Guest OpEd by Bonnie Kohleriter
“I just work on wild horse and burro stuff”
This past week the nation got a glimpse of the leadership for the Wild Horse and Burro Program within the Department of Interior (DOI). NBC aired a Today program, “ Wild, but not Free,” in which Joan Guilfoyle, the Chief, responded to questions presented by journalist, Lisa Myers of NBC.
In discussion Joan Guilfoyle lauded the Bureau of Land Management within the DOI for its “balanced multiple use approach” which includes recreation, livestock, mining, wildlife, and wild horses and burros. She failed to tell the nation up to 2.9 M livestock are on BLM public lands compared to 32,000 wild horses. She failed to tell the nation 70,000 bighorn (a species of concern), 700,000 pronghorn, 1 M elk, and 20 M deer, all wildlife, are on the BLM public lands compared to 32,000 wild horses. Ms. Guilfoyle says the wild horses are overpopulated. There should only be 23,000 on our public lands. You tell me, “Is this a “balanced multiple use approach?”
Lisa Myers of NBC questioned the amount of land afforded wild horses compared to other users. She asked Ms. Guilfoyle if she should be “advocating” the Bureau for more land for the horses. Ms. Guilfoyle responded, “That’s not my job. The decision on the land use is above me. I just work on wild horse and burro stuff.” But Ms. Guilfoyle, “Shouldn’t you be advocating for more land for the horses even though the decision is above you?”
The BLM manages 245 M acres of public land. 157M acres are allotted for livestock use. 27M acres are allotted for wild horse and burro use, but, on that acreage, up to 93 % of the forage is allotted to livestock for its use. Originally in 1971, with the passage of the wild horse and burro law, these icons were given 54 M acres, but today they have a mere 27M. Originally 339 herd management areas existed, but today only 165 are left in the ten western states. In short, the land available to the wild horses and burros is fast disappearing.
Ms. Guilfoyle says, “It’s not the land availability; it’s the water. The water is drying up. It just isn’t there.” It just isn’t there? Or is it there, being usurped by the cattle, the mining operations, the green-solar energy plants, the gas and oil fracking operations, the urban areas all of which are using huge amounts of water as the government allows more and more of these operations on our public lands without adequate evaluation while Ms.Guilfoyle turns a blind eye to it? “It’s not my job, after all, to advocate for more water for the wild horses and burros.”
Values and whose values will prevail seem to be playing a marked part in the continuation of the wild horses and burros on our public lands. As Fred Tobar, the cattleman, in this NBC show , says, “ The horses have no value. They need to go to slaughter.” Fred appears to view all animals as just a source of food and a dollar in his pocket. The idea that these horses and burros have intangible importance, that they are a part of our history and culture and are a source of beauty in nature to behold as symbols of our freedom, is perhaps beyond Fred’s comprehension. It appears to be beyond so many other users of our public lands as well now who are also singularly product and profit focused. The wild horse and burros could be promoted on the range for tourism with private entities, but that might be a distraction from Guilfoyle’s sole mind-set.
Space, land, water for these wild horses and burros aside, Ms. Guilfoyle maintains she wants well-cared for, healthy, happy horses.
1) Well-cared for: How can Ms. Guilfoyle have well-cared for horses on the range when her 2013 budget has no money allocated for on the range management and improvements. Wildlife has put in guzzlers for its animals to drink, but what has Guilfoyle done for the horses and burros on the range at a time when there is so much competition for the resources?
2) Healthy: Gus Cothran, the retained geneticist by the BLM, writes and speaks repeatedly saying 100 or 150 horses or burros, the absolute minimum, are needed in a herd to maintain diversity and viability. With less than that, the herd faces a loss of fecundity, physical defects, and a lack of continued viability. Today, with the appropriate management levels poised as they are, only 28 herds out of 165 wild horse herds in the ten western states have 150 or more horses in them. WHB personnel will tell you not to worry. The herds intermingle, but this is anecdotal, not scientific evidence.
3) Happy: How can wild horses or burros be happy when 50,000+ out of 82,000+ are incarcerated, removed from their family bands, and the life they know? How can wild horses and burros be happy when they have to struggle to get around the cattlemen’ and extractors’ fences and when they have to struggle to get the forage and water they deserve because the cattlemen, hunters, and extractors are usurping their space, forage and water?
The wild horses and burros were to be managed and protected on the range as stated in the law of 1971. Joan Guilfoyle translates that into simply making sure she has the “the right number of animals in the right numbers.” So what has she done to accomplish that singular task of her agency for the animals that are on the range?
To get the right number (whoever says it’s the right number?), she has
1) Authorized the removal of 50,000 horses from the range to be put in long term pastures primarily in Tornedo Alley’s Way in Oklahoma and Kansas, to be put in short-term facilities with no shelter, with inappropriate food, and with morbidity from geldings and disease, and to be given up to sale with no limitations.
2) Pondered about using fertility control treatment and sex ratioing to hold down the growth on the range. Her agency told Congress it would treat 2000 yearly but didn’t budget for it and didn’t do more than 700 a year out of 32,000 horses. Her agency gathered with the idea to remove some and release others with fertility treatment. In the end they repeatedly gathered just enough to remove. Her agency gave the drug at all times of the year to limited numbers, though it was told, to be effective, the drug needed to be given between December and February, and it needed to be given to 65-85% of the mares. In the fall-winter gather of 2011-2012, 21 gathers were completed. Of these gathers only 1 in 21 did it at the right time of the year in the right percentage. In addition to errors in delivery the right drug was not given. The agency recently concluded the fertility control treatment with PZP doesn’t work.
I go to the doctor. I say,” I have an ear infection.” He says to take penicillin for 8 days. I go home. I don’t take anything or I take aspirin for 2 days. I go back to the doctor and say, “It didn’t work.” This is an analogy to the fertility control treatment issue.
Ms. Guilfoyle touts herself as a “good” listener with the stakeholders in our public lands. She watches the brutality involved in helicopter round ups. She says much of that is corrected in a new policy just written, The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Handling policy. Lisa Myer suggests to Joan Guilfoyle, the advocates for this policy say it has too much ‘wiggle room’ and is ‘window dressing.’ Joan responds with “The Activists” a slam word, “ will never be happy with anything unless the BLM stops the round ups.” The advocates, American citizens concerned for the well-being of the wild horses and burros, have said to her, in this new policy, most everything done in the helicopter round ups is ‘at the discretion of the core (wild horse and burro specialists).’ This is no different from the previous policy. Such activities as appropriate distances to be run and appropriate temperatures in which to be gathered are not specified. The problem in giving so much discretion to the core is the core may not be well trained, have good judgment, or exercise due authority. The wranglers are often his/her peers… friends. In addition, in this new policy, once again, there are no consequences behind inappropriate behavior…hot shot in the face…so… Is Ms. Guilfoyle a good listener with the stakeholders, or a selective listener and perhaps, even an insulter.
Ms. Guilfoyle says the Wild Horse and Burro Program will always have well horses on the range though, their continuing reduced numbers, their health, and their available space, forage, and water are threatened.
Ms. Guilfoyle says the horses won’t go to slaughter. Yet when asked what is to be done with the horses, removed from the range, not adopted last year (50,000 – 2700), she replies, “That’s not my job. It’s up to Congress.”
Ms. Guilfoyle is asked again about the allocation of resources primarily going to off the range rather than on the range management. Again she replies to the reallocation and readjustment of the budget money, “That’s not my job, it’s up to Congress.”
For now, surrounded by advisers, primarily Salazar appointees, whose primary interest is not in the welfare of the wild horses and burros, Ms. Guilfoyle appears contented to run an agency whose singular purpose is to count numbers and to remove supposed excesses. The numbers themselves have been determined mainly by the cattlemen who have had an overwhelming influence in the decisions made in the range management plans.
But oops, Ms. Guilfoyle has run out of places to put the “excesses.” So now she has had to come up with some new ideas. She has a contract for bait-water trapping of the animals. The idea is to surround multiple water holes in an area so the horses have to go to some of them for survival. The cattlemen and extractors in an area have only to want an area cleared for their water use which makes this contract ideal for them as they work with the BLM to remove the horses. The contract uses the same wranglers that have been used in helicopter round-ups. The contract says the American citizens can’t observe and the cores can’t possibly supervise the multiple traps at the same time so Guilfoyle has dealt with the scrutiny problems. But then what to do with the animals that are trapped? In the night move them off to slaughter? Who’s to know? The Wild Horse and Burro Program has come full circle. It’s back to Mustanging. This was Wild Horse Annie’s greatest fear. This is why she chose helicopter round ups over bait-water trapping though she abhorred helicopters. At least she could observe what was happening.
Removing to slaughter doesn’t solve all of the excess, trapped horse problems. In addition to the bait-water trapping Ms. Guifoyle is working on a contract to have a mobile unit on the range that will geld and spay the animals. Problems of safety, sterility, morbidity, meeting the unique needs of the wild horse versus the domestic horse, and deciding on whom to geld and spay abound.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners ( AAEP), in a study just a few years ago, cited the cruel, risky practices seen being done in gelding stallions in the short term facilities. Given the tract record of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, what is the likelihood risky, cruel practices will be continued here? The cattlemen and extractors may or may not be satisfied with this slow way of removing the wild horses and burros from the range, but at least, in the long run, they will be gone forever. The advocates for the horses are not satisfied with this potential contract either, as gelding and spaying on the range is seen as just one more abuse to be done by Ms. Guilfoyle and her agency.
Ms. Guilfoyle says the wild horses and burros will always be there as she refuses to address their needs on the range and pursues her single focus quest to remove them from their legal lands or suppress their reproduction. Really? And, if they are no longer there, Ms. Guilfoyle says,” It’s not my job. It’s Congress’ problem.”
- New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Waiting for Study on Wild Horses? (rtfitchauthor.com)