Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Analyzing horses as cultural resources

William Lipe
describes four ways in which cultural resources are valued in his essay Value and Meaning in Cultural Resources.  He details that some cultural resources have associative/symbolic value that provides a superior understanding of the past that written or oral history cannot match.  Through these resources, such olden days can become tangible.  They are symbols of a time passed we can only imagine.  They also have informational value.  Inferences about the past can be obtained, studied, and appreciated - though mostly by researchers.  The aesthetic value of cultural resources depends on the observer.  It is influenced by their culture as they view the resource.  One person may see the value of an old farmhouse, while another may not.  Lastly, many cultural resources have an economic value.  This is a difficult one because for many resources it is near impossible to place a dollar sign.  This value often clashes with the symbolic, aesthetic, and informational values.  But, how much people are willing to spend on a resource is indicative of its economic value.

Of these four value areas, symbolic value is best matched with my resource management interests dealing with rangelands and wild horses.  Free-roaming horses are viewed by many as a symbol of freedom and the American West.  They are stated as a “living legend” in the 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horses and Buros Act.  As untamed and unbridled creatures on western ranges of the Great Basin, wild horses are a cultural resource with aesthetic importance for their strength and beauty.  They are also a cultural resource with symbolic value through a tangible link to a western, pioneering past from which they have survived.  They are a physical representation of a piece of American history. 

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act protects the existence of all unbranded horses on federally owned lands by putting their management into the hands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).. With horses being such an important resource to many people, the BLM must preserve them in their historic landscape while also permitting other uses of the land.   With conflicting interests in cattle grazing and mining leases, collaboration must occur on some level between the agency and interested stakeholders.

The potential area for collaboration with preserving these symbols can occur within all of these values.  From the agency’s management of this cultural resource, preservation of the horse’s symbolic value can be maintained through the economic values of the land.  Money obtained from cattle leases are used to repair degraded ranges, control invasive weeds, and re-vegetate.  This provides for a healthier ecosystem where the horses live and can thrive.  The symbolic value of horses is also maintained through aesthetic values.  The agency works to manage and preserve the landscape for recreation purposes.  Therefore, the horses can be viewed in the context of an authentic past, where informational value can also come into play.  The BLM is in charge of the Wild Horse and Burro program, which enhances the history of wild horses associated with western settlement.  The wild horse as symbol of the American West is promoted through the informational value they carry with them.  When horses are removed from the range to maintain populations, they can be adopted by citizens.  These owners then own a “living legend” and a piece of history.

Though it would seem the symbolic value of these horses can be well maintained by collaboration between the BLM and stakeholders, it is unfortunate that conflict is more likely to occur.  Advocates fear that this symbol of the American West is being managed to extinction through periodic removals meant to maintain populations.  Where mining and economic uses of rangelands for cattle grazing clash with wild horses, it is clear that more collaboration is required on both sides to preserve wild horses in a landscape also needed for economic means.


  1. I'm not sure that I agree that mining and cattle grazing should be comparable in a clash with wild horses as cattle share the water and feed, while mining [depending on the type of mining] destroys at least temporarily, the renewable resource,grass. Therefor, mining may too clash with cattle grazing, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in cattle which were here before the "living Legends" .

  2. I actually agree. I was going to hack that "mining" part out because economic gains from mining is not recycled back into supporting wild horses, but must have forgotten. Hope my prof doesn't Thanks for pointing that out.