University of Arizona professor Ed de Steiguer didn't need to look far for inspiration during the six years he spent researching and writing his recent book, "Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs."
For starters, there's a century-old photograph on the fireplace mantel in the Foothills home de Steiguer shares with his wife, Pamela.
The image is of his father, Joe de Steiguer, who was about 3 or 4 and sitting on a mule in San Marcos, Texas.
De Steiguer said the photo symbolizes the cowboy-and-horse traditions of his childhood -- both sides of his family.
His great-grandfather, Peter Smith, was a cavalryman during the Civil War and a Texas trail driver who moved cattle from Texas to Kansas railheads.
"These were real cowboys, not the drugstore variety," he said.
For de Steiguer, this passion for horses and the West is mixed with a keen interest in America's public land and the history and politics surrounding its usages.
De Steiguer, 65, teaches classes on public land use for the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment. Before moving to Tucson with his wife and two children in 1998, he worked on land management issues for 20 years with the U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina.
"One of the main issues is management of federal lands in the West," said de Steiguer, who earned his doctorate in forestry from Texas A&M University.
"Believe it or not, this wild-horse issue, over the last several years in Congress, has been ranked one of the top land-use issues in the West."
Politics and Policies
In his book, de Steiguer explores the history of America's wild horses and examines the politics today.
De Steiguer focuses on several issues, including steadily increasing horse and burro populations, sometimes cruel and even fatal horse roundups, a marginally successful adoption program, a reluctance to use fertility control, and overflowing horse holding facilities.
He worked in spurts over the years and spent breaks from the university traveling to areas where the horses live as wild animals.
De Steiguer, with the help of his wife, also spent a week at the Denver Public Library poring over the letters of Velma Bronn Johnston, known as "Wild Horse Annie." Johnston worked for years to achieve the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
The act put the Bureau of Land Management in charge of the wild-horse program, established 200 herd-management areas and established horses as equals on public lands that also serve cattlemen, hunters and loggers.
Today, wild horses live on established grazing lands in parts of the Great Basin, as well as in Northern Arizona, where there are mostly burros.
There is also a large horse range on the Montana-Wyoming border called the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
The Bureau of Land Management's national goal is to keep the wild-horse population below 27,000, de Steiguer said, but there are about 33,000 wild horses in the herd-management areas.
Each year, as a result, wild horses and burros are auctioned around the United States, including at the Pima County Fairgrounds. Burros go quickly, de Steiguer said, but interest varies with the wild horses.
"As you might imagine, people are reluctant to adopt these horses that are over a year old," he said. Those that are not adopted usually end up in long-term holding facilities in states such as Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota. There are about 30,000 wild horses confined to holding corrals.
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