No matter how you see wild horses, it’s clear that they have been mismanaged by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a long time at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. The BLM spent $81.226 million on managing wild horses for fiscal year 2018. Most of these horses and burros are removed from rangeland and placed indefinitely in holding pens. The animals are available for adoption but there are significantly more horses and burros captured annually than are adopted out.
Horse populations continue to rise unchecked and plans to sterilize horses were previously dropped by the BLM. Research even shows that the BLM’s removal of so many horses and burros probably drives up their population growth rates.
Now, Congressional Quarterly reports that there is a serious conflict of interest involved in BLM’s wild horse management. The House of Representatives passed the 2020 appropriations bill HR 3055 on June 25th, and approved of a plan to manage wild horses hashed out by different stakeholders.
The plan was created by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Return to Freedom, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the American Farm Bureau, the Public Lands Council, the American Mustang Foundation, among others groups well known to be pro horse slaughter and hostile towards wild horses and burros.
For a full list of the "stakeholders", click here.
The plan is called ‘10 years to AML: A Proposal for BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program’ and doesn’t seem to offer much that hasn’t been tried or suggested in the past. The plan calls for removing more horses from rangeland to “more cost-effective pasture facilities” and fertility control for up to 90% of free range mares. This includes moving many of the horses to private pastures, said to be less expensive than many of the facilities they’re now housed in. These methods are promoted as an alternative to lethal population control methods. Despite the optimism of the plan, it has harsh critics.
All together, the plan seems like a humane way to remove the competition wild horses and burros represent to ranchers grazing livestock on public lands as well as native wildlife. Some wild horse advocates see this as an unacceptable compromise.
The future of the bill and how wild horses and burros will be managed is in the hands of the Senate now. Advocates of the bill asked for $50 million to implement the wild horse plan, the House appropriated $6 million for the Department of the Interior to begin implementing the plan. The Senate appropriations panel that oversees funding for the Department of the Interior. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the chairwoman of the panel and her chief clerk is Emy Lesofski, who is married to Drew Lesofski, head of the American Mustang Foundation.
Drew Lesofski is a lobbyist who formerly worked for Jim Gibbons, then governor of Nevada. Nevada is home to 60% of wild horses living on public land in the US. Critics point out that the Mustang Foundation would potentially benefit if the plan to relocate horses to private holding facilities prior to adoption, all at a cost of millions to taxpayers. This obviously sets the stage for a conflict of interest. The question remains what other options to public land managers have?
Critics of the current plan seem to call for an on range management plan, which makes sense if you consider the wild horse as a part of the western American ecosystem. The key to the success of the plan isn’t removing and adopting horses out, which seems very unlikely to grow enough to significantly reduce wild horse numbers. Instead, the fertility control is key.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, removing wild horses only causes populations to grow faster. The question becomes, why remove horses at all when they’re only likely to cost taxpayers millions to keep? The new plan claims that marketing to east coast horse owners will increase adoption rates but it’s hard to say they will increase significantly. In the meantime, horses will be kept in captivity costing money and resources but no longer competing with livestock for grazing land.
A Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing this week to discuss strategies to reduce growing wild horse and burro herds.
Tomorrow's Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining hearing will "examine long-term management options for the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Program," according to summary written by GOP staffers.
The hearing comes in advance of a much-anticipated report BLM is expected to submit to Congress next month detailing specific strategies and funding estimates for reducing the number of wild horses and burros.
What exactly BLM plans to include in the report is unclear. But Steve Tryon, BLM's deputy assistant director for resources and planning, is scheduled to testify at tomorrow's hearing and will almost certainly be grilled about the upcoming report.
One thing the report will not include is a standing Trump administration request for Congress to lift language in appropriations bills that forbids BLM from using euthanasia on healthy horses and burros that cannot be adopted.
Casey Hammond, the Interior Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management who is temporarily overseeing BLM, announced last week at a national wild horse advisory panel meeting that euthanasia is "not an option that's being discussed in the bureau or the department".
How that new Trump administration position sits with conservative Republicans, like subcommittee Chairman Mike Lee of Utah, remains to be seen. But the topic of euthanasia as a option for culling herd sizes is likely to be a major topic of debate at the hearing.
Among those scheduled to testify is Ethan Lane, chairman of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, which advocates for downsizing herds on public lands to sustainable levels.
Lane is also senior executive director of the Public Lands Council and of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Both groups joined the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others in devising a macabre plan submitted to congressional appropriators in April to reduce growing herd sizes without resorting to euthanasia or unrestricted sales (The Path Forward, 10 Years to AML proposal).
Nancy Perry, ASPCA's senior vice president of government affairs, is also scheduled to testify.
The hearing comes as federal land managers say there are at least 88,000 wild horses and burros roaming 27 million acres of herd management areas — more than three times the appropriate management level of 26,690 animals deemed sustainable for natural resources and the wildlife that live on the rangelands.
The 88,000 wild horses "is very, very far away from healthy herds," Hammond told the wild horse advisory board last week.
BLM has ramped up organized roundups of wild horses and burros, as well as efforts to get these animals adopted. But the bureau estimates that it costs about $50 million a year — close to 70% of the Wild Horse and Burro Program annual budget — to care for the animals held in off-range holding corrals and pens.
"We often forget about that number," Hammond said, referring to those costs.
"That's what's eating up a significant portion of the budget that Congress has given us just to take care of the [animals] we've taken off the range [in order] to have a healthy range that we don't have," he said. "So the challenges are significant."
Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, July 16, at 2:30 p.m. in 366 Dirksen.
Source: E&E News
coalition urges congress to reject the "path forward" 10 years to aml plan for wild horses and burros
Today, a broad coalition of stakeholders, organizations, and businesses sent a letter to the U.S. Congress in strong opposition to a dangerous and unworkable proposal that threatens our iconic American wild horses. The "Path Forward" 10 Years to AML proposal, a brainchild of The HSUS, ASPCA and Return to Freedom, working in concert with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation, calls for the removal of at least 45,000 to 60,000 and potentially as many as 200,000 wild horses and burros from our federal lands over the next ten years, putting the horses at significant risk of slaughter and placing a burden on taxpayers for an outcome that is widely opposed by the public.
“This is terrible deal for wild horses. The unfunded 'plan' will put tens of thousands more wild horses in government holding, with their fate left to the whims of future appropriators,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director at the American Wild Horse Campaign. “Make no mistake: this could result in the eventual slaughter of tens of thousands of wild horses. The cattlemen’s lobby is the only winner, achieving the near extinction-level population of wild horses they have long sought."
“This ill-considered plan would remove tens of thousands of our iconic American wild horses from the range at a billion-dollar price-tag to the taxpayer over a decade,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “The biggest beneficiary of this plan would not be horses, but the livestock industry, which will see the federal government remove wild horses so that more cattle can graze on our public lands.”
"In its current form, this plan would be disastrous for our wild herds,” said Ginger Kathrens, founder and executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “It provides for no meaningful accountability on the part of BLM to implement humane and reversible fertility control measures. This plan gives BLM the mandate it has always wanted to round up more than 50,000 of our wild horses, doubling the number in off-range holding at enormous cost to the American taxpayer. We fear that unless funds are allocated to support those horses in holding for the rest of their natural lives, we will eventually see them sold killed in slaughterhouses. Meanwhile, our wild herds will be even more decimated, suffering deterioration in health due to poor genetic variability. Bottom line, wild horses and burros will eventually disappear from the West altogether. We suspect this is exactly what some of the stakeholders presenting this plan want."
Rounding up horses and burros is a highly stressful and dangerous experience for these animals. Injuries and deaths are not uncommon, and many horses will be separated from their families. The plan places wild horses and burros at significant risk of slaughter. The proposal significantly increases the number of captive horses at federally run and financed facilities and will create a future fiscal crisis. If history repeats itself, this increase will provoke pro-slaughter lawmakers to call for mass slaughter and euthanasia as a matter of fiscal responsibility.
As a humane and responsible alternative, stakeholders are instead calling for a step up in BLM-conducted fertility control programs, which allows horses to be managed humanely on the range. Proposed by U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), fertility control will eliminate the need for mass roundups and removals and spare taxpayers the need to finance long-term care, feeding, and leasing of land.
Nearly 50 signors, including wild horse advocacy organizations, horse rescues, animal protection organizations, and horse-related businesses across the nation have banded together to defeat this egregious measure, urging legislators to reject the dangerous proposal:
GOP Senators, Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both of Utah, want to strike a regulation barring federal rangeland officials from euthanizing wild horses and burros.
Lee and Romney co-signed a letter to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies under the Committee on Appropriations. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska chairs the subcommittee while Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico serves as the ranking member.
“Western rangelands are in crisis. The current populations of wild horses and burros is devastating the land, negatively impacting other species living in the area, and prohibiting an effective multiple-use management of the land,” Lee and Romney wrote in a letter dated May 3, obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forestry Service (USFS), two agencies under the Interior department, are tasked with managing increasingly overpopulated wild horses and burros on federal land. Horse and burro populations are roughly triple what experts say the land can support.
“Removing this rider would greatly serve the health of both these animals and the rangeland,” Lee and Romney wrote. “Left unaddressed, the problem will only get worse, to the detriment of the environment and at the expense of the American taxpayer.”
The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 directs BLM and USFS personnel to “remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.” The BLM and USFS typically put animals up for adoption or inject them with contraception drugs to control the population. Neither strategy has proven effective at blunting the growing overpopulation.
The federal agencies routinely round up hundreds of horses and burros to stick in federal corrals or place them with private ranches that are paid to care for the animals. The strategy has removed many animals from the land, but at an immense cost to taxpayers. The BLM spent $48 million, nearly 60 percent of its budget, on maintaining holding facilities in 2017.
Source: The Daily Caller
Divisions over federal policy on wild horses and burros have come into sharp focus in the last two weeks after the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced a collaboration with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Return To Freedom, and pro-horse slaughter groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Farm Bureau Federation to convince the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to add $50 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s budget for management of the equids. Specifically, the groups have called for the round-up of 15,000 – 20,000 horses and burros annually for as many as ten years and for placement of these horses in government-funded holding facilities, perhaps in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Utah (on top of the 50,000 horses already in holding facilities). They’ve called for a step-up of “growth suppression programs,” specifically targeting the individual horses and burros remaining after gathers in order to make sterilization or fertility control more practical.
Every reputable animal protection group – including all animal groups on both sides of this debate – opposes the slaughter of wild horses, and also pushed for federal legislation to stop the slaughter of any domesticated or wild horses or burros. And I have no doubt that the program staffers at the HSUS and the ASPCA advocating for this plan have a deep concern for horses and burros. They deserve our respect for their passion for animals. In this case, however, I think they’ve made the wrong judgment and negotiated a bad deal that puts horses and burros at risk. And the absence of a perfect plan in the alternative doesn’t make their plan any more acceptable
The best and most rationale step forward is to use this year’s appropriations cycle to require BLM expand its contraception programs and fund that expansion. If BLM demonstrates an ability to apply the fertility control strategy in a far larger number of Herd Management Areas, then it’s time to talk about a broader plan for managing horses and burros given the presence of a more trusted and reliable government agency.
For now, though, the wild horse and burro community is right to balk at a plan to gather and remove 45,000 – 60,000 wild horses and burros in the next three years. Advocates should speak up and call their federal lawmakers (202-225-3121), urging them to oppose this dangerous plan and focus funding on the contraception as the centerpiece of any future, more comprehensive management plan.
Republican Congressman Chris Stewart brought together ranchers, animal-protection advocates and others on Wednesday to brainstorm solutions for protecting wild horses.
Evocative symbols of the American West, wild horses have also become a thorny national political issue that's often left ranchers and animal-protection advocates at odds.
Congress budgeted more than $80 million for the wild horse program last year, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management overspent that by more than $2 million. Stewart has introduced an amendment to a recently passed House spending bill that gives the BLM more authority and a $15 million funding increase for managing horse populations. The U.S. Senate also included provisions in its version of the Interior Department spending bill that address wild horses.
But the opposing sides agree money alone is not the answer.
"Everyone agrees the problem is untenable the way it is," said Stewart after the closed-door meeting ended Wednesday. "There's wide agreement—I would say 90 percent agreement—on what it's going to take to fix it.
That includes capturing and removing from public land about 90,000 horses so they won't compete with livestock and wildlife for food and water.
Stewart said the solution also means settling on an effective sterilization program that would allow the BLM to remove the ovaries of wild mares. Sterilization would prevent herds remaining on the range from growing fast. The target is to hold herd numbers steady at roughly 27,000 horses.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, brought together groups that are typically at odds for a discussion of solutions for the nation’s wild horse program.
Among the groups that attended were:
They asked Stewart to continue the talks.
Nancy Perry, a lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the national program for wild horses is at a crossroads.
"That's causing everyone to come together, put aside our differences and ask, 'What can we do together on this issue?'" Perry, who also attended the roundtable, said.
Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson, who is also a rancher, conceded that solving the wild horse problem will take collaboration and time.
"We've had years and years that we've been saying, and begging and pleading to get this done," said Pearson. "And the problems have been that BLM has been restricted in what they can do."
Stewart, who calls himself a horse lover, said no one wants to see the horses, the land and rural Utah communities suffering. In a previous version of his amendment, Stewart gave the BLM authority to euthanize healthy horses in government corrals. But that's no longer part of his proposal.
"This coalition will stay together because we truly love these animals," said Stewart, adding that some wild horses in southern Utah are starving to death. "Most people think that's not a great outcome for them."