"WE NEED the tonic of wildness." During the past several months, many thousands of Americans, particularly children, have concurred in Thoreau's plea with an outpouring of concern for the preservation of wild horses and burros on our Western ranges. The 11-year-old son of one Congressman felt deeply enough on the issue to himself testify before the House of Representatives,1 and countless personal letters--many from young people-have come to the Congress, to the Federal land management agencies, and in my own mail. I take special pleasure today, therefore, in signing strong new legislation to protect these noble animals.
1 Gregory Gude, son of Representative Gilbert Gude of Maryland.
Horses and burros were unknown to the people of the Americas in pre-Columbian times. It was the early Spanish expeditions which brought the first of these animals to the vast wild lands that later became our Western States. The descendants of these animals were joined over the centuries by other bloodlines, including horses and burros turned loose for economic reasons or abandoned with the advent of mechanized fanning, until they numbered about 2 million by the turn of the 20th century.
In the past 70 years, however, civilization and economics have brought them to 99 percent extinction--so that on the public lands today there remain only about 9,500 unbranded and unclaimed horses and 11,000 free-roaming burros. The demands of the market for their processed products, competition for forage used by domestic livestock, construction of new roads and urban areas, and expansion of agricultural areas have reduced their numbers and sharply decreased the areas where they are free to roam. Overpopulation in other of their habitats has also resulted in disease and death for many of them. With the depletion continuing apace, immediate and effective measures are clearly needed to prevent the complete extermination of the wild breeds-and with it the death of part of the frontier spirit.
I believe that S. 1116, which I am approving today, prepares us to take just such measures. Embodying the best judgment of both the Congress and the executive branch, it should do much to insure a continuing safe habitat for wild horses and burros on the public lands of the United States. It declares that all such animals shall be managed and protected by either the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture, according to which department administers the lands where they are found. It permits the establishment of ranges for their use. It makes killing or molesting them a Federal crime. It prohibits their sale or that of their remains.
Wild horses and burros merit man's protection historically--for they are a living link with the days of the conquistadors, through the heroic times of the Western Indians and the pioneers, to our own day when the tonic of wildness seems all too scarce. More than that, they merit it as a matter of ecological right--as anyone knows who has ever stood awed at the indomitable spirit and sheer energy of a mustang running free.
I am happy to take part in the effort to guarantee their future, and I salute particularly those determined young defenders of the wild horse who have helped give impetus to this effort.