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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Despite opposition from wild-horse groups, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Monday a decision to gather and remove excess horses in the Bible Spring Complex of southwestern Utah.
The Cedar City Field Office of the BLM signed the decision authorizing the gathering of about 140 animals from the Blawn Wash Herd Management in July.
That’s just the beginning of management tactics approved to reduce the number of wild horses, now estimated at 755, down to the number that the agency deems appropriate — about 100 horses. The "Bible Spring Complex Gather, Removal and Fertility Treatment Plan" calls for up to four round-ups over a six-to-10-year period. It also authorizes the use of fertility control.
But Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said the BLM shouldn’t be removing any horses.
"It’s unfortunate. More than 35,000 Americans submitted comments opposing this roundup, but the BLM is plowing ahead to appease a handful of ranchers so they can keep having their below-market grazing on our public lands," Bolbol said. "The problem is not excess horses — it’s excess cows."
The group says the BLM horse count is inaccurate and contends the agency is caving to "bullying" by ranchers.
A battle between the counties and the BLM started this spring as ranchers stated there were too many animals sharing a rangeland threatened by drought. The counties threatened to perform a roundup of their own if the BLM did not reduce the numbers of wild horses.
A lawsuit has been filed against the BLM by ranchers demanding wild horses be kept within established limits.
Meanwhile, wild horse advocates are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list wild horses as threatened or endangered, which would trigger protections for herds in 10 Western states.
The Bible Spring Complex comprises four herd management areas — Bible Spring, Blawn Wash, Tilly Creek and Four Mile — located in western Iron and Beaver counties, approximately 30 miles west of Minersville.
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune by Brett Prettyman
The four Herd Management Areas that make up the Bible Spring Complex—Bible Spring, Blawn Wash, Tilly Creek and Four Mile—are located in western Iron and Beaver counties, approximately 30 miles west of Minersville, Utah, in the Wah Wah and Indian Peak mountain ranges.
The Bible Spring Complex is comprised of approximately 222,929 acres of public, private and state lands. The gather plan outlines future management of wild horses in the Bible Spring Complex, beginning with gather and removal of approximately 140 animals from the Blawn Wash Herd Management Area in July 2014.
The environmental assessment and decision documents are posted on the BLM-Utah website at: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/wild_horse_and_burro.html.
For additional gather-specific information, please contact Chad Hunter at (435) 865-3088.
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
Livestock grazing has been a part of the western landscape of the United States since settlers arrived. The first recorded livestock policy, according to the U.S. Forest Service, was published in 1905 when the agency was created by Congress. Further and more defined regulation of livestock grazing came in 1934 via the Taylor Grazing Act.
Who sells grazing permits?
Most grazing permits are handled by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Permits can also be sold on private and state lands, including lands owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
Land managers determine the amount of available forage in an area and then sell what they determine are an appropriate number of permits.
What do permits cost?
Ranchers are often frustrated when critics of the grazing program use one number — $1.35 — to argue it’s cheap to run cattle on federal lands. That number is the beginning point for the formula that dictates the actual bill.
The $1.35 fee is applied to an "Animal Unit Month" or AUM — the approximate amount of forage a 1,000-pound cow with a calf will eat in one month. Ranchers are charged based on the number of AUMs they use and how many months they use them. For instance, if a rancher has 1,000 AUMs and runs cattle on federal lands for four months, the fee is $5,400.
Longer-term grazing permit holders are expected to make and maintain improvements on the land, primarily water developments and fencing. Those not using fencing, particularly those running sheep, are expected to patrol their herds and keep them on the proper allotment. Moving the animals from summer to winter range is costly, and livestock lost to predators can reduce potential profits.
Randy Parker, chief executive office of the Utah Farm Bureau, says the $1.35 figure is a "misnomer."
"There are many additional costs. Some years [ranchers] might be in good shape and other years they get beat up pretty good," Parker said. "They are hard working, they love the land and they love to work the crops or livestock. They also do a lot to help the land and the wildlife they share it with." Environmental groups argue grazing damages ecosystems and endangers other species, and have called for restrictions and increased fees.
A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that the BLM and the Forest Service would have to charge an AUM fee several times higher than the $1.35 to recover their expenditures. The Obama administration rejected a proposed overhaul in 2011, the New York Times reported. More recently, advocates for wild horses have argued grazing livestock, not an overpopulation of wild horses, are more damaging to the drought-stricken western range, contending the horses are being unfairly used as a scapegoat.
Are all grazing permits based on the $1.35 fee?
SITLA is charging $4.78 per AUM for certain areas and $8.32 per AUM on select allotments. So the same rancher with 1,000 AUMs would pay $19,120 for four months.
Terry Padilla, Intermountain Region range director for the U.S. Forest Service out of Ogden, said current private AUM fees run between $11 and $12. The current $1.35 federal grazing fee, according to the BLM, is applied to federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service in 16 western states.
The fee is adjusted each year using a formula involving private grazing land rates, cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. The grazing fee drops when the prices are low and increases when appropriate. It can’t drop below $1.35, due to a 1986 executive order.
Is grazing on public lands increasing?
The BLM reports there has been a gradual decrease in livestock grazing over the years. "Grazing use on public lands has declined from 18.2 million AUMs in 1954 to 7.9 million AUMs in 2013," according to a BLM fact sheet.
Parker said Utah’s numbers for livestock on public lands have also declined since the 1940s, when 5.5 million AUMs were allocated. In 2012, Parker said, that number was about 1.3 million.
Source: Salt Lake Tribune, by Brett Prettyman