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
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."
Congress' latest budget bill blocks the resumption of horse slaughter in the U.S. by cutting funding for inspections of the process. The prohibition on spending by the Department of Agriculture is included in the $1.1 trillion budget bill that Congress sent to President Obama on Thursday, January 16, 2014.
Animal protection groups applauded the vote.
"Americans care for horses, we ride horses, and we even put them to work. But we don't eat horses in the United States. And we shouldn't be gathering them up and slaughtering them for people to eat in far-off places," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, one of a number of groups involved in litigation that has blocked proposed horse slaughterhouses from opening in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa.
The last domestic horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, a year after Congress first cut funding for the inspections in an attempt to shutter the industry.
Funding was restored in 2011, and Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., has been fighting since to convert its small cattle operation to horse slaughter. Last year, Valley and plants in Iowa and Missouri received federal permits to open, but the efforts have been blocked by a series of court orders.
Valley's efforts ignited an emotional, national debate over whether horses are companion animals or livestock, and sparked divisions between rescue groups, Indian tribes and politicians over the most humane way to deal with neglected and abandoned horses.
Proponents argue it is better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than have them shipped thousands of miles to Canada or less humane facilities in Mexico.
"The message from Capitol Hill is loud and clear on this issue: Our horses deserve better, and this abhorrent industry will not be tolerated," said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations.
Despite the growing government action to keep horse slaughter from resuming, an attorney for Valley and Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo., said Thursday his group will continue to fight to produce horse meat.
Blair Dunn said the companies would be looking at filing a claim that the funding ban violates provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Source: AP by Jeri Clausing