BLM Slings Wild Horse BS at CBS Reporter

by Andrew Cohen as published in the Atlantic

Contradictions Run Deep within the BLM

Here is Wyoming’s pitch-pure tourism advertisement now playing on television. It’s called “Don’t Fence Me In” and it features beautiful natural scenes, including a herd of horses running upon the open prairie. Before I dive briefly back into the story of what the Bureau of Land Management, state officials, and ranching industry executives are doing right now, today, to two Wyoming wild horse herds, I ask you to please spend 30 seconds watching this video. It animates the issues at hand more than I ever could with words.

I love this commercial. As a proud citizen of the West, it evokes in me the pride I feel about living in a place that still has big skies and wide, open spaces. It makes me think of the scenic drive from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park, through some of the most gorgeous country America offers to the world. And to me, anyway, it’s brilliant marketing by the Wyoming Tourism Board, whose members obviously understand the value that millions of Americans place upon the wild horse as a symbol of the nation’s heritage.

This is the fourth time in the past month or so I have written about the wild horses of Wyoming. Starting yesterday, as much as 70 percent of two free-ranging herds in and around Sweetwater County, in the southwestern part of the state, are being rounded up and taken away by BLM personnel and contractors. Approximately 700 wild horses will be taken from the wild and held in pens pending adoption or sale (or worse). “Don’t Fence me In” may be the state’s tourism slogan. Yet these very symbols of the state, the very symbols of the West, will soon be fenced in, probably forever.

First, I wrote about a BLM roundup plan that also included castrating the stallions of these herds and then returning the geldings back to the range. Then I wrote about the BLM’s decision to back away from that part of its plan under public pressure from horse advocacy groups and the public. Finally, about 10 days or so ago, I wrote about the hypocrisy inherent in Wyoming’s attitude toward its horses; it is marketing the herds as tourist attractions even as it is plotting with ranchers and the BLM to undermine the horses.

It was this last piece which garnered more attention than its predecessors. In it, I suggested that the federal agency in charge of the wild horses, the Department of the Interior, through its BLM, has not often shown itself to be a neutral player when evaluating the vested interests that compete for Western public lands. The ranchers almost always win. The wild horses almost always lose. And the Interior Department is run by a rancher, Ken Salazar, whose former subordinate, Sylvia Baca, is alleged to have encouraged ranchers to sue her own department to get their way. Now comes an official response from the Bureau of Land Management. I rebut some of its main components below.

THE BLM’s RESPONSE

Here is the full text of the response I received late Friday afternoon from Tom Gorey, Senior Public Affairs Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.

Contrary to what is alleged in this latest wild horse column of Mr. Cohen for The Atlantic, the Bureau of Land Management is not waging a “war” against wild horses, nor is it “managing for extinction,” as other critics have similarly charged. In fact, the current on-the-range population of wild horses and burros (approximately 38,500) is greater than the number found roaming in 1971 (about 25,300), when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

The BLM is seeking to achieve the appropriate management level of 26,600 wild horses and burros on Western public rangelands, or nearly 12,000 fewer than the current West-wide population. The ecosystems of public rangelands are simply not able to withstand the impacts resulting from overpopulated herds, and that is why the 1971 law, as amended, directs the Interior Secretary to remove wild horses and burros in circumstances where the animals exceed the range’s capacity to sustain them.

As for the claim that some wild horses “may even be slaughtered for meat,” this is a disingenuous assertion, as the BLM screens both adopters and buyers of wild horses and burros. It is a legal reality, of course, that once the title of ownership to a wild horse or burro passes from the Federal government to an adopter or buyer that the animal becomes private property, but the BLM makes every effort through its screening process and the terms of adoption agreements and sale contracts to prevent the slaughter of former wild horses and burros. These documents both contain a clause that adopters and purchasers agree to, declaring that they have no intent to sell the animal(s) for processing into commercial products.

The comparison of the amount of BLM-managed land used for livestock grazing (157 million acres) to the amount used by wild horses and burros (26.9 million acres) ignores the fact that the 1971 law cited above confines the management of wild horses and burros to areas inside the boundaries of where the animals were found roaming on BLM and Forest Service-managed land in 1971. That’s the law — letter and spirit.

Regarding the Wyoming-related wild horse litigation, the BLM cannot comment on pending cases, but it can be said that neither the Interior Department nor the BLM view litigation as the way to go in resolving public land issues.

The big picture is that the BLM carries out a multiple-use mission, which is principally defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. This job requires our agency to accommodate various uses of the public land while preserving resources — a complex mission, to be sure, but one that Congress has set forth as our mandate in law. While this multiple-use mission cannot compete with lurid headlines like “The Quiet War Against Wyoming’s Wild Horses,” The Atlantic’s readership deserves to know the full scope of the BLM’s responsibilities, which include the humane and cost-effective management of America’s wild horses and burros, both on and off the range.

REBUTTAL

As a general matter, this was a disappointing official response on many levels. Rather than respond to the specific points my article raised, the BLM simply regurgitated in much of the same bureaucratese the talking points it has offered before when this topic comes up. Here was a chance for the BLM to really engage with wild horse advocates, on a topic a lot of people seem to be talking about, and the Bureau simply bailed. You bail, I guess, when you have the power but not the argument. The BLM has the authority. The roundup now is underway. Why go into the messy details?

Here are some of those details.

1. Leaving aside for another day the Bureau’s “extinction” comment, the BLM first says there are roughly 13,000 more wild horses in America today than there were in 1971, when they were formally protected by federal statute. I’m not sure this is right. First, there were evidently far more than 25,000 wild horses in 1971, as the BLM now claims. In fact, the BLM’s own figures (Appendix C, Page 37) indicate that in 1974 there were at least 42,666 wild horses on the range. If you believe those figures, there are fewer wild horses today, on less public land, than there were 40 years ago. Having caused this situation, the BLM should take responsibility for it.

2. The BLM next says that the “ecosystems” of “public lands” cannot withstand more than 26,000 or so wild horses. Here we are at the heart of the matter. Even though cattle and sheep outnumber wild horses on public lands by at least a ten-to-one margin, the BLM largely blames the horses for roiling the resources of the range. By doing so, the Bureau justifies the imposition of this arbitrary 26,000-horse figure even though there are millions of acres of public land where more horses could safely roam. So long as the BLM continues to make this claim and defend it in court, wild horse advocates will have a hard time protecting the herds.

This is the single most important aspect of the fight between horse advocates and ranchers. The BLM grades the wild horses harshly for their impact on the range. But it does not appear to grade the cattle and sheep for the impact they bear upon it. It’s very much like the debt and deficit battle we just witnessed in Washington. The BLM is focusing upon the two percent that is relatively easy to fix rather than upon the 98 percent which is not. The reason is not hard to fathom. The ranchers have a powerful lobby. The horses do not. And the Interior Department doesn’t want to tick off one of the industries it is supposed to regulate.

Interestingly, in its response the BLM failed to rebut, or even mention, the new claims made against it by Robert Edwards, a range scientist who worked at the BLM for 30 years before becoming an independent consultant. Just recently, as part of a lawsuit over the Wyoming horses, Edwards challenged the BLM over its claim that it is the horses, and not the livestock, which are ruining the range. Anyone interested in this topic should read the Edwards Report. At a minimum, it creates a disputed issue of material fact about whether wild horses deplete as many natural resources as the BLM says they do.

3. The BLM next calls me “disingenuous” for writing that some of the wild horses that are rounded up are sold to slaughter. Now, if I had accused BLM officials of selling wild horses for slaughter perhaps I might have deserved the label. But I did not. What I implied is that some of the horses the BLM takes off the range end up in the wrong hands and on their way to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. This should be an undisputed fact. Just two weeks ago, for example, the BLM seized 64 wild horses in Utah in a sting operation against alleged smugglers.

The BLM defends the status quo on slaughter by arguing that it does the best it can when it sells or allows out for adoption wild horses. It’s a neat argument on paper but it doesn’t wash in the real world. In this grim video, for example, the pro-slaughter crowd earlier this year in plain view discussed how easy it is, in practice, for once-wild American horses to be slaughtered in Canada or Mexico. The BLM shouldn’t pretend otherwise by claiming it is making “every effort” to stop this practice. If it were, federal inspectors would be performing brand inspections all across the borders to prevent wild horses from being rendered abroad.

Don’t just blame the BLM for these sins of omission. Blame Congress and the White House, too. In 2004, for example, then Montana senator Conrad Burns, a Republican who once called ranchers “the best stewards of public lands,” snuck into federal legislation what’s known as the Burns Amendment. Signed into law by that great ersatz scion of the West, George W. Bush, the law effectively gutted protections for wild horses by allowing the BLM to private sell older and unadoptable mustangs to private buyers.

Like Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, and Wyoming’s lone delegate to the House of Representatives Cynthia Loomis, Conrad Burns has ties to the ranching industry. Seven years after his amendment, and nearly three years after the Obama Administration came into power promising to restore the balance of power over the nation’s land, air and water, no one in Washington has stepped up to restore protection for the wild horses of the American West. Not the White House. Not Congress. And not the courts.

The current slaughterhouse rule has created a dynamic problem that is only going to get worse as the BLM rounds up more wild horses it cannot afford to keep in captivity. Since the Bureau rounds up far more horses each year than can be adopted out or legitimately sold to honest buyers, and since the cost of housing the wild horses in “holding facilities” is high (tens of millions of dollars), the economics favor the slaughterhouse operators and their agents. Having created the supply-and-demand problem in the first place, the BLM should own up to its responsibilities to ensure the wild horses don’t soon find their way to rendering plants.

4. The BLM next takes issue with my assertion that it is not allocating enough public land for the benefit of wild horses. Here again, the BLM has forcefully countered a point no one is trying to make. No one, including me, is asking the Bureau the BLM to open up all of its land to wild horses. But the fact is that the BLM and ranchers have pushed out wild horse herds even from those relatively small areas of public land that was specifically designated for the horses back in 1971. Citing these statistics and maps, wild horse advocates claim that the herds have been removed (zeroed-out) from perhaps as much as half of the area initially granted to the horses by statute. Tens of millions of acres of former wild-horse country now are off limits to horses — but still open to livestock, these advocates say.

5. Unsurprisingly, the BLM didn’t want to comment directly on the points I made about the way in which Wyoming is using its wild horses as marketing tools even as it conspires to get rid of them. I don’t blame the Bureau for that. The fact is that the BLM is often sued by both sides in the battle — by the wild horse groups who seek more protection for the animals and by ranchers who seek more decisive action by the government to get rid of the animals. In this respect, the BLM is not unlike any other government agency seeking to balance out competing interests. The point of my last piece was to suggest that there isn’t really a great deal of balance between those interests. One wins. The other loses.

6. Finally, the BLM reminds readers that its function in life is not just to protect wild horses but also to properly manage the federal lands over which it has jurisdiction. Fair enough. Here’s what Suzanne Roy, of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, says about that:

Multiple use does not require livestock grazing. Again, Congress deemed wild horses to be worthy of protection as national symbols of freedom whose presence on Western public lands is an important part of our history and heritage. The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act designated the lands where wild horses were found in 1971 as habitat to be managed principally but not exclusively for wild horses. The BLM has turned this mandate on it head by allocating the majority of resources in federally designated wild horse areas to private livestock and not wild horses. The multiple use mandate does not require livestock grazing and it certainly does not require the imbalance of resource allocation that exists today.

If the BLM wants to live up to its mandate to protect and preserve America’s wild horses then it will begin to address the inequities of resource allocation on the small amount of BLM lands on which wild horses reside. It will also shift resources away from the current costly and cruel roundup, remove and stockpile strategy toward on-the-range management of wild horses, utilizing cost-effective and humane fertility control strategies where necessary.

As I have written before, it’s not just what the BLM is doing to these wild horses that disturbs a great many people. It is the way in which the deed is being done. Consistently backing ranching interests over horse advocacy groups, annually squeezing the horses out of more and more public land, the BLM nonetheless wants to maintain the public pretense that it is an honest broker when it comes to the fate of the horses — that its officials are doing what they can, within the narrow confines of federal law, to protect and manage the herds. But this is a false pretense. Literally and figuratively these days, America’s wild horses are on the run; suitable for marketing but otherwise harassed by their human stewards.

Click (HERE) to visit the Atlantic and comment

35 comments on “BLM Slings Wild Horse BS at CBS Reporter

  1. Amazing how the population number never changes much. I believe before the Bush administration started its mass round up campaign, that continues today, they were reporting an estimated 43,000 wild horses in the wild. 10 years later and thousands and thousands of wild horses rounded up and removed from the wild they’re saying there’s 38,500 wild horses in the wild – while they’ve doubled the number in long term holding. Is this “fuzzy math”?

    Along with Wyoming, the Gila River Indians in Arizona that own the Wild Horse Pass Resort & Casino also advertise viewing wild horses in their promotions. What they don’t advertise is how they round up their wild horses and they sell them directly to slaughterhouse buyers.

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  2. THere are only about 21,000 wild horses still free. Will be less now that a WY roundup has started. The BLM keeps using old numbers. 41,000 or more are in holding.

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  3. I pasted this post on my facebook news update and several people whom I don’t know have commented enthusiastically. I think we need to keep posting R. T.’s blogs on facebook to spread the word.

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  4. Great article – everything about it shows intelligence and open research and truth … except the BLM BS, of course …
    Here is another absurd Wyoming Tourism promotional video called “boundries”.

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    • Thank You Grandma Gregg, If only that video were true my heart takes flight, This is exactly why we are all gathered here to see this happen…………….There is nothing more beautiful to me then to see Our Mustangs Free , their freedom to roam is my Freedom……………… We will make this happen !!!!!!!

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    • A spectacular video! 30 seconds is okay, but I could have watched a lot more. Of course, it wouldn’t have been as exciting once the horses found some grass and settled into their normal behavior. “Just being” impresses me as much or more than the headlong gallops, but this is to attract tourists.

      And ALL Mustangs … not another image. What happens when folks come to see wild horses and can’t find them? How’s the Tourism Board going to explain that?

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      • Exactly! How dare they advertise the wild horses when AT THIS VERY MOMENT hundreds are being illegally captured and injured and are dying at the hands of our government. Too add insult to injury, the video is called “boundaries” … let them live within their legal boundary land – unmolested. I can guarantee you that there is plenty of grass and water and shelter on the HMAs (even with balanced “multiple use”) if the law was followed. As it says in the article: “The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act designated the lands where wild horses were found in 1971 as habitat to be managed PRINCIPALLY but not exclusively for wild horses.” And “free-roaming” does NOT mean filling our HMAs with miles and miles and miles of livestock fencing! Good grief!

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  5. Kudos to Mr. Cohen! He’s putting it out there for to see and it’s worth noting that the BLM is doing their best to “spin” the information at every turn. Hopefully people are watching, reading, and figuring out what is REALLY going on for a change. Bravo!

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  6. Don’t forget to comment on Mr. Cohen’s article to Thank him for keeping up with/and not taking any BS.. (crap!) from Gorey!

    We so NEED him to keep writing awesome articles for our Wild Ones!

    Rock on Warriors! Thanks to ALL in this battle of ‘wading’ through the BLM BS!

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  7. If you click on the “Click Here” to visit the Atlantic page of this articile, (which is the same articile), you can drop down to the comments section and see how “Trouser” responded. He/she oviously has no knowledge of the history of the wild horses. Unfortunately we have to deal with people like this in the effort to save these animals.

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    • It is the usual feral argument, a red herring. The beauty of the law protecting them calls them symbols and icons and takes the wind out of this sail. Really quite brilliant. I always just shrug at this argument because it really is all they have and the law addresses this issue head on and takes away its power.

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  8. Great article. I love the wonderful “BLM SCREENING PROCESS!” What a joke. I have seen it in action on many occasions when I used to go to adoptions–which I no longer do because of the direction BLM has taken over the past few years.

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  9. 38000 horses? Uuumm cuse me didn’t BLM round up some 10000 horses last year? So that would make it closer to 28000 horses.

    BLM you need to go back to elementary school and learn adding and subtracting.

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  10. Our Wild Horses and Burros are well represented in the comments. All of our voices need to be heard. We ARE the voices for these wonderful Wild Herds.

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  11. I tried to leave an appreciative reply for Mr. Cohen, but that silly comment area wouldn’t let me.
    Hope he checks here and see how much we admire him.

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  12. Shirley, give it another try. It is kind of a tricky comment area…it seems to expand on its own. Somehow, lots of spacing shows up once you click the submit button.

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  13. The BLM might as well just leave their pants down, cause they are going to be caught in all of their lies, deceit, Mr. Corey has just slandered himself, BYE BYE BLM and Mr . Corey……………………..Creditability is now gone…………….

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  14. Thanks Grandma Gregg for that ridiculous “free at last” video–I saw the real video of the horse caught in the panel at the trailer–it did not get any freedom or nice music. I have a real problem about my tax dollar being used to remove the wild horses (that I pay for) from the public land (that I pay for), and then paying farmers to keep the captives. That’s 3 times I pay for them–meanwhile there are hungry children and crumbling bridges that could use some federal dollars. Talk about mismanagement…… Thanks Mr. Cohen–the wild horses could use some liberty and justice right now.

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  15. Amid the chaos, there’s sometimes a Mustang story that, IMHO, deserves all the praise we can give it. This article was in yesterday’s Wyoming Tribune:

    “Wild horse adopters, trainers tout animal’s attributes”
    http://trib.com/news/local/state-and-regional/article_0edbab71-f946-5d05-bcff-a267b91c6447.html?mode=story

    I posted the first comment, and I really mean it. To me, this is an opportunity to put controversy aside for a bit, and just celebrate Mustangs and the people who work with and treasure them. Be sure to look at the photos. I love the one of the little boy peeking from under his horse’s neck!

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  16. What can I say….Excellent piece..Its the same old bs that they feed to people that call them to complain. I believe that they have lied so much that they believe their lies. Give me a break that they don’t know where the horses go!! They really must think we are a bunch of stupid people. I want to know what happened to the foals from the D Farm. No mention of that..And they wonder why people take matters into their own hands..Just keep posting the articles every where. RT how about buying some bill boards along the road ways in major cities? Are there any specifics on that? I am thinking about talking to my local newspaper about doing a piece on the Wild Horses and Burros. They sometimes are looking for stories. There certainly is a enough information on the subject. I think the more people are made aware the more people are willing to share their concerns. Something has to give sooner or
    later…God bless our beautiful horses and all the wonderful people who are striving to save them. I know Wild Horse Annie’s journey was a very long one and so I guess we just have to pick up the sword…Let the Force of the Horse be with everyone as continue this up hill battle!

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  17. Bucephala, or Alexandria Bucephalus, was a city founded by Alexander the Great and named in honor of his horse, Bucephalus.

    So much he cared for his friend that he gave him that Honor, I have never seen or heard of someone giving that kind of Honor to a Horse, I see the Cruelty in which they are being treated and it just breaks my heart, if it was not for the Horse there would be no world, it was with the Horse that people were able to conquered the world, and this is how they pay them back by mistreating and killing their sons, daughters and grandchildren with no remorse, how SHAMEFUL!!!

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    • Not every human, Ruth…not all of us. There are decent humans trying to do the right thing every minute of every day….it’s the crud of humanity that makes the task necessary in the first place and drags the progress of mankind and this world down to base levels and destroys, disrespects beauty and purpose.

      Hang in there…it isn’t over yet; not while good people still breathe. We aren’t dead yet! And when one warrior dies, another noble warriors steps in.

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  18. This is shameful. How the BLM is allowed to do whatever it wants without decent regulation, its as though they believe the government and taxpayers are idiots.
    I’m a military girl all the way, and how the BLM treats our nation with such disrespect irritates me greatly. Sometimes it even makes me questions if I truly am ‘Proud to be an American.’ It’s our founders vs. the indians all over again, except now we’re targeting horses. That’s pathetic on the part of the BLM and the government officials who are supposed to be honestly regulating them.

    As for the numbers (which aren’t the worst I’ve seen come from them, trust me), BLM= Badly Learned Math.

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  19. The BLM stands for nothing! They do not care what happens to the horses. Neither does our current administration. I hope Tom Davis burns in hell!! I am sure all the petitions I have signed end up in the waste basket somewhere. NO ONE IN WASHINGTON CARES A DAMN ABOUT ANIMAL ABUSE AND PROTECTION!! It is all about the almighty dollar! Our President has let us and all animals down.

    Like

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