In the Hot Seat: Wild Horse Advocates Target Local Woman
This article appeared in the "Horseplay" section of today's edition of The Daily Sentinel. The byline should have read "By Bob Silbernagel" instead of "By Staff."
Callie Hendrickson has a wealth of knowledge and experience related to horses, natural resources and conflict resolution.
Wild horse advocates don’t care about any of it. To them, she is the enemy. They are in an uproar because Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar appointed the Grand Junction woman to the national Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in January.
As a member, Hendrickson has yet to attend a single meeting of the board that advises the Bureau of Lanad Management on the handling of wild horses and burros on federal lands. But she is among the top targets of protests — as recently as last week — by such by wild-horse groups.
She is described as an advocate of slaughtering wild horses — something she adamantly denies. Others make claims such as this one, posted on the website of change.org: “Ms. Hendrickson endorses removal of all wild horse from their rangeland.” But that claim is demonstrably false.
One of the documents about Callie linked to on another wild horse site is a letter Hendrickson wrote last year in her capacity as executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation District. In it, she expressed support for the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act that mandates protection of the animals. More specifically, she said Americans must “protect and manage America’s wild horses and burros on public lands.”
But in that letter and in person Hendrickson expresses concerns about the ever-growing numbers of wild horses on the range, the damage they are causing to many range areas, the tens of thousands of wild horse and burros now in BLM holding pens and the millions of dollars they are costing taxpayers each year.
One option she has suggested is allowing the penned wild horses to be sold to any buyer, without limitation on what the buyers can do with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will end up in slaughterhouses, she says. In fact, it could make it easier for those interested in finding permanent homes for the mustangs to do so.
To many wild horse advocates, even mentioning such ideas is the equivalent of proposing the mass slaughter of all wild horses. Many advocates seem convinced the federal government is out to do just that.
Such a notion leaves BLM officials who are trying to balance wild horse management with other uses of public lands frustrated and angry. They have accused wild horse advocates of resorting to scare tactics.
“Their apocalypse-now, sky-is-falling rhetoric is flagrantly dishonest and is clearly aimed at preventing the BLM from gathering horses from overpopulated herds on the range,” BLM spokesman Tom Gorey told the Associated Press last month. “The BLM is not ‘managing for extinction.’ There is no conspiracy to put down healthy horses that are in off-the-range holding facilities.”
Hendrickson seems an unlikely person to end up at the center of such a controversy.
She grew up near Uravan, but spent much of her time as a child in Grand Junction, including attending 4-H meetings and county fairs here.
After graduating from Nucla High School, she completed the Horse Training and Management program at Lamar Community College. She spent seven years proessionally training cutting and reining horses before she decided to return to school. Hendrickson obtained a degree in business and marketing from Mesa State College, and later a teaching certificate in the same subjects. She taught school in Walden and later at the Jobs Corps in Collbran, before taking a job as an ag loan officer in Cortez.
Ten years ago, she went to work for the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts in Denver. Two years ago, she left the state organization to become executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation District.
Conservation districts are local special districts established to carry out natural resource management programs. They used to be known as soil conservation districts. They exist throughout the country and work with landowners, especially farmers and ranchers, within their boundaries.
In the West, they are also concerned about federal lands. And in the White River, Douglas Creek district, one of the top concerns on federal lands is the management of wild horse herds there. A BLM plan to remove a small group of wild horses known as the West Douglas Creek Herd infuriated wild horse advocates and led to a federal lawsuit. The plan has yet to be implemented.
Enter Hendrickson, writing letters to the BLM on behalf of the district, attending meetings of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and finding herself arguing with wild horse advocates over the best ways to manage the animals.
“I so appreciate Ken Salazar for being willing to appoint someone who has the diverse background I have,” she said. “I’ve spent my life with horses, I work in natural resources and I have a background in mediation.”
She knows well that many wild horse advocates want to attack her personally. “I’ll just stick with the facts and look for solutions,” she said. “We have to protect and manage wild horses, but we have to protect them as one component of the public lands. We also have to protect all the natural resources and manage for multiple uses.”
Hendrickson’s membership on the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board could be a wild ride.