Roaming Free: Film Looks for Wild Horse Solutions, Washington Looks for Oversight Change

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Pack your bags. Find C-Span on the cable guide. It’s time to go to Washington and fight for horses, or at least watch some Congressional livestreams about them.

Pick your equine advocacy issue: Walking horse soring. Equine slaughter. Wild horse preservation. Thoroughbred racing medication reform. They’re all up for discussion and perhaps even a vote soon in Washington, if their sponsors can raise enough support and get bills through committees and out onto the floor of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives for a vote.

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No matter which side of any of the issues you’re on, you will be seeing and hearing about head to head debate in our nation’s capital about these horse-related issues. You can send a check, you can volunteer, or you can start writing letters and sending emails on your own. But almost everyone will be drawn into these battles, which may or may not fall along party lines. Some may fall along the which side of Mississippi River you're from.

"Roaming Wild" is a thought-provoking film on wild horse points of view by Sylvia Johnson

But then again, there are people who think that solutions can be found. Consider filmmaker Sylvia Johnson. Roaming Wild, along with her film Wild Horse Warriors, about wild horses used for therapy with military veterans, are films that try to be realistic in the way they portray wild horses and the people around them. She believes that a compromise is out there somewhere on the range, if we can all just agree to find it and work on it.

Johnson’s Roaming Wild film was shown this month in Durango, Colorado followed by an information session about wild horses in southwestern Colorado hosted by the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association. 

While Johnson and the people you’ll see and hear in her films try to find solutions, Congress came up with a very different solution this week, with the re-introduction of the Wild Horse Oversight Act in both the House (H.R. 3172) and Senate (S. 1845). 

Two Utah statesmen, Representative Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation yesterday that would give states and tribes jurisdiction over wild horse herds to bring them into compliance with each state’s or tribe’s priorities for protecting rangeland from what they say is destruction and unfair competition from wild horses. States and tribes would work with the Bureau of Land Management to preserve a population of wild horses as dictated by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

The 2014 version of the Wild Horse Oversight Act was introduced July 10, 2014 by Representatives Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Tom McClintock (R-California). It did not come to a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee, which was then chaired by Doc Hastings (R-Washington). Committee chairs influence whether legislation will come up for a vote or not.

But things have changed in Washington. Representative Bishop, who sponsored the bill last year, is now the chairman of the committee. The Wild Horse Oversight Act might receive a completely different reception when it comes to whether or not it should be voted on in the committee this year. 

In March, the committee voted to move forward on H.R. 152, which would create a federal management plan known as the Corolla Wild Horse Protection Act for the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. That bill is now in front of yet another committee, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, but it did move forward.

If anyone thinks that the Utah bill will sweep through the natural resources committee, they haven’t met the ranking member, Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), who has been calling for reform of the national wild horse policy for years...on behalf of the horses.

They may be receptive to listening to Sylvia Johnson and some of her subjects' creative solutions, after a while.

An activist, a cowboy, and a mountain man search for solutions to protect life and land in this modern day Western about America’s wild horses.
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