Secretary Jewell seems to be willfully ignoring a report by the National Academy of Sciences. Why?
Nearly seven months into her tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell last Thursday at last made her first extended public comments about one of the most controversial and under-reported aspects of her portfolio as steward of the nation's public lands. Speaking at the National Press Club, she addressed in detail a question about the nation's beleaguered wild horses, which in the past few years have been rounded up by the tens of thousands from those public lands and dispatched to vast holding facilities at great cost to the American taxpayer (and to the great benefit of the ranching and livestock industries).
It was not an auspicious debut. Jewell did not directly answer the question posed to her. And the affirmative statement she did make about the herds was unsupported by key facts revealed in June in a report by the National Academy of Sciences that was sharply critical of Bureau of Land Management's practices and policies toward the horses. She offered a series of platitudes—e.g. "So we are working on it. And we are going to work on it"—while wild horses are being sold to slaughter in contravention of federal law and policy. Time is of the essence here but there was no hint of urgency in the Secretary's remarks.
There are two explanations for the Secretary's performance and neither can be seen as encouraging for wild horse advocates (or fans of good governance in general, for that matter). The first is that, despite her extensive scientific background, Jewell does not grasp the essence of the scientific criticism the NAS has offered about the BLM's work. And the second is that she does grasp the extent of the problem the NAS identified—she has done her homework—but that she has neither the political desire nor the bureaucratic will to implement the reforms the scientists suggest. Either way, from an Obama Administration official who talks a great deal about conservation and the environment, who says she is a friend to animals and no tool to corporate interests, it doesn't bode well for the federally-protected horses.
The National Academy of Sciences Report
It has been exactly five months since the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report titled "Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program." In it, some of the nation's leading scientists were direct and unambiguous about the failures of the BLM to administer the horses: "The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on range lands," the scientists concluded.
In other words, after years of speculation and debate, the NAS concluded that the BLM was using both bad math and faulty science to justify one of its most controversial (and expensive) wild horse management practices. Wild horse advocates have long argued, for example, that the herds don't have nearly the negative impact on range lands that cattle and sheep do. Nor, advocates have long claimed, has the BLM accurately counted the number of wild horses on public lands or properly evaluated ways in which more horses can safely be kept there.
The NAS Report in June did not prove these allegations to be true. But at the very least it cast serious doubt on the arguments the BLM (and the ranching and livestock industries) have made in support of the current practices. It raises profound questions, in other words, about whether the advocates are right about the BLM and the need for its overhaul. Also relevant to Thursday's public comments by Jewell was this part of the NAS Report that explained what the BLM was doing wrong and how federal officials could remedy the problem:
Promising fertility-control methods are available to help limit this population growth, however. In addition, science-based methods exist for improving population estimates, predicting the effects of management practices in order to maintain genetically diverse, healthy populations, and estimating the productivity of rangelands. Greater transparency in how science-based methods are used to inform management decisions may help increase public confidence in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Since June, I have repeatedly asked Secretary Jewell, through her spokeswoman, to respond to the National Academy's work. I have asked the secretary, again through a spokeswoman, to respond more generally to the plight of the nation's wild horses as they become more and more vulnerable to mistreatment or slaughter. Over and over again those requests have been declined. I was told to be patient, that the secretary was working through the NAS Report, and that the time would come when there would be a substantive response. Evidently, that time has come.
July On Capitol Hill
To put into better perspective last week's comments by Secretary Jewell, I need to briefly digress. First, Secretary Jewell said she wanted to wait for the results of the NAS Report before commenting upon the plight of the wild horses. Then, on July 17th, she appeared at a hearing on Capitol Hill just a few weeks after the NAS Report was issued. At the time, she had an exchange with Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona with a long history of sense and sensibility toward the nation's wild horses. He framed his question to her the following way:
Madame Secretary, the Wild Horse and Burro program managed by BLM has been a persistent source of criticism, controversy, and I believe in need of serious reform and an overhaul. And much of that criticism that has been leveled at the program was reaffirmed by an independent review by the National Academy of Sciences.And so in light of that independent review, do you see a need to restructure the program in order to both save money and, just as importantly, guarantee humane treatment of Wild Horses and Burros in that program?
Raul Grijalva Will Headline Sept. 4 Press Conference at BLM Horse Facility Near Reno to Call for Wild Horse & Burro Management Reforms
Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, will tour and hold a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center to discuss the current state and future of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the BLM is responsible for managing and preserving wild horses and burros around the country. Over the past few decades, BLM has used a number of controversial management techniques to meet herd quotas required by the law. Approximately 39,000 wild horses and burros roam land managed by the BLM and another 40,000 more are held in BLM facilities like Palomino Valley – the largest holding facility managed by the federal government.
The BLM program currently prioritizes roundups over alternatives that reduce the need for expensive stockpiling. More than half of BLM’s wild horse management budget is spent to provide care for animals in long-term holding facilities.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released‘Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,’which found that federal efforts waste taxpayer money and need major reforms. You can read the full report at
“I’ve been asking for changes for years, and NAS has confirmed that we can save taxpayer money and horses’ lives at the same time by improving this program,” Grijalva said. “We have the information we need. Now it’s time to do something with it.”Congressman Grijalva will be joined by Neda DeMayo, CEO of Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, and Emmy-nominated actress and advocate Wendie Malick. Ahead of the Sept. 9 meeting of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in Washington DC, the speakers will discuss the need to implement the findings of the NAS study and the future of the Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act.
The National Wild Horse and Burro Center at Palomino Valley
The public is invited to join the Wild Horse and Burro Program to brainstorm possible strategies for the increased comfort of wild horses and burros at the BLM's Palomino Valley National Wild Horse and Burro Center preparation and adoption facility. The workshop will be held in Reno, Nev., and as a webinar.
Date: August 6, 2013
Time: 5:30 - 9:00 p.m. PST
Location: Reno City Council Chamber
Address: 1 East First Street, Reno, Nev. 89501
Webinar link: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/412191850
>>.Click here for the Agenda
>> Click here for the Workshop Materials
Tours of the Palomino Valley Center facility will be conducted on Aug. 6, prior to the workshop from 2-4 p.m. for 30 minutes starting on the half hour. For more information, including directions, click here.