Return to Freedom disagrees in the strongest possible terms with the Bureau of Land Management’s acting director, William Perry Pendley, that federally protected wild horses and burros are an “existential threat” to our public lands. Once again, Pendley is scapegoating horses and burros and ignoring the many uses – from livestock grazing to energy uses to public recreation – of our public lands in a way that impedes progress toward a sustainable future for America’s wild horses and burros centered on humane and holistic on-range management.
RTF also strongly disagrees with Pendley’s characterization of an additional $21 million appropriated by Congress to the BLM for Fiscal Year 2020 as funding focussed on gather operations. In its guiding report language, the House Interior Appropriations Committee wrote that stakeholder groups (including RTF) had offered a non-lethal proposal based with merit and that the committee was providing additional funding not just on gathers in the most densely populated Herd Management Areas, but on “increased and vigorous fertility control strategies,” relocating captured animals to more cost-effective pasture facilities and increased adoptions.
The Senate Interior Appropriations Committee’s report language called for a BLM plan that included not just gathers and holding facilities but “the amount of fertility control resources currently available, the additional resources anticipated to be needed and the plan for obtaining those resources, and the plan for administering those resources, all focused on implementing a strategy aimed at minimizing future removals and maximizing treatment and retreatment.”
Pendley’s characterization of roundups being the primary use of the additional $21 million appropriated by Congress is not borne out by the agency’s own budget numbers. As of Sept. 16, according to numbers present to the Advisory Board on Wednesday, BLM has spent $6.38 million on roundups, or about 7% of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s $87.32 million in expenditures. Its largest expense remains off-range holding: $55.84 million total for short-term corrals and long-term pastures or about 64% of expenditures.
Fertility control continues to be woefully neglected by BLM, however. Despite Congress’s clear call for increased use of safe, proven and humane methods of fertility control, BLM has spent less than 1% — $314,402 – on treating mares and burro jennies so that roundups can be phased out.
RTF is fighting daily on Capitol Hill to ensure the BLM follows the will of Congress. That will only happen with ongoing Congressional oversight. So far, the BLM continues to ignore science, public will and congressional intent.
The Bureau of Land Management’s de facto acting chief said he believes Congress supports his agency’s aggressive plan to permanently remove tens of thousands of wild horses and burros from federal rangelands.
William Perry Pendley told BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board at a virtual online meeting today that the report to Congress in May charts an “innovative, nonlethal” combination of recommendations, including “holding and fertility treatments” that can get the overcrowding of federal herd management areas under control.
The plan outlined in the report would permanently remove as many as 20,000 wild horses and burros off federal rangelands annually, and an additional 9,000 animals would be treated with fertility controls and placed back on the range May 12.
Pendley said the combination of increased gathers and the successful development of a long-term fertility control could be enough to reduce the estimated 95,000 wild horses and burros on federal rangelands — nearly four times above what the rangelands can sustain.
“Fortunately, I think Congress has heard us on this, and they’ve increased our budget, an additional $21 million we can spend, and we’re focusing on gather operations in certain areas,” he said.
BLM, he added, is also testing a one-dose oocyte growth factor vaccine on 16 mares in Nevada that, if successful, could render them infertile for three years and perhaps longer.
“I always make a distinction between saying eager and saying anxious. I’m eager for something to happen as opposed to I’m anxious,” Pendley said. “In this case, we’re not eager for this to be successful, we’re anxious about it being successful. That’s how serious I think our problem is.”
He added that all sides share concern for the animals.
“I know there are a lot of animal welfare groups out there, they’re concerned about these animals, and so are the people at the Bureau of Land Management. They love these iconic representations of the American West. They care for them, and they want them to prosper and succeed,” he said. “But at the same time, what we’re doing is not compassionate; it’s not humane. It’s bad for the land, it’s bad for indigenous species, it’s bad for endangered species. It’s not good to our neighbors.”
Several members of the national advisory board representing wild horse advocacy and livestock management, however, raised significant issues with the report to Congress.
Board member Susan McAlpine, a wild horse advocate, told Pendley that she agrees with him that “America’s wild horses and burros are in crisis. Populations have exploded in the drought-stricken Southwest and the fire-stricken West — far beyond what the environment could have supported before those 2020 impacts.”
But she added: “It’s my opinion that the 2020 report to Congress fails to address a humane, cost-effective management plan. It relies heavily on removing horses and burros and stockpiling them in long-term federal holding. That was not the intent of the 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act.”
Pendley thanked McAlpine for her comments but did not respond.
Board member Steven Yardley, vice president of Yardley Cattle Co. in Utah, also criticized the plan to Congress — but for different reasons.
Yardley said the plan to remove about 20,000 wild horses and burros annually, and 9,000 that would be treated with fertility controls and returned to the range, doesn’t go far enough.
“With the size and scope of the wild horse populations where they are now, this really doesn’t even begin to attempt to get them down to the appropriate management level where they’re supposed to be at,” he said. “It just looks like we’re kind of ‘too little, too late,’ and we need to take some more aggressive approaches to curbing the population growth.”
Pendley agreed, noting that the combination of the gathers and efforts to adopt or sell the rounded-up animals “barely keeps up with the population growth” of herds.
That’s why the issue is such a significant one for BLM, he said.
Pendley referred to his controversial statement last year at a Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference in Fort Collins, Colo., where he termed growing wild horse and burro populations as an “existential threat” to Western rangelands.
Critics have blasted that characterization for ignoring what they say are the more sizable impacts to rangelands caused by oil and gas drilling, overgrazing of livestock, and climate change.
“I called our wild horse and burro issue an existential threat,” Pendley said. “I believed it then and I still believe it, and I think you do too.”