A Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing this week to discuss strategies to reduce growing wild horse and burro herds.
Tomorrow's Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining hearing will "examine long-term management options for the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Program," according to summary written by GOP staffers.
The hearing comes in advance of a much-anticipated report BLM is expected to submit to Congress next month detailing specific strategies and funding estimates for reducing the number of wild horses and burros.
What exactly BLM plans to include in the report is unclear. But Steve Tryon, BLM's deputy assistant director for resources and planning, is scheduled to testify at tomorrow's hearing and will almost certainly be grilled about the upcoming report.
One thing the report will not include is a standing Trump administration request for Congress to lift language in appropriations bills that forbids BLM from using euthanasia on healthy horses and burros that cannot be adopted.
Casey Hammond, the Interior Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management who is temporarily overseeing BLM, announced last week at a national wild horse advisory panel meeting that euthanasia is "not an option that's being discussed in the bureau or the department".
How that new Trump administration position sits with conservative Republicans, like subcommittee Chairman Mike Lee of Utah, remains to be seen. But the topic of euthanasia as a option for culling herd sizes is likely to be a major topic of debate at the hearing.
Among those scheduled to testify is Ethan Lane, chairman of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, which advocates for downsizing herds on public lands to sustainable levels.
Lane is also senior executive director of the Public Lands Council and of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Both groups joined the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others in devising a macabre plan submitted to congressional appropriators in April to reduce growing herd sizes without resorting to euthanasia or unrestricted sales (The Path Forward, 10 Years to AML proposal).
Nancy Perry, ASPCA's senior vice president of government affairs, is also scheduled to testify.
The hearing comes as federal land managers say there are at least 88,000 wild horses and burros roaming 27 million acres of herd management areas — more than three times the appropriate management level of 26,690 animals deemed sustainable for natural resources and the wildlife that live on the rangelands.
The 88,000 wild horses "is very, very far away from healthy herds," Hammond told the wild horse advisory board last week.
BLM has ramped up organized roundups of wild horses and burros, as well as efforts to get these animals adopted. But the bureau estimates that it costs about $50 million a year — close to 70% of the Wild Horse and Burro Program annual budget — to care for the animals held in off-range holding corrals and pens.
"We often forget about that number," Hammond said, referring to those costs.
"That's what's eating up a significant portion of the budget that Congress has given us just to take care of the [animals] we've taken off the range [in order] to have a healthy range that we don't have," he said. "So the challenges are significant."
Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, July 16, at 2:30 p.m. in 366 Dirksen.
Source: E&E News
GOP Senators, Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both of Utah, want to strike a regulation barring federal rangeland officials from euthanizing wild horses and burros.
Lee and Romney co-signed a letter to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies under the Committee on Appropriations. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska chairs the subcommittee while Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico serves as the ranking member.
“Western rangelands are in crisis. The current populations of wild horses and burros is devastating the land, negatively impacting other species living in the area, and prohibiting an effective multiple-use management of the land,” Lee and Romney wrote in a letter dated May 3, obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forestry Service (USFS), two agencies under the Interior department, are tasked with managing increasingly overpopulated wild horses and burros on federal land. Horse and burro populations are roughly triple what experts say the land can support.
“Removing this rider would greatly serve the health of both these animals and the rangeland,” Lee and Romney wrote. “Left unaddressed, the problem will only get worse, to the detriment of the environment and at the expense of the American taxpayer.”
The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 directs BLM and USFS personnel to “remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.” The BLM and USFS typically put animals up for adoption or inject them with contraception drugs to control the population. Neither strategy has proven effective at blunting the growing overpopulation.
The federal agencies routinely round up hundreds of horses and burros to stick in federal corrals or place them with private ranches that are paid to care for the animals. The strategy has removed many animals from the land, but at an immense cost to taxpayers. The BLM spent $48 million, nearly 60 percent of its budget, on maintaining holding facilities in 2017.
Source: The Daily Caller
Republican Congressman Chris Stewart brought together ranchers, animal-protection advocates and others on Wednesday to brainstorm solutions for protecting wild horses.
Evocative symbols of the American West, wild horses have also become a thorny national political issue that's often left ranchers and animal-protection advocates at odds.
Congress budgeted more than $80 million for the wild horse program last year, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management overspent that by more than $2 million. Stewart has introduced an amendment to a recently passed House spending bill that gives the BLM more authority and a $15 million funding increase for managing horse populations. The U.S. Senate also included provisions in its version of the Interior Department spending bill that address wild horses.
But the opposing sides agree money alone is not the answer.
"Everyone agrees the problem is untenable the way it is," said Stewart after the closed-door meeting ended Wednesday. "There's wide agreement—I would say 90 percent agreement—on what it's going to take to fix it.
That includes capturing and removing from public land about 90,000 horses so they won't compete with livestock and wildlife for food and water.
Stewart said the solution also means settling on an effective sterilization program that would allow the BLM to remove the ovaries of wild mares. Sterilization would prevent herds remaining on the range from growing fast. The target is to hold herd numbers steady at roughly 27,000 horses.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, brought together groups that are typically at odds for a discussion of solutions for the nation’s wild horse program.
Among the groups that attended were:
They asked Stewart to continue the talks.
Nancy Perry, a lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the national program for wild horses is at a crossroads.
"That's causing everyone to come together, put aside our differences and ask, 'What can we do together on this issue?'" Perry, who also attended the roundtable, said.
Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson, who is also a rancher, conceded that solving the wild horse problem will take collaboration and time.
"We've had years and years that we've been saying, and begging and pleading to get this done," said Pearson. "And the problems have been that BLM has been restricted in what they can do."
Stewart, who calls himself a horse lover, said no one wants to see the horses, the land and rural Utah communities suffering. In a previous version of his amendment, Stewart gave the BLM authority to euthanize healthy horses in government corrals. But that's no longer part of his proposal.
"This coalition will stay together because we truly love these animals," said Stewart, adding that some wild horses in southern Utah are starving to death. "Most people think that's not a great outcome for them."