The 10 Years to AML: The Path Forward for Management of BLM's Wild Horses and Burros is an agenda of the livestock industry, which aims to eradicate wild horses from America's public lands.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $35 million last week for the program supported by an unprecedented alliance including the Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation.
They say it would eliminate the threat of slaughter for thousands of free-roaming horses and shrink the size of herds primarily through expanded fertility controls on the range. Critics say it drops long-held opposition to the capture of mustangs across 10 western states and could allow for sterilization of mares — a hot-button issue with horse protection advocates historically.
It should be noted that in July 2019, the acting director of BLM, Casey Hammond, said the Trump administration won’t pursue lethal measures such as euthanasia or selling horses for slaughter. So the fear-based marketing HSUS and ASPCA are using, saying their Path Forward plan would save wild horses from slaughter, has no merit.
They had sought a $50 million increase in the BLM’s $80 million annual horse budget, arguing any boost in spending on contraception and other population controls ultimately will save money as herds shrink.
“This is a historic moment for our herds, containing the strongest language protecting wild horses and burros we have ever seen in an annual appropriations bill,” Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Friday. He said it increases “commitments to protect these animals from killing or sale to slaughter.”
If implemented, “we’ll see massive round-ups, swelling captive wild horse population and jubilation from cattlemen’s associations that secured political cover from the Humane Society for their long-time aspiration to secure a government-funded wild horse depopulation program,” Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, said after the vote.
BLM estimated 88,000 wild horses and burros are roaming public rangelands, more than three times what the agency says the land can support. Another 50,000 that have been removed from the range in recent years were in holding facilities at an annual cost of about $50 million.
Horse advocates have argued the animals must be permitted to roam the range in federally protected management areas established under the Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. They say BLM’s population quotas are often outdated and lack scientific data to support roundups to cull herd sizes.
Ginger Kathrens, director of The Cloud Foundation based in Colorado, said the new initiative dubbed the “Path Forward” should be called the “path to extinction.” She said it sets population targets to less than 27,000 — the total when federal protections first were enacted nearly a half-century ago. “The extinction-level number is what caused Congress to unanimously pass the Wild Horse and Burro Act,” she said.
Source: Time Magazine
"It really at a fundamental level provides some stability for the grazing industry by assuring that our permits will be renewed in a timely fashion," said Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.The legislation allows agencies to approve permits in the face of environmental lawsuits against permit renewals.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials reported a permitting backlog of more than 5,600 permits nationwide in September. At the time, Congress was required to renew these permits annually.
"The agencies didn't have the resources to meet that requirement, (which) basically put people in a position where they couldn't get their permits renewed in a timely manner," Magagna said. "In some cases, they couldn't graze their livestock for extended periods of time."
Under current law, permitting is subject to environmental analysis prior to renewal of a permit. The new legislation allows federal agencies to approve permits without requiring environmental analysis. Agency range managers will still conduct environmental reviews at their discretion. Magagna said the new law focuses range management on the health of allotments.
"Environmental analysis has been tied to permit renewal, and really that analysis isn't about the permit. It's about the actual range condition," he said. Sen. John Barrasso, the author of the bill, said it will provide added protections for Wyoming ranchers seeking consistency in their operations.
"For too long, our ranching families have been the target of anti-grazing litigation that puts their grazing permits in jeopardy,” Barrasso said.
The legislation passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Source: Billings Gazette, by Trevor Graff
Wyoming public lands grazers could see shorter permitting times after Congress passed a bill seeking to streamline grazing permit renewals. The Grazing Improvement Act, approved last week, allows the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to speed the renewal of the agency's 10-year grazing permits.
Agency Sage Grouse Review Puts Thumb on Scale to Magnify Wild Horse and Burro Effects
The method used by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to assess range conditions is seriously skewed toward minimizing impacts from domestic livestock and magnifying those from wild horses and burros, according to an appraisal by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the BLM’s approach to range management targets scattered wild horses and burros while ignoring far more numerous cattle. The agency’s assessment is part of a 2013 report on factors influencing conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse, a ground-dwelling bird whose numbers have declined as much as 90% across the West and which is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. That report concludes that twice the area of sage grouse habitat is negatively impacted by wild horses and burros than the area negatively impacted by livestock. A PEER appraisal of the methodology found:
“At BLM apparently not all hooves are created equal,” said PEER’s Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that the LHS evaluations cover more than 20,000 grazing allotments and examine whether a grazing allotment meets the agency’s standards for rangeland health with respect to several vegetation and habitat conditions. “This helps explain why wild horses are regularly removed from the range but livestock numbers are rarely reduced.”
The BLM assessment influences not only the agency’s range management decisions but also will figure into the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision on whether to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Last year in response to a complaint by PEER filed under agency Scientific Integrity policy, BLM claimed that it does not have enough “reliable data” about commercial livestock impacts to include them in current assessments of environmental conditions on Western range lands. Yet, BLM has more data on the grazing that it authorizes through permits than virtually every other topic.
“When it comes to cattle, BLM plays with a marked deck,” Stade added, pointing out the PEER analysis that will become part of PEER’s new grazing reform web center set to launch in several weeks. “We are posting BLM’s own data in a way that allows apples-to-apples comparisons while displaying satellite imagery that depicts the true livestock landscape impacts.”
Compare BLM claims to what their data reveal
The relative negative influence area of feral ungulates with respect to domestic livestock based on BLM’s spatial analysis approach (USGS OFR 2013-1098) are completely at odds with BLM’s own land health standards (LHS) evaluation causal data, used to inform BLM’s analysis. BLM concludes in OFR 2013-1098 that the negative area of influence of feral ungulates is twice that of domestic livestock, when the records show that only 3% of grazing-related failures of standards are attributed to wild horses and burros.
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