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.