No matter how you see wild horses, it’s clear that they have been mismanaged by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a long time at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars. The BLM spent $81.226 million on managing wild horses for fiscal year 2018. Most of these horses and burros are removed from rangeland and placed indefinitely in holding pens. The animals are available for adoption but there are significantly more horses and burros captured annually than are adopted out.
Horse populations continue to rise unchecked and plans to sterilize horses were previously dropped by the BLM. Research even shows that the BLM’s removal of so many horses and burros probably drives up their population growth rates.
Now, Congressional Quarterly reports that there is a serious conflict of interest involved in BLM’s wild horse management. The House of Representatives passed the 2020 appropriations bill HR 3055 on June 25th, and approved of a plan to manage wild horses hashed out by different stakeholders.
The plan was created by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Return to Freedom, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the American Farm Bureau, the Public Lands Council, the American Mustang Foundation, among others groups well known to be pro horse slaughter and hostile towards wild horses and burros.
For a full list of the "stakeholders", click here.
The plan is called ‘10 years to AML: A Proposal for BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program’ and doesn’t seem to offer much that hasn’t been tried or suggested in the past. The plan calls for removing more horses from rangeland to “more cost-effective pasture facilities” and fertility control for up to 90% of free range mares. This includes moving many of the horses to private pastures, said to be less expensive than many of the facilities they’re now housed in. These methods are promoted as an alternative to lethal population control methods. Despite the optimism of the plan, it has harsh critics.
All together, the plan seems like a humane way to remove the competition wild horses and burros represent to ranchers grazing livestock on public lands as well as native wildlife. Some wild horse advocates see this as an unacceptable compromise.
The future of the bill and how wild horses and burros will be managed is in the hands of the Senate now. Advocates of the bill asked for $50 million to implement the wild horse plan, the House appropriated $6 million for the Department of the Interior to begin implementing the plan. The Senate appropriations panel that oversees funding for the Department of the Interior. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the chairwoman of the panel and her chief clerk is Emy Lesofski, who is married to Drew Lesofski, head of the American Mustang Foundation.
Drew Lesofski is a lobbyist who formerly worked for Jim Gibbons, then governor of Nevada. Nevada is home to 60% of wild horses living on public land in the US. Critics point out that the Mustang Foundation would potentially benefit if the plan to relocate horses to private holding facilities prior to adoption, all at a cost of millions to taxpayers. This obviously sets the stage for a conflict of interest. The question remains what other options to public land managers have?
Critics of the current plan seem to call for an on range management plan, which makes sense if you consider the wild horse as a part of the western American ecosystem. The key to the success of the plan isn’t removing and adopting horses out, which seems very unlikely to grow enough to significantly reduce wild horse numbers. Instead, the fertility control is key.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, removing wild horses only causes populations to grow faster. The question becomes, why remove horses at all when they’re only likely to cost taxpayers millions to keep? The new plan claims that marketing to east coast horse owners will increase adoption rates but it’s hard to say they will increase significantly. In the meantime, horses will be kept in captivity costing money and resources but no longer competing with livestock for grazing land.
Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Chris Collins (R-NY) pen letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking him “to do everything possible to vigorously enforce the Horse Protection Act” as the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration begins in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
“We encourage the USDA to ensure a strong and consistent enforcement presence at this year’s Celebration, and to utilize the full range of both objective and subjective inspection protocols developed by the department.” See the full text of the letter here.
The five letter signers were the lead sponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.693, that passed the House last month by a vote of 333 to 96. The bill would stop the intentional injury to horses.
The 81st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration began today and runs through August 31.
FORT MCDERMITT SHOSHONE PAIUTE TRIBE AND USDA FOREST SERVICE TO BEGIN 2ND COOPERATIVE DOMESTIC HORSE REMOVAL
The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will begin to remove tribal members’ privately-owned horses from the Santa Rose Ranger District and return them to their rightful owners. This is the second in a series of operations and could take up to eight days with at least 800 horses expected to be removed.
“Over the past 30 years, the number of unauthorized tribally-owned horses grazing on tribal and public lands increased to more than 2,500 horses,” said Santa Rosa District Ranger Joe Garrotto. “These horses are competing for forage with native wildlife and authorized livestock, overgrazing, harming ecosystems, and damaging fences and stock-watering facilities.”
Tribal Chairman Tildon Smart agrees with the Forest Service about these horses being a major concern. “They are causing safety issues for people driving on public and tribal lands and on U.S. Route 95,” Chairman Smart said. “They are also damaging important tribal natural and cultural resources.”
The removal operations will take place about 75 miles north of Winnemucca, Nevada, on the northern portion of the Santa Rosa Ranger District and adjacent tribal lands. The horses being removed from federally-managed public lands are tribally-owned domestic horses, and are not protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Safeguards have been built into the removal operations plan to ensure that wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Owyhee Herd Management Area are not impacted. No wild horses were gathered in a previous removal efforts.
“The Forest Service will retain control of gathered horses until they are delivered to the tribal holding facility, where they will be inspected by a team of Tribal and Nevada State Brand Inspectors and Forest Service Wild Horse Specialists,” said Garrotto. “Forest Service personnel will also be on hand to record the ownership of horses to help with future management.”
Chairman Smart explained that once the horses are removed from federally-managed public lands, tribal members will decide whether to sell or keep their horses and constrain them from further unauthorized grazing. The Tribe is responsible for returning the horses to their owners or arrangement of sale.
“With the help of the Forest Service, we were able to remove more than 500 horses off National Forest System land in December 2018,” added Chairman Smart. “After a recent helicopter survey, we estimate that there are still around 2,000 tribal horses that need to be removed.”
Public viewing is extremely limited since most of the activities will occur on tribal lands. There will be opportunities to view limited helicopter operations on National Forest System (NFS) lands on or around Aug. 7, 2019 provided that it does not jeopardize the safety of the animals, staff or observers, and that it does not disrupt removal operations. There will be no public access to tribal lands
Please contact Public Affairs Staff Officer Erica Hupp at 775-771-4777 prior to the desired viewing date to be added to the attendee list and to receive specific instructions on meeting locations and times. The Forest Service will escort the public to the observation site, which will be difficult to access without a high-clearance four wheel drive vehicle.