The Story Behind Wild Love Preserve Featured In IDAHO MAGAZINE
Story + Photos By Andrea Maki, September 2016
It happened in a split second. He felt the subtle release of his lead rope and was off. They yelled for me to let go, but I held on with all my might, in disbelief they wanted me to fall and determined to defy their demands as he ran with me in the saddle.
In my four-year-old mind, I was going to make them proud by staying on his back, as my dad and uncle ran after us, yelling. But then, where pasture met woods, I was thrown with intention, landing on the forest floor. I looked up to see the underside of that horse over me, and even in that moment realized he could have stepped on me, but instead he placed his hoof just next to my side. He knew his surroundings, his parameters and exactly what he was doing. He had thrown me at that point for the same reason my dad and uncle were yelling at me to let go. All three of them understood what my four-year-old self did not - the extreme danger of fast approaching low hanging branches in the dense forest. I still marvel at that horse’s smarts and the lessons he impressed upon me, to include my aunt’s subsequent insistence that I immediately get back in the saddle.
If I were to select a single experience to exemplify my life’s journey, that is it. While it was not for me to comprehend and appreciate at the time, that horse was gifting me life lessons in being, and a glimpse into my future travels. I can still feel his larger-than-life presence standing over me, as a purposeful teacher and guide. I have absorbed his gifts of truth, awareness, and endurance, which shape me to this day, and are at the heart of Wild Love Preserve and my efforts to preserve Idaho wild horses on their home turf in central Idaho.
In 2010, I inadvertently founded a nonprofit called Wild Love Preserve with a goal of hammering out a collective new solution to the wild horse crisis, which, in reality, is a human relations issue. Wild horses are wild horses. The land is the land. Wildlife is wildlife. Two-leggeds, however, can be a tricky bunch.
Even though it was an inadvertent project start, after making a commitment to wild horses in central Idaho that I would do what I could to help them remain wild on their home turf, I’ve found myself on a purposeful detour over the last six years. Little did I know at the time, my offer to help would result in a monumental project, viewed as a paradigm shift and sourced as a pilot for other wild horse regions in the West.
I've always believed that if you go in looking for a fight, you're going to get a fight. There is extreme controversy in the West as it relates to wild horse populations on our public lands, however, my tactic has been in wild horses offering us a beautiful opportunity to come together, establish new and fluid communications, and to coexist in a manner that benefits the wild horses, wildlife, environment, livestock where applicable, and all stakeholders. By design, Wild Love Preserve is a reflection of our humanity and is for all of us. My interest has been in listening to all sides, finding common ground within differing perspectives, and honoring our wild places in a way that engages and recognizes the heritage of surrounding communities.
For almost three decades now, my career is that of a contemporary visual artist, with interrelated experience in project management and art directing. Loving horses, riding horses, drawing horses - I was a horse-crazy kid who grew up in the city, and larger contemporary art world, because of my dad, sculptor Robert Maki. After I graduated from New York University in 1988 and came into my own as a professional visual artist, I began integrating wild horses into my mixed-media artwork as a conceptual element. From the time I can remember, animals, a thirst for truth, and accountability, have been central to who I am. I was born an observer, but even as a quiet child, I was innately fierce with determination when it came to honesty and justness, whether for myself or others, I wouldn’t hesitate to speak out when necessary.
Experiences in life are like breadcrumbs, leading the way to future destinations and I savor the moments when things come together and “make sense.” Wild Love Preserve is truly a culmination of many paths I have walked before and is not my first experience in working to benefit wild horses, wildlife, and the environment. Over the years, I have used my art and photographs as purposeful tools to spread awareness and garner respective support. In 1999, for a solo-exhibition, I produced a body of mixed-media work with wild horses I photographed in eastern Washington, and in 2005, I traveled to California to photograph wild horses for related artwork, however, that production was put on hold after I learned Senator Burns (MT) had attached a rider to an appropriations bill in the wee hours, successfully undermining the 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act. Without hesitation, I turned my efforts to saving wild horses in ways I could offer.
In April 2010, I traveled to Ketchum for my German shepherd, Kiowa, to have elbow surgery. Friends who were collectors of my art suggested the idea and offered a place to stay. After speaking with Dr. Randy Acker at Sun Valley Animal Hospital, I knew it was the right choice for us, and having spent time in the area skiing, and later art directing and styling for corporate clients, it was a familiar and comfortable trip to make from Seattle.
I had a limited window of time to get Kiowa to Ketchum and I welcomed a brief respite from living in hospitals regarding my mom's well-being. I called a friend and she flew up to help me with carrying Kiowa and for a little wild horse adventure. My hope had been to photograph some regional Challis wild horses on the range for artwork, while Kiowa was recuperating, and possibly visit some adopted Challis wild horses in the area that my friend learned about from a friend of hers with family roots in Ketchum. As it turned out, wild horses weren't in the cards, so I dropped my friend at the airport and loaded my truck. The next morning, Kiowa and I hit the road, but as we turned onto the highway I received a game-changing phone call, thanks to my friend.
In my truck, at the side of the highway, I had a lengthy phone conversation and learned about the circumstances surrounding these adopted Challis wild mares from the Bureau of Land Management’s 2009 Challis helicopter roundup, and was given permission and directions to visit them. My original interest had been in photographing, but this encounter was something else altogether. As I stood alone amidst these wild mares, their energy was all-consuming, and the message was clear: with the privilege of visiting, comes a responsibility to help. So, in that moment, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart with these wild wonders, I made a commitment that I would do what I could to help them return to their home on the other side of the hills, which they gazed upon in the distance.
Wheels set in motion, I presumed my efforts would be brief. Determined to keep my promise to help these horses, I was immediately on the phone, researching names and places, during the road trip back to Seattle. To my delight, stars were aligning in a surprising fashion and within a few weeks, I had connected with a pivotal property owner.
Our first phone conversation lead to an office meeting and then a unique deal to purchase his property as a wildlife preserve, because it was adjacent to the Challis Herd Management Area (HMA), and the existing home of two bands of Challis wild horses. The Challis HMA is a 154,150-acre expanse of multi-use public land and high desert wilderness, which not only is home to numerous bands of the Challis herd, but is rich in other native wildlife and habitat, and is also used for outdoor recreation and livestock grazing.
Buying a wildlife preserve hadn't been my initial intent, but I was following where steps were leading. The playing field was taking shape and my quick turn around of help was replaced with concept modifications and a business plan. I found myself in regular communications with a highly respected mentor and was advised to create a non-profit corporation for raising funds for operations and land acquisitions.
This entire project has been shaped by asking questions, doing research, listening, and persevering. It has been most important to heed the advice of trusted supporters and listen to stakeholders on all sides, in an effort to better understand differing perspectives, find common ground and ways of working together. Many people told me it wouldn’t be possible to bring these opposing sides together, but I’ve always believed such goals can be achieved through open communication, kindness, and mutual respect. Some thought me a traitor for working with the BLM and ranchers, but the fact is, our public lands are multi-use, which means we must work together and share.
For the first couple years of the project, I was under the radar, connecting dots, meeting face to face with folks in the community, building trust and working alliances. I had thought being an outsider would be a problem, but instead, it seemed to work in my favor. I was not aligned with anyone or any group, which I discovered was imperative to bridging divides. I was simply representing the wild horses and asking stakeholders if they would be willing to share their stories and to work with me and Wild Love Preserve to create a new, inclusive model in regional wild horse management that would prove beneficial for the whole. In achieving this goal, diplomacy, patience and learning from one another, shifted pre-existing mindsets.
Our wild mustangs are revered as an American icon, symbolizing unbridled freedom, power, determination, and the Wild West. This wildness is essential to our whole. Evolutionary studies have revealed that the North American continent is the original birthplace of the genus Equus. Wild horses are a native species, and most notable among them is Idaho’s state fossil, the Hagerman Horse, a species of equid from the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods that first appeared about 3.5 million years ago. Hagerman fossils, discovered in 1928 by an Idaho rancher, were reconstructed into twenty complete skeletons, which can be found in the Smithsonian and museums across the country, representing the oldest widely-accepted remains of the genus Equus. Before the extinction of North American horses about ten thousand years ago, many wild horses had drifted across the Bering Land Bridge to Eurasia, which proved advantageous to man. The horse’s return to indigenous soil came with European explorers by sea. The horse has been instrumental in humankind’s survival and development, and I believe we owe great respect, gratitude and debt to the horse.
As a two-part wildlife preserve, the objective of Wild Love Preserve is the protection and preservation of our native wild horses and their respective indigenous ecosystems as a balanced and interconnected whole. By walking new paths together and establishing fluid communications between stakeholders, we can achieve this goal. A cornerstone of our mission is that we are holistic, focusing on total range health on our public lands, and as a private wildlife preserve, we mirror this balanced co-existence, versus being a single-focused fenced wild horse sanctuary.
As it turned out, the wild mares that had set the ball rolling were moved to a sanctuary out of state. But by then, the project had grown to such a degree that there was no turning back. In addition to daily fundraising efforts, I was entrenched in multi-faceted logistics and negotiations in an effort to curtail the 2012 Challis helicopter roundup by offering the BLM a new collaborative option to wild horse population management, that would engage and benefit the regional community while saving federal dollars.
We didn’t succeed in curtailing the 2012 helicopter roundup, but we were present to monitor daily activities. The BLM removed 150 wild horses from the range and left an estimated 185 free-roaming, but they kept their word by leaving two specific bands of Challis wild horses untouched to be part of our joint pilot program in humane fertility control with Native PZP-1YR. This biodegradable fertility vaccine as designed by Dr. Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., of The Science and Conservation Center in Billings, MT, has proven safe and effective for over a quarter century with the famous Assateague Island Ponies, and at the time in 2012, was being used successfully with a handful of wild horse herds in the west, such as McCullough Peaks in Wyoming and Little Book Cliffs in Colorado.
My goal was to be proactive in maintaining the population of the Challis herd after the 2012 roundup in an effort to avert future roundups by addressing total range health and including all stakeholders. That same year, we trained five volunteers, including myself, at The Science and Conservation Center, and we purchased necessary equipment, thanks to grants and donations. Preparation is always key, and it was necessary that we became certified in remotely darting wild mares in the field. Since our pilot program commenced in 2014 with treating five wild mares, our collaborative efforts with the BLM have expanded annually, and we have demonstrated the positive effects of new working relations that benefit the wild horses, environment, community, and taxpayers
During the 2012 roundup, my mind was spinning in regard to the wild horses that would be permanently removed. If they were to go through the usual BLM process of adoptions, with unadopted wild horses being shipped to long-term holding facilities out of state, we would have accomplished nothing. And therein lies, another monumental shift in this project.
In addition to our collaborative work on the range with the BLM, Wild Love Preserve adopted all of the removed Challis wild horses the BLM made available so that not one was shipped out of state to longterm holding at taxpayer expense. Instead, we set in motion our creation of a native wild expanse on home turf where they will remain a wild herd. Our mass adoption remains the second largest in BLM history, but first of its kind in intent. Presently, I continue to pursue funding for acquisitions of our wildlands from private donors, not from federal coffers.
The term that best describes Wild Love Preserve is “organic evolution,” because we have been shaped by responding to the array of logistics that arise at every turn. So far, we have adopted 136 wild horses, work collaboratively on the range, and our creating a permanently protected wild expanse in the heart of Idaho wild horse country. We work with the BLM, cattle ranchers, environmentalists, wildlife biologists, wild horse advocates, youth employment groups and regional communities, and our mission is driven by kindness, mutual respect, science, and education, as we engage public and private lands to address all facets of regional wild horse conservation at home.
Since the 2012 Challis roundup, we have helped to ensure that no Idaho wild horse has been shipped to an out-of-state government holding facility. There are over 50,000 wild horses in longterm holding facilities, and an estimated 40,000 remain wild on public lands in ten western states. Government roundups, removals, transport, and long-term holding costs American taxpayers over $77 million annually, while wild horses pay the ultimate price in capture, loss of freedom, family, and often, life.
At the government's estimate of savings to taxpayers of fifty thousand dollars per lifetime for each wild horse, our programs, on and off the range, have saved American taxpayers $7.5 million dollars since 2013. By design, we have turned Challis wild horses into an asset for the local community, region, and state.
Four years into this project, in 2014, I experienced a revelation that brought Wild Love Preserve full circle for me as a contemporary visual artist. The extended separation from my art and studio had me feeling very disjointed, but then, in a flash, everything coalesced and I realized this project is, in fact, a living, breathing and evolving embodiment of my conceptually based work. Suddenly I understood, I have been living within my own art—walking, talking, producing, and nurturing a three-dimensional environmental “installation” in real time which will live on as a reflection of our enduring humanity.
This was pivotal for me because my artwork always has centered on what I refer to as “the concept of one,” which is to say, we are all of the same energy, simply in different packages, whether you or I, animals, birds, plants, trees, water, or wind. This awareness nurtures mutual respect, understanding, compassion, and action on behalf of our collective well-being, for one understands that to harm another is to harm one’s self. This oneness is also the inspiration of Wild Love Preserve and the reason behind our name.
Wild Love Preserve is rooted in two-legged accountability. I believe we have a responsibility to care for the whole. While I love wild horses and all wildlife, this project is not merely passion-based. Passion is wonderful, it is to be honored, respected, and nurtured, however, this project speaks to cause and effect. Man-made conditions must be addressed in a responsible and all-encompassing manner. This is not someone else’s problem to fix, it is ours, and it impacts all of us, whether one is aware of this fact, or not.
- Andrea Maki, Idaho Magazine Story, September 2016
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WildLove Preserve: How We Are Saving Them At Home