– With more than 17,700 Border Patrol agents, 1,200 National Guard troops, federal agents, Border Enforcement Security Task Forces, Border Liaison Officers, intelligence analysts, mobile surveillance units and unmanned aerial systems, the federal government can add another weapon to its arsenal for securing the Southwest border – wild mustangs.
More than 33,000 wild horses roam 10 Western states, giving the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the opportunity to now break some mustangs for national security use. As Republican presidential candidates call for drones to survey the border, a more traditional vision of Western law enforcement has already been introduced.
“With all the high tech efforts to safeguard the borders you might be surprised to learn old fashioned horse patrols are still quite effective,” the BLM said in 2010. “This ‘symbol’ of the Old West is a modern day member of the Border Patrol’s mounted force.”
Currently four mustangs, adopted in late 2009 after training under the Colorado Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP), are aiding Border Patrol agents in the El Paso and Del Rio area.
WHIP, a cooperative agreement between BLM and the Colorado Department of Corrections, provides selected prisoners with 200 hours of instruction before they begin preparing horses for adoption.
According to the BLM, mustangs are well equipped to meet the challenges of patrolling the border, given their strength and endurance. “All of our mustangs can move up a trail at a good pace,” Border Patrol ranger Bobby Traweek was quoted as saying at the time. “ATV's can’t get up there. Trucks can’t get up there.”
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 gave authority to the government to manage the West’s wild horse population on public rangelands. Since the 1970s, BLM has placed over 200,000 wild horses and burros (small donkeys) into private ownership.
Since herd sizes can double every four years, the bureau determines “appropriate management levels” for the region and then removes exceeding populations through sale or adoption. A total of 9,715 horses were removed in fiscal year 2010.
In Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming there are 33,014 wild horses, according to the most recent counts. The program boasts a total budget of $75.8 million for fiscal year 2011.
BLM says using the mustangs at the border is cost effective, with a horse costing about $1,000 able to provide some 10-15 years of service. “As an added bonus, the horses are hauled in trailers seized from drug smugglers apprehended in the border region near Mexico,” it adds.
Although there are currently few mustangs among the ranks of the patrol on the Mexican border, “the agency is hopeful it will be able to add more wild horses as it beefs up their mounted patrol units.
“Their wild past makes mustangs especially vigilant.”