HOUSTON, (Horseback) – It was as if a message came down from on high for the boys at Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to do something to make those damned phones stop ringing. So Sec. Ken Salazar and the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Bob Abbey, put on their tap dancing shoes and began to spin.
The big lie came late in the hastily called press conference announced at the last minute to settle America’s angst about those 69,000 wild horses the BLM reluctantly owns – the result of a 1971 law it never wanted because the land was more valuable as range land for cattle, leased for minerals, or set aside for big game hunters
“Cattle grazing’s been steadily reduced on BLM lands since 1940,” Abbey said.
And there’s the spin.
BLM land leased to ranchers by the bureau may have been reduced overall since the year before America entered World War Two. Yet just the opposite has happened to the millions of acres set aside with passage of the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act.
The law called for BLM to set up protected area for wild horses where they were found at the time the new law went into effect. Since then, that acreage has steadily decreased as the agency leased 13 million acres thereby dramatically impacting and reducing wild horse habitat.
Now the BLM claims it has no place to put the 32,000 wild horses it has in captivity costing the taxpayers daily.
Currently, according to Salazar, there are 69,000 wild horses, total. The BLM has an aggressive program to capture 10,000 more horses from their wild habitat next year, according to the officials.
Fewer horses on BLM lands open up valuable acres for potential livestock leases. Currently, the BLM’s going rate is $1.35 per animal per month.
“Too often people try to make this a wild horse vs. livestock issue.,” Salazar, a Colorado lawyer and rancher told reporters.
In late September, Sen. Mary Landrieu passed a bill calling for the BLM to come up with a new plan for dealing with wild horses within a year. Salazar and Abbey wasted no time. The new plan announced Wednesday will establish “Wild Horse Preserves” in the Midwest and East on “productive land.”
No mention was made by either official of the millions of acres of BLM land which lies vacant in the American west, land it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a cent to set aside for wild horses.
Moreover, no mention was made during the press conference of BLM not renewing grazing leases as their term expires.
The new plan would “showcase” current herds and highlight them as monuments.
In the press conference Salazar referred to the Pryor Mountain horses made
famous by Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens in her “Nature” series on PBS as one such herd. However, Salazar neglected to mention that equine geneticists have charged a BLM “gather” over Labor Day week possibly reduced that herd’s numbers beyond genetic viability. Some of the animals were injured as well in a stampede down a 5,000 foot rocky slope for up to ten miles, driven by a roaring helicopter (click HERE to read story in Horseback Magazine).
BLM has announced plans soon to hold more roundups that will reduce a herd at McCollough Peaks, WY, by 90 percent. The gathers have drawn fire from wild horse lovers, angered by what they call BLM’s callous treatment of the animals.
Salazar said his new plan would develop a “strategy to keep horses at a sustainable level.”
Herds on western lands would be severely reduced because of neutering.
He also suggested BLM would open management of the proposed seven new wild horse ranges to private non profit organizations and would consider a proposal from billionaire Madeleine Pickens to set up a vast preserve for the Mustangs.
“Our proposal doesn’t in any way knock out her proposal,” Salazar said. “Her proposal will be considered with all of the other proposals.”
Previously, BLM has repeatedly said no to the Pickens proposal.
The BLM would retain management of two of the new preserves. The new protected areas would hold about 25,000 horses each.
Salazar said the acquisition cost for new lands in the Midwest and East to house the horses is estimated at $92 million, a modest sum for tens of thousands of acres in today’s real estate market.
Yet late Wednesday night the proposal was greeted with howls of protest from horse advocates who have long fought for wild horses and against the contentious practice of equine slaughter.
Part of Salazar’s new strategy would reduce requirements for adoption of a wild horse or burro. Critics say BLM’s current adoption requirements are already lax and enable “killer buyers” purchasing the horses for the slaughter market to slip through without serious scrutiny.
“They think we are the dumb ones,” said Barbara Warner of Kentucky. “They are proposing to move the horses, use even more birth control, and lessen adoption regulations. In other words wipe them out completely.”
“Flood the White House with post cards demanding that Salazar be fired on the spot for mismanagement of the wild horses,” said West Virginia’s Bonny Oliver. “Thousands of cards should get somebody’s attention.”
In a final spin, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey danced a final pirouette telling the Association Press, “We think there is real potential for ecotourism,” he said. “Everybody loves horses.”
(Please, keep calling and writing; ask for a moratorium on any more round-ups until we get an accurate accounting of how many horses are warehoused, where they currently are located and a rock solid number of how many horses are actually in the wild. The BLM’s numbers are currently a moving targets – R.T.)