GOP letter to BLM fraught with hypocrisy

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Promotes Lack of Accountability for Livestock Ranching and Targets Wild Horses

The recent letter from GOP Representatives to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze has stirred up controversy and opens the door to a more informed discussion about livestock and wild horse grazing on our federal lands in the West.

The letter essentially supports the “states rights” agenda that has been pushing for state control over the management of our federal land and resources, which was inflamed by trespass rancher Cliven Bundy’s stand off in 2014 after refusing to pay his livestock grazing fees in Utah.


The dispute began in 1993, when Bundy’s allotment of land for grazing cattle was altered to include some environmental protections. Bundy did not accept the change and continued to use the land anyway without paying grazing fees. (Photo: April 2014/Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

The agenda behind the argument includes removing public land managers that they deem abusive to the range citing:

  • Anyone that restricts livestock
  • Removing the raven from the migratory bird treaty (so they can kill them)
  • Resuming inhumane and archaic “mustanging” to “control” wild horse populations
  • Resuming “sale without limitation” (removing what little restrictions exists to prevent sale authority horses from going to slaughter)

The biased position represented in the letter is a slap in the face to the American public who, as recent surveys show, a vast majority (80%) are against horse slaughter and want wild horses and burros on the western ranges.

Especially insulting as it comes on the heels of public outrage over the report released by The Interior Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) confirming that between 2009-2012 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold 1,794 federally-protected wild horses to a Colorado rancher and noted horse slaughter supporter, Tom Davis, who sold them to slaughter, which violated BLM policy and a Congressional ban. The shipping of these horses to Tom Davis cost the Taxpayer $140,000 and resulted in the slaughter of 1795 horses earning Davis a profit of $154,000.

The OIG holds neither the BLM nor rancher Tom Davis accountable for the sale of 1700 wild horses (Davis had purchased) to suffer the Mexican slaughterhouse.

The letter from the GOP frames itself as a logical inquiry into a broken program. Unfortunately it simplifies the issue from a point of view rooted in decades old propaganda that maintains wild horse populations are responsible for destroying western rangelands.

The arbitrary numbers set for Appropriate Management Levels (AML) for wild horse populations, were not determined through science, they were established through cultural politics to appease livestock ranchers.” Said Laura Leigh, Director of Wild Horse Education, “Current AMLs are not based on an actual use equation of forage required to sustain genetic viability and any justification is anecdotal”.

In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released an extensive report that essentially fails the BLM on any scientific data to support decision making for wild horse population management on public land. At no time has any real baseline been created on genetic make-up of individual wild horse herds. Nor has there been a comprehensive study to determine the resources required to sustain populations in each Herd Management Area to maintain healthy populations capable of reproducing themselves. In essence any monitoring done to set any management level of wild horses or boundary lines for Herd Management Areas (HMAs) is inaccurate.

In essence any management decision signed since the publishing of the NAS report in 2013 -may comply with a land use plan, but it simply is not based on science.

Our rangelands are overstocked, but not with wild horses.

Privately owned livestock dominate federal land grazing 37:1 on Forest Service and BLM lands nationally, with 2.1 million cattle and only an estimated 56,656 wild horses and burros. BLM estimates 49,209 wild horses and burros on BLM Herd Management Areas in the West in glaring contrast to 1.5 million cattle.

imagesWild horses are relegated to graze on only 11% of BLM managed public land even on that small percentage of land the disparity of grazing resources made available to wild horse herds is an estimated 17% with almost 83% made available to livestock. Even at three and four times “AML” they often do not consume the 17% of forage allocated to them.

The western rangelands were overstocked and overgrazed by domestic livestock way before the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed in 1971 to protect wild horses and burros on designated areas of our public lands. Livestock grazing across the West was out of control and destroyed our ranges forcing the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 to control livestock grazing.

Sand Wash Basin 2014

Sheep in Wyoming at Sand Wash Basin. Photo: Kimerlee Curyl

To this day, wild horses are fighting a cultural battle that has steadfastly maintained unsubstantiated propaganda against the Wild Horses and Burros who mean so much to the American people. The 1971 Act declared “…That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.

“It is time the BLM stops treating wild horses like their unwanted step children “ said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom. “It’s time to stop postponing and proudly protect and preserve our wild horses and burros on their designated ranges, without apology”.

Our western rangelands continue to be overstocked with domestic livestock, destroying water quality and soil integrity, which prevents the range from recovering annually. Public land “welfare ranching” which produces only 3% of our nation’s beef, costs the tax payers a loss of over $132 million a year just in direct grazing subsidies alone, far more than the cost of the entire wild horse and burro program. Privately owned livestock dominate federal land grazing 37:1 on Forest Service and BLM lands nationally. Wild horses are relegated to graze on only a small and shrinking percentage of BLM-managed public land. The Center for Biological Diversity released a study this year, that shows the federal grazing program has lost the taxpayer more than $1 billion in the past decade. So who benefits and why?

What is not being discussed is the embedded entitlement from over a century of a western homesteading culture that is not as interested in solutions for a changing world but more focused on maintaining control of water and grazing animal units (AUs) in the west.

While the BLM struggles to define “multiple use” and accommodate stakeholders on all sides in a modern world, the American public is loosing a battle they do not understand.

“We urge the BLM to manage our public lands for all Americans and not a small group of ranchers who benefit from taxpayer-subsidized grazing,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom.” It is time for the BLM to truly manage our public lands under a multiple use policy. The BLM has the tools to manage wild horses and burros on the range and save millions of dollars annually. The NAS report substantiated what we have been saying all along.”

Since 2002, advocates have presented the concept of establishing compensation and incentives for ranchers who give up their livestock grazing permits so that wild horses and burros can receive a more equitable share of the grazing resources in wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and Herd Areas (HAs). The feedback was positive but consistently obstructed by the fear of loosing control over public land grazing.

So when Congressional leaders refer to solutions that solely focus on wild horse eradication, sale without restrictions, euthanasia and horse slaughter, it exposes a prejudice that neglects the vote of the majority of Americans

The GOP Legislators signatories point the finger at the BLM and the gun at the wild horses. Ironically, these Representatives have been obstructing BLM from actually implementing the tools supported by the 2013 National Academy Report.

The largest fertility control plan in the nation is on hold at the Fish Creek Herd Management Area in Eureka, Nevada. The progressive management plan was created based on the NAS recommendations. While this plan was ready to move forward, Eureka County and local ranchers have obstructed its implementation in spite of the fact that the court ruled BLM has authority to carry out the plan. The BLM has been receiving political pressure to keep the plan on hold to placate local ranching interests.  In fact, supporting livestock ranchers cited in willful trespass by continuing to turn their livestock out on the range without paying their lease is a clear obstruction of BLM’s ability to carry out their policy.

“If we had a magic wand and could remove every wild horse from the range our rangelands would still be dying. In contrast, if we removed every cow our ranges would in fact begin to recover from a century of overstocking and overgrazing by domestic livestock,”  stated Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education

If the intention of the letter from the GOP is to address the appropriate management of public resources, the letter is suspiciously narrow in scope. Wild horse populations, even when “over AML”, represent usage of a tiny fraction of the range resources.

The BLM was mandated to manage our wild horses and burros under a multiple use management policy, for their preservation and protection on our public lands.

“It is time to embrace America’s wild horses and burros rightful place on the range. The solutions involve a multi-pronged approach, which will support good range management for livestock and wildlife, as well as the freedom, health and well being of our wild horse and burro herds and their natural selection, for generations to come,” concluded Return to Freedom.

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation (RTF). RTF has been dedicated to modeling and promoting viable solutions to manage wild horses and burros on the range as an alternative to costly and traumatic capture and warehousing of wild horses for 17 years. Return to Freedom’s mission is to preserve the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world.

Wild Horse Education (WHE) is a national wild horse advocacy organization based in Nevada. WHE has been active on the ground in Herd Management Areas in the state of Nevada extensively and is dedicated to range solutions and the protection of wild horses and burros.