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."
Bipartisan Poll Finds Western Voters Oppose Transfer of America’s Forests and Public Lands to State Ownership
According to new public opinion research released today, a majority of voters in eight Western states oppose the idea that the management and costs of America’s national forests and other public lands should be transferred to state governments. The survey of 1,600 voters, conducted jointly by a bipartisan polling team of two leading national opinion research firms, Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, is the first in-depth analysis of Western voters’ views about state-level proposals to transfer U.S. public lands to state ownership.
Across the eight-state region, 59 percent of respondents agree that having state government assume full responsibility for managing U.S. public lands, including paying for all related costs, would not be fair to taxpayers in their state. These voters believe that transferring U.S. lands to state ownership would result in having to raise state taxes or sell off prized lands to cover expenses. Only 35 percent of respondents agreed with the arguments put forward by proponents of efforts to transfer U.S. lands to state control.
“In New Mexico, we have a deep connection to our public lands. They are part of our history, our culture, and our economy,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). “These lands belong to all of us, and it is imperative that we keep it that way. Efforts to seize or sell off millions of acres of federal public lands throughout the West would bring a proliferation of closed gates and no trespassing signs in places that have been open and used for generations. These privatization schemes would devastate outdoor traditions such as hunting and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.”
“It’s no surprise that Montanans want to keep their public lands public,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D). “These places not only create lasting memories for our families, they are also huge economic drivers for our communities. We must keep these treasured places accessible for our kids and grandkids, and I will keep working to improve that access.”
In 2012, the State of Utah enacted a law calling for U.S. public lands to be transferred to the state of Utah. Similar proposals have been put forward or are in development in seven other Western states.
“The overwhelming majority of Westerners view the national forests and other public lands they use as American places that are a shared inheritance and a shared responsibility,” said David Metz, president of FM3 Research. “Rather than supporting land transfer proposals, voters say their top priorities are to ensure public lands are protected for future generations and that the rangers and land managers have the resources they need to do their jobs.”
The survey was conducted by phone between September 10 and September 14 and reached 1,600 voters; 200 voters in each of the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. For a summary of state-specific results, click here.
“The idea of states taking over control and the costs for managing these lands is pretty divisive. Successful policy proposals usually start with far greater support,” said Lori Weigel, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “The first barrier this proposal seems to encounter is that while the federal government isn’t popular in these states, voters are far more positive about the role these specific agencies are playing.”
Although more Westerners disapprove than approve of the job the federal government is doing—at negative 41 percent approval —more Westerners approve than disapprove of the jobs that U.S. land management agencies are doing; the approval ratings for the Bureau of Land Management—14 percent—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—58 percent—the U.S. Forest Service—57 percent—and the National Park Service—60 percent—are all well higher than their disapproval ratings. What’s more, 94 percent of respondents’ said that their last visit to national public lands was a positive experience.
“This bipartisan research found that Americans believe we should be protecting parks and public lands for future generations, not selling them off to the highest bidder,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. “It also shows that the politicians and special interests behind these land seizures schemes are well outside the mainstream in the West.”
For an analysis of the survey results, click here.
For a PowerPoint summary of the bipartisan research, click here.
For the survey results, click here.
State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands, by Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy
“Bundy’s Buddies” – Four-part series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund
Source: Center for American Progress
For more information, please contact Tom Caiazza at 202.481.7141 or email@example.com.
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart introduces bill in attempt to give States & Indian Tribes the Ability to Manage Wild Horses and Burros.
June 10, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would give states and Indian Tribes the option to take over the management of wild horses and burros. The Wild Horse Oversight Act of 2014 would preserve all protections under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and simply allow states to implement horse and burro management plans that address the specific needs of their own state.
“The federal government has never been able to properly manage the horses and burros in the west,” Stewart said. “Every state faces different challenges, which is why it’s important that they have the ability to manage their own wildlife.”
In the 43 years that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act has been in place, the ranges have been overused, pushing cattle off the ranges and leading to the destruction of important habitat for native species.
“States and tribes already successfully manage large quantities of wildlife within their borders,” Stewart said. “If horses and burros were under that same jurisdiction, I’m confident that new ideas and opportunities would be developed to manage the herds more successfully than the federal government.”
This bill would allow states to form cooperative agreements to manage herds that cross over borders, and the federal government would continue to inventory the horses and burros to ensure that the population numbers as prescribed by the 1971 Act are maintained.
“In an era of fiscal crisis, the federal government just doesn’t have the money to manage these programs.”
For the full text of the bill, click here.
The Wild Horse Oversight Act of 2014:
SALT LAKE CITY — Rural Utah leaders do not want a Cliven Bundy-style showdown with the Bureau of Land Management so they are rustling up allies and taking their fight to Washington, D.C., and New Orleans to put control of wild horses in the hands of the states.
"We don't want this to turn out to be anything like the Cliven Bundy deal. Just because the BLM can break the law does not mean we can break the law," said Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney. "Two wrongs don't make a right. … We are trying to take the high road on this."
Whitney said they want to avoid an armed showdown with the agency like this past April in Nevada, where Bundy ignored court orders to remove his cattle or pay grazing fees.
With that in mind, Beaver and Iron counties have backed off their threats to round up excess wild horses from the southern Utah range officials assert has been denuded of vegetation. Instead, Whitney and Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller floated and got unanimous approval of a resolution that takes their fight to the National Association of Counties meeting later this month in New Orleans.
Members of the Utah Association of Counties endorsed a resolution that calls for the management of wild horse and burro populations be turned over to the states. That same resolution will come up for possible action at the national level.
"The BLM does not have the right or the setup to be in wild horse management," Whitney said. "Those animals need to be turned over to be managed by the state Division of Wildlife Resources just like any other animal — and that includes managing them to appropriate management levels and for disposal."
A lawsuit filed by the Western Rangeland Conservation Association contends there are more than 350 horses in eight distinct herd areas above what the BLM says is "appropriate" for the region.
The BLM Utah's numbers show there are an estimated 3,245 wild horses and burros in the state when management levels call for 1,956. Strapped resources, the rate of reproduction and lukewarm adoption rates have left state holding pens also bulging, mirroring a national situation with overflowing holding corrals.
Mark Ward, senior policy analyst and counsel with the Utah Association of Counties, said something simply has to give.
"It is a hopeless situation the way the feds are managing it," Ward said. "They do not have room to store them, they are dying of overpopulation, and there is no end in sight to the explosive growth. They have no natural predators. The only way to manage them is through auction and euthanasia."
Wild horse advocates insist the animal has been made the "scapegoat" for range mismanagement and overgrazing by cattle — and the numbers are stacked unfairly against wild horses and burros.
The counties and ranchers contend they have made or are making dramatic reductions in the number of livestock allowed on public ranges because the wild horse populations aren't being controlled.
"The number of cows on the range are strictly managed and strictly curtailed from year to year and from season to season," Ward said. "The BLM conservation officer is in constant contact and checking conditions with each permittee, but you have none of that with the horse management."
Both Ward and Whitney said the hope is to get legislation passed that would remove congressional oversight of wild horse and burro management in the United States. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is planning to unveil legislation to that effect next week.
In New Orleans, Whitney said he and Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock plan to introduce joint resolutions in separate committees on agriculture and public lands regarding the wild horse issue.
"We feel like if we are working through Stewart's office and with the BLM in Washington, D.C., we can get this resolved without a lot of tension involved," Whitney said.
Ward added another goal is to educate the public about the widespread nature of the Western states' complaints over the BLM's management of wild horses.
"I was at a meeting in May in Anchorage where this committee was formed, and it was the hot (topic)," he said. "If anybody thinks this is a Utah-driven issue, we are just jumping on the train, trying to keep up the best we can. It is West-wide, and there is anger and frustration from all over the West."
The BLM is planning an emergency gather in the Blawn Wash area in late July and is working through an environmental analysis on a plan to remove 700 wild horses over six to 10 years from Iron and Beaver counties.
Source: The Desert News, by Amy Joi O'Donoghue