Few charges have earned such unanimous support as America's wild horses. A grassroots movement was the catalyst for the 1971 law designating mustangs as "living symbols" of the West, protecting them from being hunted, captured, or otherwise harassed. Since then, government attempts to control the horses' lives have been hotly contested. Unfortunately for horse lovers, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) only sets aside so much land for wild horses to roam. So when horses multiply so that that their allotted land's resources are depleted (and their designated habitat has been decreased by 30% since 1971) the BLM rounds up the "excess" horses and puts them out in government pastures.
Given the horses reduced habitat, it's unsurprising that when the BLM started an aggressive round-up this year, equine advocates were hopping mad. Most recently, they allege that round-ups in Nevada have run nine horses to death. But as Michael Behar writes in the "The Mustang Redemption" from the current issue of Mother Jones (on newsstands now), these animals have few options. Unlike the 3 million cattle foraging public lands, the 33,000 wild mustangs on the range have no owners to pay the BLM for grazing rights. And there are nearly as many wild horses being kept in government pens as there are outside: feeding and caring for penned horses costs nearly $30 million a year, and is projected to more than double in two years.