By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Hayden is one of a dozen or so fierce advocates for the wild horse who live in various regions of the country and work for the horse in their own respective ways. Some work on the deep inside, with government agencies, others about as far away as you can get, dealing, sometimes in secret, only with the severe rescue and abuse problems posed by the cataclysmic failure of those agencies charged with wild-horse management, and sometimes even with reports of mustangs that mysteriously disappear from federal pipelines, rumored to have been transported to rodeos or slaughterhouses. Over the years, I have observed that it’s mostly women who lobby for the wild horse; its longtime partner, the cowboy, has mostly pulled a disappearing act, as if he cannot face the horse, the one animal that has seen it all and knows our country’s deepest and most hideous secrets. Hayden is one of those women.
“Kat,” as she is called, is a lifelong horse lover who grew up on a ranch in Idaho and has lived near Coyote Canyon for the past 20 years, often riding her own horse into the park to see the mustangs. In defense of the Coyote Canyon horses, she has put together an ingenious and effective networking circuit that obliterates conventional wisdom and cuts across many lines. Hayden’s network includes Tom Pogacnik of the California Bureau of Land Management (the federal BLM has not done well by the wild horse, which it is legally bound to protect), animal-rights attorney Valerie Stanley in Maryland, and California State Senator Bill Morrow (a Republican), who gets a zero on the annual Environmental Scorecard published by the California League of Conservation Voters. But that’s the thing with wild horses — the politics around them consistently make for very strange bed buddies, and it is these unlikely and very impassioned alliances that show the true power of the American mustang.
I met Hayden at the annual meeting of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, one of the myriad government meetings that is announced in relative shadow and open to the public. The “W/H & B Advisory Board,” to use the shorthand of wild-horse advocates, advises the Bureau of Land Management, under which it operates, about policy towards the federally protected mustang and burro. In 2004, some of the country’s foremost wild-horse and burro advocates had traveled to the Phoenix meeting from points west, east, south and north, to represent wild-horse and burro herds, which, in spite of BLM’s mandate, really have little protection, regardless of government claims to the contrary. Among those advocates were Ginger Kathrens, for the Pryor Mountain horses in Montana, Toni Moore and Val Stanley on behalf of the Douglas herd in Colorado, the late and crucial “Tahoe Barry” Bledsoe for the burros of the Eastern Mojave Preserve and Death Valley National Park (which reallydon’t get no respect — over the past few years, some were reportedly being hunted down and shot, legally although not surprisingly unannounced in press releases — from the National Park Service), Craig Downer for the mustangs of Nevada, and Kathleen Hayden for the Coyote Canyon herd.
Unlike the other herds various citizens spoke of, the ones that are in constant danger of being expurgated from public lands, the Coyote Canyon horses were already gone, vanished into the Orwellian maze of government housing for thousands and thousands of mustangs taken for decades from rangelands all over the West in cruel and often unnecessary seizures reminiscent of the Marilyn Monroe movie The Misfits. The years 2004 and 2005 were critical in terms of wild-horse management; the takings have escalated ferociously under the Bush administration, and there is a very palpable and logical fear that wild horses are currently doomed. Government takings of wild horses generally happen for four reasons. First, there is the mustang’s worst enemy, what I like to call “Big Beef” — ranchers who control government policy, grazing cattle on public lands for a few dollars on the head and who regard wild horses as thieves that steal food from cows. To accommodate Big Beef, the Bush administration recently “fixed” the results of a grazing study in order to unravel regulations set under Clinton. The scientists whose studies were inaccurately reframed have come forward and blown the whistle, and several public-lands groups are preparing lawsuits. Second, the wild horse must contend with oil, gas, and mineral outfits that also seek to clear the land of wildlife (have you seen the recent Kerr-McGee ad featuring wild horses happily galloping near a new gas well? The truth is, the Wyoming mustang population has been decimated to make way for such wells). Third, the wild horse is at the mercy of myriad federal, state, and local agencies that depend on grants to study things and generally come up with findings that support an anti-wild-horse mindset: In 2002, for instance, the California State Parks Department asked Stacey Ostermann of the University of California at Davis to study the impact of “feral horses on Coyote Canyon’s bighorn sheep.” In this case, Ostermann’s own conclusions, which were actually favorable to the wild horse, were ignored, although it’s difficult to mitigate negative effects of the term “feral.”