Horse News

On Wild Horses, the Secretary of the Interior Needs to Listen to the Scientists

By as published in The Atlantic

Secretary Jewell seems to be willfully ignoring a report by the National Academy of Sciences. Why?

Nearly seven months into her tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell last Thursday at last made her first extended public comments about one of the most controversial and under-reported aspects of her portfolio as steward of the nation’s public lands. Speaking at the National Press Club, she addressed in detail a question about the nation’s beleaguered wild horses, which in the past few years have been rounded up by the tens of thousands from those public lands and dispatched to vast holding facilities at great cost to the American taxpayer (and to the great benefit of the ranching and livestock industries).

It was not an auspicious debut. Jewell did not directly answer the question posed to her. And the affirmative statement she did make about the herds was unsupported by key facts revealed in June in a report by the National Academy of Sciences that was sharply critical of Bureau of Land Management’s practices and policies toward the horses. She offered a series of platitudes—e.g. “So we are working on it. And we are going to work on it”—while wild horses are being sold to slaughter in contravention of federal law and policy. Time is of the essence here but there was no hint of urgency in the Secretary’s remarks.

There are two explanations for the Secretary’s performance and neither can be seen as encouraging for wild horse advocates (or fans of good governance in general, for that matter). The first is that, despite her extensive scientific background, Jewell does not grasp the essence of the scientific criticism the NAS has offered about the BLM’s work. And the second is that she does grasp the extent of the problem the NAS identified—she has done her homework—but that she has neither the political desire nor the bureaucratic will to implement the reforms the scientists suggest. Either way, from an Obama Administration official who talks a great deal about conservation and the environment, who says she is a friend to animals and no tool to corporate interests, it doesn’t bode well for the federally-protected horses.

The National Academy of Sciences Report

It has been exactly five months since the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report titled “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program.” In it, some of the nation’s leading scientists were direct and unambiguous about the failures of the BLM to administer the horses: “The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on range lands,” the scientists concluded.

In other words, after years of speculation and debate, the NAS concluded that the BLM was using both bad math and faulty science to justify one of its most controversial (and expensive) wild horse management practices. Wild horse advocates have long argued, for example, that the herds don’t have nearly the negative impact on range lands that cattle and sheep do. Nor, advocates have long claimed, has the BLM accurately counted the number of wild horses on public lands or properly evaluated ways in which more horses can safely be kept there.

The NAS Report in June did not prove these allegations to be true. But at the very least it cast serious doubt on the arguments the BLM (and the ranching and livestock industries) have made in support of the current practices.  It raises profound questions, in other words, about whether the advocates are right about the BLM and the need for its overhaul. Also relevant to Thursday’s public comments by Jewell was this part of the NAS Report that explained what the BLM was doing wrong and how federal officials could remedy the problem:

Promising fertility-control methods are available to help limit this population growth, however. In addition, science-based methods exist for improving population estimates, predicting the effects of management practices in order to maintain genetically diverse, healthy populations, and estimating the productivity of rangelands. Greater transparency in how science-based methods are used to inform management decisions may help increase public confidence in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Since June, I have repeatedly asked Secretary Jewell, through her spokeswoman, to respond to the National Academy’s work. I have asked the secretary, again through a spokeswoman, to respond more generally to the plight of the nation’s wild horses as they become more and more vulnerable to mistreatment or slaughter. Over and over again those requests have been declined. I was told to be patient, that the secretary was working through the NAS Report, and that the time would come when there would be a substantive response. Evidently, that time has come…(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment at The Atlantic

27 replies »

  1. Thank you, Andrew, for yet another concise and thought provoking insight into the twisted and unprofessional mismanagement of our nation’s wild equines by the Federal Government.

    It is so very disappointing to me; as a veteran of two armed conflicts who once believed in his country’s government, to watch federal officials publicly deny all accountability and refuse to be held to any form of deliverables to the American public. It was my hope that Ms. Jewell, coming from the corporate world would be attuned to running a business in a fair and equitable fashion, something that our government needs a strong dose of…but instead, she is simply a regurgitated clone to all those who have preceded her.

    It’s glaringly obvious that Washington D.C. needs a hearty dose of chlorine into it’s collective gene pool but even worse is the fact that the pool is not very deep at all!


  2. The sad thing is that the government has no time for anyone other than the one percent since they are the ones who pad their pockets and will profit off the slaughter of the horses!


  3. Like all DOI Secretaries, Sally Jewell is required to serve multiple masters. While “highest and best use” may lead to increased set-asides for recreation and wilderness, monetary returns to the treasury and paying down debt are much more important. Ms. Jewell was a banker. The horses and burros cost money. Other uses make money. Despite what we feel, it’s a fiscal no-brainer!


    • LInda, this is simply not true in the situation with domestic grazing, which loses millions each year. Many folks have done the number crunching which is a true “no brainer”… that being leaving the wild horses and burros in the wild costs a fraction of what the current program costs today. The American taxpayer is paying out in every direction to subsidize private profits while losing much they actually want, and paid for. If SJ was running the BLM using standard banking practices as you mention, she would look at the ROI and immediately end domestic grazing, for one example.

      Further, look at the other numbers. Approx. 30,000 wild horses and burros in the wild, and over 2.5 million cattle on heavily subsidized grazing leases, over approx. 29 million acres. Remind me again how the horses are costing money if we leave them alone? The costs skyrocket with removal, contraceptive interventions, and warehousing for life.

      SJ could actually make her budget balance better by leaving these protected animals alone and ending domestic grazing leases, at least in the form we have now. Too many people and animals are grazing at the public lands trough today, at public expense.


  4. I Condemned Her From The Beginning And Was Told To Give Her A Chance. This Is Exactly What I Was Taking About. Just Look At Her Background.. Nothing Less Than I Expected From Day One.


  5. Secretary Jewell maybe approving through the BLM 57% of Wyoming’s Red Desert to be an “industrial sacrifice zone allowing full scale oil and gas drilling”. Our wild horses and other animals are sacrificed. Wyoming’s Red Desert would be a national park in any other state. Jewell’s bending to the will of the oil and gas giants is an absolute outrage.


  6. Anyone want to have a go at this one?

    ChairmanMauzer DashnSmoke
    It was a native species. Then it went extinct. Other animals now occupy their former role int he biome and to favor invasive horses is to do so at the expense of live native species such as elk, deer, bison, and antelope. Have any peer reviewed sources? (*psst* The BoM doesn’t count, it’s about as historically inaccurate as could possible be. Neither do conspiracy or wild horse advocacy sites count as objective scientific sources.)


    • If I were going to bet money on this, I would say this was written by the same person who wrote “The peril of speaking truth about feral cats and horses.” which would make the author former Wildlife Society CEO and FWS expert witness whose testimony is part of the evidence that wild horses are being managed as an alien, invasive speci.

      If, again, I am correct, I have already offered ChairmanMauzer DashnSmoke or whatever several peer reviewed sources. In fact, he used one of them to try to imply that he had read the book that I read and cited as a source except that he removed my comment and rearranged to order of comments to make appear as if he had come up with the source. In the last comment to his blog that I wrote little more than a year ago, I cited a fairly recent peer reviewed article that described the methods and procedures the team of scientists and technical experts used to determine that the species of the ancient North American mitochondrial horse DNA matched that of the ancient European horse DNA.

      Anyway, the wrong question is being used to obscure the issue of where the horse originated. The issue is not whether the ancient NA horse DNA matches the current range of species DNA though there are definitely long regions on the DNA that do match, the important question was whether the last remaining ancient mtDNA matched the ancient mtDNA. I have read a number of articles on the subject of large mammal extinction in NA and a book about horse evolution in NA.

      It appears that following the last continental glacial maximum where North American was essentially covered with a thick covering of ice, there was a more rapid warming period than in earlier ice ages. This eventually led to a 400-500 ft. sea rise that covered the area that large mammals used as refugia during climate extremes. It is likely that the great majority of NA horses had already migrated to Eurasia before Beringia completely disappears. But in the long lens of time, the horse was known to migrate from ecosystem to ecosystem, adapting, or dying out. By the time the last horses were all the way into Alaska which as a warm, humid climate with virtually no ice, but a little permafrost along the Northern most border of the Arctic. Clearly, it has become much colder than it was earlier in the Holocene because a great deal of the area where there may be horse fossils and more DNA evidence is still covered with ice. No one has found the last horses. Scientists used a computer model based on the migration pattern and population biology theory to come up with an estimated last appearance date, but what they determined was that there was much that they could not yet drawn definite conclusions about.

      However, they did conclude that the ancient North American horse and the ancient Eurasian horse were the same species, and that the Eurasian horse had no species, climate, or forage advantage over the North American horse. They eliminated an alien abduction and a meteor strike. However, humans first arrived several thousand years using the same land bridge to guide them to North America as the mammals used to cross into and out of NA. Therefore, humans and horses lived together for several thousand years before the horse disappeared. Scientists do no think over-hunting explains the die-off because there are not many places where the type of spears necessary to kill horses are found compared to the number of places where horses ere known to have existed through paleonanthropological evidence including fossils. However, they believe that at least some number of horses were used by humans for agricultural purposes, and perhaps humans interfered with some part of the horse population getting to refugia.

      Anyway, I am not criticizing the scientists who did the NAS study. The idea that most if not all of them were familiar or not familiar with the current research on large mammal extinctions in North America is an interesting one. However, the scientists on this team would have been curious about this subject because the whole issue of why some mammals survive while others didn’t would be of interest to them. I lay the fault at the NRC as it functions as a branch of the NAS. Al Gore’s paid for by the year scientist who created the non-native, alien species myth originallly as a way to justify actions to override the 1971 Act is currently on the PNAS staff. He was not in 2009 when the first article (that I found)—it was not the first article published on this topic) was published. But guess wha?

      The PNAS acknowledges his service as a volunteer reviewer for the years 2009-2011, the three years when the research from the two international University of Copenhagen GenGenetics & Natural History Museum were being published. Dr. Shapiro of Penn State University was a member of the second team of scientists that states that Equus lambei and Equus ferus are equivalent species, but that the authors decide to use Equus ferus as it is a newer name for the species. I checked GenBank and two other sources for a listing of Equus ferus, and none appeared or have appeared in any official species list. Equus ferus is simply a wild member of Equus—it is not identified with a trait as are is Equus caballus which is identified through the presence a v shaped grazing adaptation to the teeth. So if you are researching articles you know if you find the words caballoid or caballline, particularly refering a NA horse, they are referring to Equus caballus.


      • HH, thank you for this, and your obviously diligent researching. One of the textbooks I am about to crack into is aptly titled: Playing Politics with Science. Perhaps it will offer some better understanding of the machinations involved with demonizing wild horses while completely overlooking just about everything else impacting our public lands.
        I find this disturbing, though, that scientific names seem to be easily altered for dubious reasons, as was done with burros in recent years. I need to research this more; I have always thought a good case and some higher level of agreement had to be reached to change names. There should at a minimum be a formal process similar to a court where cases are made for one form or another and a judicial decision involved.


      • I think it helps to understand what the science is because it helps you recognize that parts that are not consistent with best science. I pay attention to publication dates, and there were at least 10 peer-reviewed studies done by horse fossil or mtDNA specialists prior to the 1993 OTA document classifying wild horses and burros as non-natives. The difficulty is that the people who wanted to remove the wild horses tried to get themremoved through federal law. When that failed they began working their plans into international treaties. The duplicity is just amazing. I’ve learned a lot about the tricks editors can use to prevent the general public to think they didn’t read what they just read.


  7. Has anyone heard anything about the removal of funding for inspections of horse slaughter plants in the US that was included in the Farm Bill?? The last I heard the funding was removed and it was just waiting for the passage of the Farm Bill to become effective. Has anything changed?


  8. From the hype sent out about her before she took the job, I knew she was going to be a hired gun for the conglomerates and ranchers and diggers. She cares about animals the way bug spray loves bugs. What a disgraceful performance, and no one higher in government can stop her callousness and collusion with the beef and energy lobbies. She has the chance to save a national icon and preserve one of the most precious of America’s wild animals, but instead, she goes along with the battering and capturing and slaughtering of innocent animals who have lived on the range for 500 years–adding insult to injury by calling our wild ones “feral”. Feral in my eye–that’s just one more weapon, labeling, that the BLM uses in its arsenal against this species. Jewell, you are a hard and heartless woman and you can take your canoe and keep paddling in it till you reach Madagascar, and please don’t turn and come back.


    • Barbara, perfect example. Madagascar is rapidly losing many native species and concomitant biodiversity. Maybe it would be an eye-opening experience.


    • Barbara, (and others) is anyone else a bit disturbed to learn SJ had consulted the prior DOI Secretaries viz the wild horses and burros? I understand that may seem reasonable enough, but my understanding was SJ was brought on board as a fresh face with a different point of view, not the Government insider’s perspective. In light of how our most recent DOI head ended his tenure I am surprised she would contact him on these matters. I had hoped for better from her and am admittedly now discouraged and disappointed, not simply for her policies but as Mr. Cohen points out, her credibility is in question on many fronts after this week’s performance.


  9. Sick SOB’s, that can’t read and believe the truth, now a little opening and they are saying it is wrong but nothing is being done about it to stop it, may be we should sue them for selling the mustangs for money and killing them. Can we do that? If we all ganged up together to do it ? Jerry F what do you say about that?, I am not the only only who has said this.


    • Daryl, I was thinking in the night last night about what the approximate actual price of a wild horse should be if it is sold to slaughter. Figuring half the BLM budget and approx. 30,000 horses, I came up with around $1100 per horse, per year.

      So if these horses are sold the price paid to us taxpayers should at least cover those costs (disregarding any desire to sell or profit from sales). So a 5 year old horse should be worth a minimum of $5k, a 10 year old horse $10k etc. This is just what we have paid to grow them and capture them, so any normal return on investment would be higher.

      At a minimum I’d like to see any sale proceeds diverted to a separate account that we can monitor and audit.


      • Hmmm. One more thought. If these horses belong to us, and we are paying their costs… and others are buying them well below cost (sometimes under $100 a head) then selling at a profit for slaughter, there is perhaps an argument to be made about taxpayer compensation for the contracepted foals not born since they are reducing our marketable inventory.

        If you look at this strictly as a business proposition we are paying for all the management, production, distribution and warehousing, subsidizing the competition, losing our inventory and selling far below cost so others can profit. How is this even good business?

        An MBA answer might be we have too much inventory so the price per item should be low to move them out, however we are in a situation where we don’t have any credible audit of inventory while we are (through birth control) putting the brakes on future production. We also know our costs to warehouse production are unsustainable.

        If we, the people, are really in the business of producing wild horses and burros for sale we need some different management strategies, a mission statement and a better business plan. Just sayin’


  10. Not to worry Mustang Sally….they are just about ALL GONE and your land raping policies (continued by previous land and animal raping trolls) rolls merrily along.

    There will not be any wild equines left come 2016….then the cruds in DC get to say…”Whoops! My bad. Guess we did make a mistake. Now go and try to unscrew our holocaust”.


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