BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT PROPOSES AGGRESSIVE PLAN TO ERADICATE WILD HORSES AND BURROS ON FEDERAL RANGELANDS
The Trump administration is proposing an aggressive plan that would permanently remove as many as 20,000 wild horses and burros off federal rangelands annually, costing as much as $900 million in the first five years, according to a long-delayed report to Congress.
The 33-page report entitled, "An Analysis of Achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program", lays out BLM's three-phase plan that would allow the agency to reduce the roughly 90,000 wild horses and burros living on federal rangelands across the West to sustainable levels in 15 to 18 years.
It does not include any consideration of euthanizing animals or selling rounded-up animals without ensuring they are not transferred to foreign slaughterhouses, as did a previous BLM report submitted to Congress in 2018. Instead, the new report proposes not only to capture and permanently remove roughly 20,000 animals a year, but also to round up an additional 9,000 animals a year to be treated with "some form of long-term temporary or permanent fertility control" before returning them to the range.
BLM, in an emailed statement, said the report "outlines a comprehensive, non-lethal population control strategy to address chronic overpopulation of wild horses and burros and their impact to BLM-managed public lands." The bureau, the statement added, wants to work "with Congress, its partners, state and local governments, and the private sector to ensure healthy wild horses and burros continue to thrive on healthy public rangelands for future generations to enjoy." It's not clear what Congress will think of the plan — or the hefty price tag. A spokesman for the House Natural Resources Committee said the panel is still reviewing the document.
BLM under the plan would also continue research "into improving long-term fertility control treatments and humane permanent sterilization (with a particular emphasis on modern chemical sterilization methods)." All this could reduce growing populations of wild horses and burros to the appropriate management level (AML) of about 26,715 animals in the next two decades, according to the report. The cost of the strategy — starting at $116 million the first year and increasing to $238 million by the fifth year — comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the nation's economy.
The new report proposes not only to capture and permanently remove roughly 20,000 animals a year, but also to round up an additional 9,000 animals a year to be treated with "some form of long-term temporary or permanent fertility control" before returning them to the range.
But the alternative of maintaining the status quo could be far worse, the report concludes. "If nothing were done to reduce the annual growth rate of these herds, by 2040, the BLM estimates the on-range populations of wild horses and burros could increase to over 2.8 million," the report says. Such a density of animals would lead "to catastrophic harm to the land, to other species, and to wild horses and burros themselves."
BLM is roughly nine months late submitting the report to congressional appropriators. They requested last year that BLM prepare the report. BLM acting chief William Perry Pendley told reporters last fall that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was partly responsible for the delay. "I will tell you the Secretary was unhappy with previous documents that we prepared on this subject, and he gave strict orders that we're to prepare a thoughtful and well-reasoned document to deliver to the Hill; anything less we're not going to send up there," Pendley said.
The delay sparked seven Democratic members of Congress to press Bernhardt in a letter to finalize and submit the report. It also prompted appropriators to insert language into the fiscal 2020 funding bill withholding $21 million for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program until 60 days after the report is submitted
While the latest version considers only nonlethal strategies, its insistence on ramping up wild horse and burro roundups and continuing research into permanent sterilization did not please most wild horse and animal welfare groups. The answer to reducing herd sizes, those groups say, is ramping up fertility controls, along with smaller-scale roundups and removals that ensure the animals are protected and population levels are reduced.
But BLM disagrees. The report concludes that using only "short-term fertility control vaccines at any scale" will not result in a significant reduction in herd sizes. "The analysis suggests the most effective way to achieve [appropriate management levels] is to annually remove a large number of animals permanently from the range," the report says, "especially since a high percentage of mares captured are pregnant at the time of capture."
"The number of animals annually removed is the dominant variable controlling total program costs," it adds. "Therefore, the annual projected removals are critical to containing program costs and achieving AML." Once the herds sizes are reduced to an appropriate management level, the report says, "fertility control would become a relatively more cost-effective strategy, with permanent sterilization options being more cost-effective in the long run than temporary sterilization which must be repeated."
Source: E&E News
Chair Grijalva, Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Write to House and Senate Interior Appropriators Urging Clarity, Funding Limits on BLM Horse Program
Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers today wrote to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations panels with oversight of the Department of the Interior (DOI) to urge funding limits and additional clarity on a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pilot program to manage wild horse populations in the West
The letter is directed to Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and David Joyce (R-Ohio), the chair and ranking member respectively of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
CLICK HERE to read the letter.
The House and Senate versions of the Interior-Environment appropriations bill – which are currently being reconciled – each include funding for an untested pilot project that calls for a dramatic increase in round-ups and removals. The House bill provides $6 million in additional funding for the program while the Senate bill provides $35 million, and each bill includes report language calling for a total removal of 130,000 horses over the next decade.
As the authors point out, “That plan has never been presented for consideration in the authorizing committees of jurisdiction, would triple the number of horses and burros in holding, and could cost taxpayers billions.” They also note concerns that the House and Senate report language “opens the door to surgical sterilization procedures” that face opposition “by many stakeholders, including veterinarians.”
The authors urge appropriators to take three steps in a final conference version of the funding bill:
In addition to Grijalva, the letter is signed by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who chairs the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands; and by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.).
Coalition of U.S. House members pen letter to DOI Secretary Bernhardt opposing sterilization of wild horses
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is striking back at the Bureau of Land Management's latest attempt to test a permanent sterilization technique on wild horses.
The group of 30 congressional leaders, including four Republicans, sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt late Friday urging him to "drop" BLM research into a controversial sterilization procedure — called ovariectomy via colpotomy — that involves removing the ovaries from mares. The latest proposal, which could begin as early as August, would involve about 100 mares already rounded up from a federal herd management area in central Oregon.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), also asked Bernhardt to "shed light" on why BLM is working "to push forward" with the proposed project after a federal judge last year issued an injunction halting the research. The bureau quickly abandoned the project and committed in February to adopt or sell most of the 845 wild horses it gathered up for the project.
But last month, BLM released a new environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the proposals to test the sterilization technique on mares at the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon. It marks at least the third time BLM has proposed such research, which has been challenged each time by litigation from advocacy groups.
"The BLM is charged with protecting wild horses under the landmark 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. From a welfare perspective, the 'spay' experiment raises serious concerns," the letter said. Among them are the "risks of infection, trauma, hemorrhage, evisceration, and even death," they wrote. BLM did not respond to a request for comment on this story before publication.
But according to the EA, the bureau wants to test the procedure "on at least 100 ungentled, wild horse mares" already rounded up last October as part of the previous attempt to research the sterilization technique. BLM would "contract with an experienced veterinary team" to conduct the "surgical procedure," it said.BLM would return about 28 to 34 of the sterilized mares to the range as part of the project. The U.S. Geological Survey would "evaluate the impacts of spaying" on these animals and on "herd behavior once returned to the range as compared with an untreated herd." Roughly 70 other mares would also be spayed and observed for seven days, then put up for adoption or sale and not returned to the range.
It's the latest effort by the bureau to find safe and effective ways to permanently sterilize mares as herd sizes grow rapidly across the West. But a federal judge blocked a similar proposal last year, and two years earlier BLM dropped a separate research proposal into several sterilization methods shortly after an advocacy group sued.
The congressional leaders led by Blumenauer wrote in the letter that they aren't convinced BLM will take proper precautions to care for the animals.
"It seems that the agency understands the risky nature of the procedure but is nevertheless aiming to quantify precisely how dangerous it is using federally-protected animals," they wrote. "This is especially disconcerting given the BLM's pronouncement that no post-operative antibiotics will be administered and that no veterinary interventions will be undertaken for any recovering horses returned to the range."
At the "absolute minimum," the letter said, if BLM conducts the tests it should include "veterinary and welfare oversight" similar to two previous proposals for sterilization research that included partnering with Oregon State University in 2016, and last year with Colorado State University.
Both universities dropped out before the research could begin, and the lawmakers noted with concern that such partnerships "are no longer a component of the project the BLM is attempting to yet again undertake."