The 22.2 million acres of Herd Areas that the BLM took away from wild horses & burros

SOURCE:  Animal Welfare Institute

AWI has repeatedly questioned the decisions to permanently remove all wild horses and burros from the range – decisions that continue to be made – without an area-by-area analysis it is impossible to verify the scientific, land use, legal, or other evidence relied on by the BLM to support its decisions.

We encourage all advocates, both new advocates and longtime advocates, to be sure to read this Animal Welfare Institute report (2012) Overview of the Management of Wild Horses & Burros.  AWI presented this to the National Academy of Science.  Although this report was issued in 2012, the issues are all current.  This report gives an excellent overview of wild horse & burro issues and the mismanagement of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Program.  We will be pulling out a few excerpts for some articles, since this report counters all of the false information by sources at the recent National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting, by the livestock grazing activists and in the media.

As the BLM and the livestock grazing activists complain about the “overpopulation” of wild horses and burros on public lands, lets take a closer look at the 22.2 million acres that have been taken away from the wild horses & burros.

We’re hoping that other wild horse & burro advocacy groups and advocates will join us in focusing on, and fighting for, this “tool in the toolbox” that isn’t mentioned by the BLM:

Instead of killing all of our wild horses & burros that are currently in BLM holding facilities, put them back on our public lands.

Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas:

HERD AREA (HA)Upon passage of the WFRHBA, the federal government surveyed wild horse and burro populations to identify those areas where, as Congress directed, they were to be protected and managed. These areas were designated as HAs. It is not clear exactly when each area was surveyed and whether such surveys were conducted once or multiple times over the course of a year or two. Hence, it is not known if the areas originally designated as HAs for wild horses and burros encompassed sufficient range to meet the needs of the animals throughout the year. At that time, very few studies had been undertaken to understand wild horse and/or burro biology, ecology, behaviors, or habitat needs. It is probable, therefore, that the efforts made to establish wild horse and burro range were ill-informed as to the biological and ecological needs of the species.

HERD MANAGEMENT AREA (HMA)HMAs were not designated in the 1971 law. It is not clear how the BLM delineates the boundaries of HMAs. Presumably it considers geography, topography, presence of private lands, land use patterns, water availability, forage production, space, cover, and economic and political factors when establishing such boundaries. In some cases, adjoining HMAs are considered as an HMA complex and managed accordingly. Each HMA, as articulated in the BLM Handbook, is to have a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) to provide additional guidance on how each HMA is to be managed. It is not clear how many HMAs have corresponding HMAPs at present.

This excerpt is from pages 143-145 of the AWI report:

Since 1971 for all ten western states that provide habitat for wild horses and burros, HMA acreage represents only 58.8 percent of total HA acreage, reflecting a loss of 22,181,755 acres of potential wild horse and/or burro range.

The nearly 22.2 million acres lost to wild horses and burros includes the land lost to wild horses and/or burros as a result of decisions to “zero-out” the herds or permanently close HAs to their use.

The number of HAs affected, 172 according to 2012 data, encompass a total of 24,898,923 acres (including 19,514,123 BLM acres). Due to the net increase of 2,716,808 HMA acres compared to HA acres in the ten states, the net loss of lands is adjusted to approximately 22.2 million acres. This means that of the 245 million acres managed by the BLM and of the 157 million acres managed for grazing, only 13 and 20 percent, respectively, is available for use by wild horses and burros combined (with a much smaller percentage managed for wild burros).

Even within HMAs, however, the total land area utilized by wild horses and burros is much less, as topographic, geologic, and other factors reduce the amount of land suitable for wild horses and/or burros.

The BLM justifies the loss of the over 22 million acres of wild horse and burro habitat claiming that of the 15.5 million acres under BLM management:

  • 48.6 percent (7,522,100 acres) were closed due to a checkerboard land pattern that made management infeasible;
  • 13.5 percent (2,091,709 acres) were transferred from the BLM through legislation or exchange;
  • 10.6 percent (1,645,758 acres) had substantial conflicts with other resource values;
  • 9.7 percent (1,512,179 acres) were lands removed from wild horse and burro use as a result of court decision, urban expansion, habitat fragmentation, and land withdrawals;
  • 9.6 percent (1,485,068 acres) were lands where no wild horses or burros were present when the WFRHBA was passed in 1971 or where all animals were claimed as private property;
  • 8.0 percent (1,240,894 acres) were lands where a critical habitat component was missing, making the land unsuitable for wild horse or burro use or where too few animals existed to permit effective management.

 The remaining 6.7 million acres were never under BLM management. See Figure National 6.  Though AWI has repeatedly questioned the decisions to permanently remove all wild horses and burros from the range – decisions that continue to be made – without an area-by-area analysis it is impossible to verify the scientific, land use, legal, or other evidence relied on by the BLM to support its decisions.

The number of HAs has been variable over time. While the number of original HAs is not known, since 2005 the number of HAs has been reported by the BLM to range from a low of 134 in 2005 to 347 in 2012. However, the BLM’s own data is confusing. For example, in 2005 while reporting a total of 134 HAs the BLM separately reports a total of 317 HAs along with another 106 “HAs with no acres in HMAs.” Similarly, from 2006 through 2008, the BLM reports either 105 or 106 HAs “remaining undesignated,” though it is unclear what this means.

The number of HMAs has varied over time. While an annual record of the number of HMAs was not available, as recently as 2008 there were a total of 199 HMAs (GAO 2008). Over the past seven years, the number of HMAs has ranged from 201 in 2005 to 179 today. In some cases, HAs or HMAs were combined, contributing to a smaller number of HMAs while, in other cases, when HAs were permanently closed to wild horses and burros, a number of HMAs were lost.


11 comments on “The 22.2 million acres of Herd Areas that the BLM took away from wild horses & burros

  1. It doesn’t seem logical the closure of lands designated as legal in 1971 would by obfuscation or other reasons would somehow become illegal, as the lands were defined as “where then found.” If wild horses and burros were found there in 1971, they were obviously surviving in those habitats, so any removals are by definition arbritrary and capricious.

    One thought to add here regarding returning horses to emptied legal areas. We taxpayers have already paid significant amounts to “manage” these horses into their current incarceration, and the arguments to kill them all off are mostly financially based, so the costs of repatriating them should be outlined, as this will be weighed against the cost of killing them outright or selling to slaughter for pennies a pound. Which better suits the public purse?

    May I suggest that throughout the West there are certainly thousands of people with trailers who would step up to haul these horses back to release areas for nothing or next to nothing. Perhaps Fleet of Angels could also be involved. Point being, we should pull together a team willing and able to do this as part of this discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Icy – I’m thinking there would be many of us who do care about the wild horses & burros who would be willing to help out financially – small donations by enough people can go far! (look at Bernie Sanders campaign donations!) Unfortunately, I get the feeling that our representatives (most of them) don’t care what we think or what we want. They’ve forgotten FOR the People & BY the people !

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree — and I think many of us would “pony up” the $125 adoption fee to ensure a horse was returned to a free-roaming life. For geldings especially this is a no-brainer, and would save money while supporting keeping living horses alive in the wild rather than being disposed of like so much trash. Ecologically speaking, since they have been raised on public lands their eventual natural deaths there would return the nutrients used to raise them, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yup – I would be willing to do that – not that theres a lot of extra scratch at the end of the month – BUT for that – I’d find it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. IS the above chart and article the tip of the DOI’s malfeasance iceberg? Please note that both BLM and United States Fish and Wildlife Service is under the matrix of the Dept of the Interior. IS USFWS responsible and liable to ensure the continuity of special status species .See Case Law Mountain States v. Hodel
    ” In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife. At the outset, it is important to note that wild horses and burros are no less “wild” animals than are the grizzly bears that roam our national parks and forests. ”
    Herd areas relevant to the exemption clause” of the 1976 Federal Land Planning & Management Act. Sec. 302(a) which says; in relevant part,
    “where a tract of the BLM lands has been dedicated to specific uses according to other provisions of law, it shall be managed in accordance with such laws.” i.e.such as the intent of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act,and the 1973 Endangered species Act. (note that much has come to light that requires the re inventory of wild horse and burro landscapes and migratory ranges.
    March 27 2015
    . Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Kelly, Case No. 1:13-cv-00427 (D. Idaho Mar. 23, 2015) (pdf). Specifically, the court found that, CONTRARY to the Service’s longstanding interpretation, the ESA requires critical habitat to be designated in a manner that would facilitate the recovery of a species.
    With respect to the issue of recovery, the court found that the Service’s interpretation “that its critical habitat designation need not ‘prove’ that it will ‘ensure’ the recovery of the species is contrary to the plain language and purpose of the ESA.” The COURT EXPLAINED THAT THE WHOLE POINT BEHIND DESIGNATING CRITICAL HABITAT IS TO IDENTIFY THOSE PHYSICAL AND BIOLOGICAL FEATURES of the occupied area and/or those unoccupied areas that are essential to the conservation of a species with the aim of arriving at the point where the species is recovered, i.e., no longer in need of the measures provided for in the ESA.” Accordingly, the court found that the Service’s interpretation was contrary to law, and therefore not entitled to Chevron deference.
    On the issue of additional public notice and comment, the court again sided with the plaintiffs, finding that SUCH MEASURES WERE REQUIRED BECAUSE
    the final was the product of “a fundamental and dramatic change in reasoning based on materials not previously discussed or cited in the Proposed Rule.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Perhaps a class action lawsuit against DOI, BLM and US Fish & Wildlife Services for misappropriation of tax funds resulting in the destruction of public property (wild horses, burros, bison, wolves and public lands). Pretty far fetched, I know. But their only concern is money, and the possibility of losing a lot of it might make them take notice. May have to add many co-defendants in Congress and state governors for collusion. Wishful thinking. Feeling so powerless against our greedy, corrupt government since our representatives seem to only represent the wealthy and powerful who line their pockets. These agencies have broken many laws, but there seems to be no consequences, even with overwhelming evidence against them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vickie, the DOI and BLM are already losing over a hundred million annually in just the grazing permit program (documented by many sources), so I don’t see any great fear of losing money in these agencies as making any difference.

      What would is taxpayer anger at the endless waste and opacity in these programs — part of the arguments now being used to justify proposing killing thousands of innocent animals supposedly under our wise stewardship. These agencies need to be daylighted and people held accountable for their abuse of the laws and the public trust, and only Congress or the President has this authority, but neither will act in favor of wild horses and burros without the drumbeat of millions of American citizens.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I appreciate your sharing this information. It’s something we should all keep after. The BLM’s taking of 41% of the originally designated land for wild horses and burros is indefensible and fundamentally flawed. As noted here, Section 302A of the much-cited Federal Land Policy Management Act states that resource management plans (RMPs) cannot be used to take land from purposes designated by law. The 1971 act states that WHBs are protected in their historic herd areas: they are entitled to roam free on the lands on which they were found at the time the Act passed Congress (16 USC 1331). Even assuming later amendments & regulations, you can’t “zero out” WHB herd territories just because you want to; and you can’t lawfully remove wild equines from their rightful lands by declaring “excess” – because to do so requires that you start from the original herd areas and the designated use of those lands.

    Liked by 2 people

Care to make a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s