting my own research, it was easy to see how wild horses and burros were being treated unequivocally wrong, and I felt compelled to take action. I reached out to her and the rest is history.
What kept you here?
There are many things that keep me invested in this cause. Firstly, it’s the fact that the wild horse and burro issue can truly be resolved through practical solutions and reallocation of what the agency funds. The government can take concrete steps today to ensure these animals' wildness is preserved, which is a promising prospect that gives me hope for the future.
Secondly, I am inspired by the increasing number of individuals who share our passion for this cause. Knowing that we have such a strong grassroots base motivates me to continue the fight to protect these animals. After all, and without laying it on too thick, it was the power of the people that led to the passage of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. We can do it again.
Conant Creek Wild Horses, Kimerlee Curyl
What has been your greatest challenge or frustration with the wild horse movement?
How much time do you have? There are many challenges in this issue. The government, the false narrative, the commercial interests, and perhaps one of the most disheartening – at times, fellow advocates.
This is a big one. If you could be in charge of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, initially, what changes would you make?
I began to answer this question and realized that I could potentially be here all day. So here are the top 3 things I would initially implement:
- Address the disparity between the treatment of wild horses and private livestock on public lands. I would remove commercial livestock from wild horse habitat or, at the very least, provide a fair share of resources to protect our nation's wild horses. Currently, wild horses only occupy 17% of federal rangelands available for livestock grazing, and a whopping 80% of their designated habitat's resources are allocated to privately owned livestock. This is despite the fact that livestock outnumbers wild horses and burros on public lands by over 125:1, as revealed by a recent study by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While cattlemen enjoy a 90% discount on market-rate grazing fees, taxpayers have paid over a billion dollars in the past decade for the public lands livestock program that produces only 1.9% of the nation's beef. These funds primarily benefit large corporations, not small family ranches.
- Halt the removals until each HMA can be evaluated. The National Academy of Sciences stated in its official report to the Bureau of Land Management that roundups and removals are actually causing artificial population growth through a biological phenomenon called compensatory reproduction. In the simplest of terms, this means that following a roundup, wild horses or burros have less competition for the resources and so they reproduce faster. An exact quote from the report, “the number of animals processed through holding facilities is probably increased by management” ie. The BLM is causing the very problem it's complaining about.
I would love to hear your favorite story of being out on the range with our iconic wild horses.
I was in Utah scouting for a film crew, in search of wild horses. My mom, who I was very close to, had passed away just two months prior. My heart was heavy, but going out into the wild is always helpful. My colleague and I were in a truck and the crew was in another vehicle. The horses seemed to be hiding, and despite being out on public lands since before the sun came up, by lunchtime there was not even a hint of a mustang in the vicinity. The crew decided to head out for the day.
We parked the truck on a two-track road to figure out our next move. All of a sudden, we heard loud, thundering hooves. A herd of a dozen wild horses, being pushed by a beautiful palomino pinto stallion, were galloping directly toward our truck. There was cattle fencing that the horses were running along, and the opening was right in front of us. We didn’t have time to think or move as they hurled in our direction. So we opened our doors and stood on the steps of the truck and watched quietly as the stallion snaked his herd around our truck and back out into the wide open.
It’s a little hard to describe, but at that moment it felt like my mom was there – or the horses knew how badly I needed a sign. It felt like magic.
What do you think it is about wild horses that moves us, even those who don’t have horses in their day to day lives?
AWHC recently collaborated with designer Stella McCartney and the Chopra Foundation on a campaign about the healing power of horses. I’ll tell you what I told them.
The allure of wild horses, to me anyway, is what they represent.They embody who we say we are as Americans and also what we strive to be. In the presence of wild horses, it's impossible not to recognize and relate to their resilience, strength, and family bonds. Observing these animals has a way of making you live in the moment and let go. Simply being around them can be a powerful reminder to take a deep breath and appreciate the world around us.
Onaqui Mountains, Utah, Kimerlee Curyl
One thing I hear from my collectors and followers is “I’ve signed the petitions, donated and made the calls, it doesn’t seem to be working”. As someone who has been involved in this issue for two decades, I believe some things are working, however there is much room for improvement. I touched on “hope” earlier, yet feel the preservation of all beings, and places wild, will forever be up to us. Can you leave the readers here with a few things they can do, or continue to do, in order to keep our voices heard?
It’s important for people to remember that when you are fighting back against egregious federal policies and commercial interests with loaded pockets, it's going to look and feel more like a marathon rather than a sprint. But progress is being made - it is working.
In 2023, we have already had some wins, here are just a few. The Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act was reintroduced this year, which would ban the use of helicopters in wild horse management. The Interior Appropriations budget bill was just approved in the House of Representative and includes language directing as much as $11 million of the agency’s budget toward humane immunocontraceptive fertility control. The measure also continues to call for partnerships with military veterans and wild horse organizations, and evaluating other on-range management options, such as relocation, that would keep horses and burros out of BLM holding facilities.
The House bill further includes language urging the BLM to consider alternatives to the use of helicopters and manned fixed-wing aircraft. This marks the first time that the Congress has urged BLM to consider alternatives to helicopters.
The BLM had planned on removing 20,000 horses in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 and FY2024 however, it has gotten to the point where it can no longer afford to remove such large numbers of wild horses. This is partly because of the fertility control directive AWHC’s Government Relations team was able to secure working with members of Congress, and also because of an increase of public scrutiny.
AWHC was able to secure state legislation for the Colorado Colorado Wild Horse Project, SB23-275 which includes $1.5 million for on-range and off-range conservation efforts.The bill adds meaningful state resources to support the work of existing – but traditionally underfunded – local wild horse volunteer groups focused on sustaining federal wild horse populations through robust fertility control and stewardship programs. Not a single dime of this funding can be used on helicopter roundups.
This year marked an increase in major news networks covering the plight of wild horses. Helicopter stampedes, information about the slaughter pipeline created by the Adoption Incentive Program were seen by millions on Nightly News with Lester Holt, CNN, and ABC to name a few. AWHC has seen a significant increase, in the tens of thousands, of supporters joining our mailing list for the latest news and ways to help.
The biggest problem we face in this issue is that many people still don’t know we even have wild horses and as a result they don’t know what is happening to them. Here is what I want to leave your readers with: Once people see what’s happening - they care and take action. We have data to back this up!
So my somewhat uninspiring advice is to share, call, write and act.
- Share content of wild horses and burros on your social media - it doesn't have to be the graphic roundups, it could be one of your beautiful images. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have - it only takes one person at a time to create change.
- Make the calls to Congress one of your weekly tasks. You can easily call the Capitol switchboard to be directed right to your Representative and Senators: 202-225-3121.
- Write to your local paper - submit a letter to the editor, or draft an OpEd. Reach out to us, we can help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join our email list for important actions that you can take.
- Sign up to become a Volunteer Ambassador and help us lobby your Congressperson.
- Check out the Homes for Horses Coalition to find a rescue group near you and find a local community of support for your heart and mind.