BLM calls wild horses ‘existential threat’ to public lands

/ In The News, News

Photo of Haloka taken at RTF’s Lompoc headquarters sanctuary by Lori Sortino

Read RTF’s full response below.

As published by E&E News

The Bureau of Land Management is now formally referring to wild horses and burros as an “existential threat” to federal lands, mirroring acting BLM chief William Perry Pendley’s controversial characterization of growing herd sizes.

The language is included in BLM’s budget justification, released today. The document outlines in detail the reasoning behind President Trump’s proposed $1.2 billion fiscal 2021 budget for the bureau.

BLM appears to be the last Interior Department agency to file the justification, nearly three weeks after the president unveiled his fiscal 2021 budget proposal. Among the top items in the proposal is a request for an additional $15.3 million for BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program — to $116.8 million from $101.5 million in the current budget cycle.

The budget justification says the extra funds would be used “to identify innovative ways to address the existential threat posed to the Nation’s public lands and their plant and animal resources as well as private property and human life by wild horse and burro populations far beyond that intended by Congress.”

Pendley earned scorn from wild horse advocates and conservationists for telling a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference last year that uncontrolled wild horses and burros pose an “existential threat” to federal rangelands.

Critics noted that Pendley failed to also mention the impacts of increased oil and gas development, livestock grazing and climate change on rangeland health.

But BLM estimates there are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros trampling federal herd management areas — more than three times the number of animals the rangelands can sustain without damaging vegetation, soils and other resources.

And Pendley has continued to describe wild horses and burros as an existential threat, including this week during a radio interview in Tucson, Ariz.

“I call it an existential threat,” Pendley told the hosts of the “WakeUp! Tucson” show.

He added: “We got to get it down. Congress is mandating we take care of these animals. And I want to add too, it’s not humane to the animals. This is a terrible thing we’re doing to them; they’re dying of starvation and thirst. So we’re trying to take care of it, get them off the land, get them in corrals, vaccinations so we don’t have that 12% to 15% increase in population every single year.”

Thus, the budget justification adds that BLM “will seek to increase public/private partnerships to place more animals into private care while also working with organizations to create private/public partnerships on pasture or sanctuary lands.”

It also says BLM will “work with academia and Federal partners to enhance existing sterilization methods and fertility control vaccines. This includes developing new population controls through research projects.”

Other highlights in the budget justification include:

–No money requested for BLM’s controversial move of its headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction, Colo. Congress approved $5.9 million for the move in the current budget.

–Slashing money for land acquisition to only $3 million from $32 million in fiscal 2020. This includes cutting $8 million in unused land acquisition funds under current enacted funding levels.

–The Trump administration has urged focusing federal funding on maintaining and improving existing public lands. But the budget request asks for $30 million less in fiscal 2021 for deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects — to $45 million from $75 million.

–Cutting funding for wildlife habitat management by $47 million from current enacted levels — to $83 million from $130 million. This fund includes money for putting in place greater sage grouse conservation measures.

RTF’s response to BLM’s budget justification:

While Return to Freedom appreciates that the Bureau of Land Management has chosen not to include mass euthanasia or unrestricted sale (to slaughter) of wild horses and burros in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget justification, we are extremely disappointed in the agency’s continued culture of scapegoating these federally protected animals.

Specifically, the document refers to an “existential threat posed to the Nation’s public lands and their plant and animal resources as well as private property and human life by wild horse and burro populations far beyond that intended by Congress.”  This mirrors a past statement by acting William Pendley, acting director for the BLM.

Public lands are managed under a multiple-use mandate, but the needs of federally protected wild horses and burros have for decades been considered last — even on areas legally designated for them. During the planning process, the agency has allocated 12.3 million Animal Unit Months to privately owned livestock on public lands (more than 1 million cow-calf pares) compared to just 320,280 AUM for wild horses and burros (26,690 horses). All uses of public land must be reconsidered, including wild horses and other wildlife, energy projects, public recreation and livestock grazing.

At the same time, the agency has failed to allocate as much as 4% of its annual Wild Horse and Burro budget to implement fertility control that would allow for the elimination of a failed, inhumane system of removal and warehousing of wild horses and burros, directly resulting in the current crisis on the range.

Such divisive language as calling wild horses an “existential threat” by the very agency charged by the law with their welfare comes at a time of potential paradigm shift for BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program — away the status quo of roundups and toward a sustainable future of minimally invasive, on-range management, for wild herds.

For Fiscal Year 2020, Congress, working in a bipartisan fashion, approved funding for and mandated the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control, adopting language from a non-lethal proposal put forward by RTF and other stakeholders both as an alternative to a growing push for using lethal tools and as a way phase out the decades-old practice of roundups and removals.

BLM’s budget justification document also continues its wrongheaded pursuit of surgical sterilization of wild mares and jennies. That, despite public opposition and Congress’s decision to support safe, proven and humane fertility control to slow, not stop, wild horse and burro reproduction. RTF strongly opposes surgeries that are dangerous, unproven, costly and — given the ready availability and proven effectiveness of immuno-contraceptive fertility control – completely unnecessary.

RTF will continue to urge Congress to force BLM to implement a robust fertility control program and resist the agency’s pursuit of dangerous sterilization surgeries. But for a truly holistic, humane and sustainable program to move forward under a multiple-use paradigm, a culture shift must be embraced by the BLM. The agency has been entrusted by Congress to protect and preserve America’s wild free-roaming horses and burros. It is the agency’s responsibility to accept that honor on behalf of a public that wants to see these national icons safe and free on the range and through all facets of their oversight and management.

Take Action

SIGN OUR PETITION: Tell Congress wild horses and burros deserve a fair share

OPPOSE STERILIZATION: Urge Congress to oppose surgical sterilization