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Can Wild Horses and Ranchers Co-Exist?

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
(Photo: Michael Friberg)

(Photo: Michael Friberg)

Can wild horses co-exist with ranchers and their grazing cows? James McWilliams visits Nevada to witness the competing interests and myths of a latter-day range war.

McWilliams' Pacific Standard essay is currently available to subscribers and will be posted online on Monday, November 23. Until then, an excerpt:

“I’m just trying to maintain my cattle and the range grounds,” says Tammy Pearson, another Utah rancher. “We haven’t run full numbers of cattle for 30 years because of horses.” Pearson’s BLM-leased land is part of the 17 percent that overlaps with HMAs, but Pearson thinks that the BLM has allowed wild horse populations to swell to proportions she deems invasive.

“We’re supposed to have 15 to 20 horses on our allotments but the BLM counted 200 in 2012, and we estimated 300,” Pearson says. The situation gives her the fantods. “We can’t rest our pastures with horses out there 365 days a year. They’re doing irreparable damage to the pastures, and the BLM’s hands are tied by horse-advocacy groups and environmentalists.” Out of the 537 cattle that she owns, 300 are currently kept off the range for part of the time.

For ranchers without wild horse problems, stories such as Yardley’s and Pearson’s leave an indelible impression. Will they, too, soon be under siege by an unruly herd of mustangs? Don Anderson, who grazes cattle on BLM land in western Utah, has seen only five or six horses on his property. But he’s not resting easy.

“I’m very concerned,” he says. “I’m seeing horses in areas I haven’t seen them before. A few horses don’t worry me, but knowing their growth, those five to six will become 40. If I don’t get excited about it, I’ll have horses competing for my forage. Then what recourse will I have?”


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