Wild Horse Controversy in Kansas
Deep in the heart of The Flint Hills, the ground gives warning of what is coming; thousands of horses, more wild than their name could ever suggest, thundering across Kansas in a spectacle many don't even know exists.
“A lot of people are surprised to learn that there are many thousands of wild horses in Kansas,” said Bureau of Land Management spokesman, Paul McGuire.
Once roaming open ranges in The West, these American Mustangs have been transported to Kansas as part of the federal government's Wild Horse Program.
Today 9,593 Mustangs call Kansas home, occupying almost 77,000 acres of the Sunflower State.
“It may not appear to be ideal pasture but for these wild horses it is,” said McGuire.
In the 1970's, The Bureau of Land Management was charged with preserving the animal, many feared was at risk of disappearing. Before long, the BLM's task evolved.
“The issue that we have now is not one of the animals being at risk of vanishing. It's quite the opposite. It's that they're overpopulating the areas that they inhabit,” said McGuire.
Its overpopulation, according to the BLM, that if not managed would threaten the land, other wildlife, even energy resource development.
“The public lands are managed for a wide variety of purposes and it's a delicate balancing act. BLM has to manage the interests and concerns and values of 300 million Americans and that's a very daunting task,” said McGuire.
Also daunting is the program's cost, billed to the American taxpayer.
Last year, The Wild Horse and Burro Program cost $75 million. Some goes to horse adoption programs, research and range monitoring but a lot goes to the ranchers, who provide the land and food for these transplanted horses to live.
They're paid about $1.30 per horse, per day. At one Kansas ranch, where there are 4,400 Mustangs, that equals a paycheck of over $2million each year.
“So it is a pretty expensive proposition. Keeping horses in holding is not the ideal situation. The ideal situation is to find homes for animals that are removed from range. Beyond that, the ideal situation is to get the populations on the range in balance with the numbers that can be placed for adoption,” said McGuire.
The BLM acknowledges it is always trying to improve its wild horse program and no one can deny its incredible cost but the alternatives proposed couldn't be any more different.
A short drive south through The Flint Hills, lives Trixie; a rescued Mustang who now calls The Rainbow Meadows Equine Rescue and Retirement home, along with dozens of other horses.
Animal Welfarist Karen Everhardt is adamant that the BLM's program is not only broken, but abusive. Not all BLM horses end up running free on Kansas land.
“Some of those horses remain in those intermediate holding facilities for a long, long time and they're nothing more than a feedlot. Nothing more. In the mud, with no protection, out in the deserts,” said Everhardt.
Everhardt maintains the program has turned into an issue of greed and cheap grazing units. She says all the BLM has to do is let the horses go back to where they came from and instead focus on birth control and creating water and food for them in the wild.
“What motivates us as human beings to think that we are so omnipotent that we know how to do it better than they know how to do it themselves? They've been doing it for hundreds of years. We've been doing it for 30,” said Everhardt.
Not far from Rainbow Meadows, Carl Thurow's prized Paint Horses devour their afternoon treat.
”Horses are my life,” said Thurow.
Thurow says he loves horses but his answer to the wild horse issue is very different.
“The taxpayer is just paying to keep horses alive, for what?” said Thurow.
He agrees with the BLM, that if left in the wild, the overpopulation would be devastating. Thurow believes it only makes sense to re-open horse slaughter plants.
“Those excess animals, the old animals that they call off, we take them to the horse slaughter and then they create good for somebody. You know, there's somebody that benefits from those horses and it's not a drain on our national economy taking care of these things,” said Thurow.
Back in the hills, a new heard of Mustangs have been dropped off and are now exploring their new home.
Little do they know the debate that rages around them, as wild as their western spirit.
If you would like to check out some wild horses in person, there's an open house and adoption at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility June 1-2. For more information, visit the link on this page.