Behind the Stories

Wild Horses

By Sauni Symonds
September 20, 2017

Wild Horses
Wild Horses

Wild Horses

Wild horses, or mustangs, come with a lot of controversy these days. The agency charged with their management is caught in the middle of a political and public affairs crisis as the current administration moves to cut the BLM wild horse budget. If this happens, the fate of up to nearly 50,000 horses and burros currently fed by the government in holding corrals or off-range pastures is uncertain. Advocates fight for solutions that won't lead to euthanasia or possibly slaughter, but their voices compete with nearly $50 million taxpayer dollars spent on maintaining the horses.

Currently, about 75,000 horses roam free on designated grazing areas around the West; these are called HMAs (Horse Management Areas). That's about three times the number originally set forth by Congress in 1971 under the Wild Horse and Burro Act, designed to protect the herds from abuse and extinction. The Act came about after Velma Bronn Johnston, a horse lover from Nevada, spent nearly twenty years campaigning to gain protections for mustangs after she had witnessed horrible abuses of the animals in gathering practices across the state by profiteers who then sold the animals for slaughter.

Horses in the Owyhee desert. Photo by Tim Tower
Horses in the Owyhee desert. Photo by Tim Tower
After decades of protection, the herds have produced more horses than the land can hold. At the same time, BLM-sponsored adoptions have declined dramatically, resulting in over-crowding and what amounts to off-range feedlots for the overflow of horses. With so many sides to this issue, it is incomprehensible to imagine an outcome that will satisfy everyone. Cattle producers want more land for grazing cows; wildlife advocates don't want cows or horses taking up more habitat; and animal advocates think horses deserve more ground.

In Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management currently runs six HMAs across the state. Each HMA has a set amount of horses allowed per acre within the designated area. In 2017, the total number of wild horses in the state hovers around 700 head, spread over 418,000 acres of open land. Two of the HMAs were temporarily closed after the Soda Fire of 2015 raged through the Owyhee rangeland. The horses who survived that fire were gathered and placed in off-range holding corrals. The BLM hopes to return the set amount of horses to those HMAs when the land has recovered enough to provide feed.

Exploring this subject has been both interesting, enlightening, and difficult. From the perspective of an observer, I will say that watching the wild herds up close is impressive and moving. Even though they look like domestic horses, their behavior is most definitely of a wild nature; the studs jockey for dominance, while the mares protect and rear their young in a land that can be harsh and unforgiving. Decades of natural selection have culled the weak and truly made these horses strong and resilient, and yes, proud.

In Wild Horses, the Outdoor Idaho crew visits the herds and talks to the stakeholders as we examine the current state of mustangs in Idaho, and beyond.

Wild Horses

On the Road Again…

By Bruce Reichert
June 21, 2017

In the Pioneer Mountains. Photo by Bob Jonas.
In the Pioneer Mountains. Photo by Bob Jonas

Lightning storm near Twin Falls. Photo by John Mills
Lightning storm near Twin Falls. Photo by John Mills
It's probably not a surprise that the Outdoor Idaho crew does most of its shooting during the summer months; it's easier to get around the state, and the days are longer.

This summer we’re shooting video for half a dozen programs, each of them a distinct slice of the Idaho story. Take, for example, our July 13 show, "Creative License." We’ll spend time with creative talents who connect to their art through nature. Casey Kristofferson loves to strum on one of his many guitars from his perch in the mountains of central Idaho. Alexandra Paliwoda pounds and forges iron into works of art from her blacksmith shop in the shadow of the Tetons near the Wyoming border. John Grade pursued his artistic vision by creating a 75-foot wooden sculpture of a lava tube at Craters of the Moon National Monument based on a digital scan of the interior. John Mills chases thunder clouds to capture digital images of stunning desert lightning storms in southern Idaho — he’s even been hit by lightning.

Our September show, “Jobs Without Walls,” involves a jet boat pilot in Hells Canyon, a soil scientist in eastern Idaho, a Life Flight helicopter pilot, a Christmas tree hunter, and a postal worker who delivers the mail by boat.

Horses in the Owyhee desert. Photo by Tim Tower
Horses in the Owyhee desert. Photo by Tim Tower
Wild Horses” - some call them feral horses – in any case, they have become a symbol of the American West. Our first show of the 35th season will explore this highly controversial topic. These horses are often reviled, as they compete for resources in an ever-changing environment, beset by fire and drought and other animals. Many of these horses wind up in holding corrals far from home, costing taxpayers millions. We’ll take a look at what is happening with these horse herds in our state and how some new ideas may offer solutions to a seemingly hopeless situation.

We’ll also be shooting footage for our November show, “Restoring Rivers.” The Portneuf and the Kootenai are two rivers where wonderful things are being done to make them more natural.

Into the Pioneers” will take the Outdoor Idaho crew into a mountain range that most Idahoans know little about. In April we shot a winter segment at Pioneer Yurt. Other segments yet to shoot include a llama trek with Ketchum native Bob Jonas and his wife Sarah Michael; a mountain climbing segment; a bike race; a feature on pronghorns and sheep, mining and geology; and much more. This hour-long December show is already generating a lot of interest among the crew.

We’ll also be doing some shooting for a handful of 2018 shows, notably “Small Town Festivals,” “Grapes & Hops,” and “Off the Grid.”

Rancher John Peavey and Tess O'Sullivan
Rancher John Peavey and Tess O'Sullivan from Nature
Conservancy on the Flat Top Ranch. Photo by Emily Bruneel
Oh, and then there’s our March 2018 show, “35th Anniversary.” That’s right, 35 years. We’re planning a fascinating look “behind the scenes,” with those who have kept us on the air for more than three decades.

So if you see us out and about this summer, be sure to say “Hi!” And if you have a story idea, that’s even better!

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