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
Wild Horse removals, euthanasia, and claims that the Bureau of Land Management is “dumping horses” were amongst the comments and recommendations at Utah's June 18, 2014 public meeting in Cedar City, which was attended mostly by local ranchers.
CEDAR CITY – With plans to gather 200 wild horses off the range next month, the Bureau of Land Management held their annual public hearing Wednesday night to solicit comments from the public on the agency's plans to use motorized vehicles and helicopters during the scheduled roundups.
Approximately 30 people showed up for the hearing — the hearing is required under the Wild Horse and Burro Act.
While the meeting was held mainly to discuss motorized vehicles and helicopters, many in the crowd represented largely by ranchers used the opportunity to express concerns.
Their main argument: The BLM has broken the law by allowing the horse populations to increase over the appropriate management levels.
Iron County rancher Matt Wood accused the BLM of releasing wild horses in the area, saying he had witnessed horse numbers double on his range in 2009-2010, during the same period the agency claimed to have herds at the appropriate management level.
Pointing to BLM's numbers that figure average horse populations grow at approximately 20 to 25 percent a year, Wood said he counted more than 200 on his range at the time.
BLM Wild Horse and Burro Lead Gus Warr admitted that if Wood counted that many, it meant there probably was at least 400.
"If we were somewhere near on the Bible Springs Complex, close to AML, which is minimum 80 to maximum 170, it's not very likely that those numbers could have increased on our part of that that quickly unless they came out of a truck," Wood said. "And I think we were victims of a lot of that."
Warr denied that the BLM loads up horses from one area and dumps in another, but did say it does happen on specific occasions.
". . . Except I've done that where I've actually brought in mares and turned them loose in Blawn Wash, Bible Springs to increase color confirmation, but that would be half a dozen, six or seven mares," Warr said.
During an interview, Wood said he had seen the trail of horse manure and footprints where it appeared obvious to him there were many horses "dumped off" not just a few.
Warr had a short presentation where he discussed everything from using the motorized vehicles and helicopters in gathering horses to overall issues with the wild horses.
During his discussion, Warr said Utah currently has more than 4,000 wild horses.
Half of those are located in Iron and Beaver County, according to acting district manager for the Color Country District, Randy Trujillo, who previously said there were 1,500 to 2,000 horses in this area alone.
Other concerns expressed were from Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams, who said he feels the 200 head of horses scheduled roundup in July doesn't solve the problem.
"The answer to this issue and the solution is a political solution. Congress is going to have to act," Adams said. "And that's not going to happen until (Sen.) Harry Reid is out of there. We've got to be able to euthanize horses and spay them. The law says the BLM is charged with managing these horses, but then they pass a law every year when they give them money that says they can't use any government money to euthanize. There are no more places to put these horses. We've got to do something."
When asked about a recent statement issued by the Iron County Commissioners that stated only rounding up 200 horses on a range with more nearly 2000 "is a joke," Warr said he likes to think of it as "progress."
"Every 200 that we remove is 200 more towards our appropriate management level," he said. "We have to look at it like a bureau-wide basis. Unfortunately, we can't just look at Southern Utah . . . if we can get approval for another 200 head, maybe this fall, then that moves us towards that goal of reaching the appropriate management levels."
Following the presentation, those in attendance were asked to leave written comments.
"We generally only get maybe one or two people at these so yeah I think it was a good meeting," he said.
Source: The Spectrum, by Tracie Sullivan
Click Here for BLM's Announcement on its June, 18, 2014 Public Hearing for Use of Motorized Vehicles and Aircraft on Wild Horses