Horse News

Cattle versus horses: who’s overgrazing the West?

By Vickery Eckhoff as published on The Daily

Who’s overgrazing BLM lands? Subsidized livestock. BLM data shows it.

The below spreadsheet converts grazing receipts reported by the BLM for private livestock grazed under the public lands grazing program, allowing a direct head-to-head comparison between the number of wild horses (WH) estimated by the BLM and permitted cattle grazing from 2002-2018 (see column 9). What does the data show? Cattle historically outnumbering WH by a factor of 71:1 (in 2002), 92:1 (2007) and 28:1 (2018).

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12 replies »

  1. From 2012 to 2018 the population of wild horses grew by 35,523 but from 2002 – 2013 the population stayed about the same give or take. For sure there are shanigans going on in the “counting department”.


  2. Regarding Modoc horses please let Suzanne Roy and all bbn others know there is Absolutely Zero legal loophole to slaughter California has a law stating no sale to slaughter for human consumption which paired with Federal ban on Sale for pet food they cannot in any f prim be sold, brokered, handled by an agent or proxy to slaughter. They can be arrested for sale or purchase both sides. The law coupled with the Federal ban is higher than the Fprestry service interpretation. Please immediately let everyone know. It needs to be in the press. The horses are unable to be shipped or sold to slaughter in California. As well, they can have animal Angel’s investigations get cameras on the purchasers and have charges pressed. Please let’s get a move on this asap! They cannot sell any horses to slaughter from modoc whether they are not BLM horses doesn’t matter.



    The ca. 300 older horses (over 10) will be processed at the FS facility in Alturas. They will be under FS jurisdiction. Processing includes estimating age, determining sex, vaccinating, deworming, microchipping (not branded like the BLM does, so the Devil’s Garden horses can’t be identified as wild horses at auction yards; microchipping is required by Canada and Mexico slaughter houses), and gelding the stallions.


  4. From Vickery’s important work here, these astonishing (but not surprising) findings. PLEASE SOMEONE ATTENDING SHARE THIS WITH THE BLM ADVISORY BOARD MEETING TODAY!

    About 15,000 individuals and corporate entities hold public-lands grazing permits.

    The top 1% of them — only some 152 permittees — hold interests in an astonishing expanse, about a third of the total BLM grazing land area: some seventy-seven thousand square MILES.

    The next 5 percent of them hold about the next third of the total land area.

    The bottom 94 percent — about 14,000 permittees — account for only the final third of the BLM’s public grazing lands.

    Need to compare this with the BLM’s funding source: US TAXPAYERS. They work for over 300 million U.S. citizens but are effectively thwarting the public good to bow to 15,000 for-profit permit holders. What I find most egregious is that every HMA also includes livestock, though HMAs are just a small fraction of the total areas which allow livestock grazing. Our laws from day one allowed the BLM and USFS to remove livestock or revoke permits at any time, and yet the shrinking, roundups, removals, and killing our laws are intended to prevent are still happening.



  5. Thank you Vickery for another great, factual article. The BLM continues to spread their lies about our wild horses being overpopulated, and the public is buying into their story. I also appreciate your mention that when we advocates do talk about livestock being the culprit in overgrazed lands, we aren’t just making up stories and aren’t being “emotional”….we are educated and know the facts. The BLM still likes to paint us as hysterical “animal activists”.


  6. Important to note that in the past 16 years the overall income and cattle numbers are dropping steadily, indicating to me that grazing permits were never intended to be “forever and ever.” The permit system is only 84 years old via the Taylor Grazing Act (one person’s lifetime). It was designed to halt the range wars, which it mostly accomplished. But these are much different times and there is no real justification that can be made for millions of U.S. citizens to prop up so few permit holders, who produce such a small percent of beef and lamb on public lands, and at such small profits despite the subsidies.

    Not to mention all the other externalized costs to the public.

    Even if all our wild horses and burros were suddenly gone from the public lands, the problems and unfairness to the public purse and trust would remain.

    Time to enter the 21st century,with 21st century pragmatism. Public lands grazing doesn’t pay, costs us a lot, and leaves lasting damage to fragile and increasingly stressed ecosystems. Our public lands are a national inheritance and treasure, not a food factory for a few for-profit interests.



  7. Some troubling factual errors and fuzzy thinking from a current member of the WHB Advisory Board, Ben Masters, addresses the livestock vs. wild horses and burros.

    Some excerpts and comments:

    “As the West was settled, these Wild Horses, often called mustangs, were rounded up to the point that Velma Johnson, AKA Wild Horse Annie, pushed for legislation to protect the remaining Wild Horses. This culminated in the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 that protected the 15,000 or so Horses and Burros remaining in the American West. Today Wild Horses and burros are managed on about 30 million acres of land in about 179 Herd Management Areas (HMAs). …”

    [Comment: Long after “settlement” Velma was part of a national effort leading to unanimous act of Congress to protect what were then estimated at around 27,000 wild horses and burros nationwide. The acreage then earmarked for their legal homelands have since been reduced by over 22 million acres, and the HMAs are now at 175 or less, as the BLM relentlessly shrinks, fragments, then empties HMAs forever of wild equines].

    “So the BLM, the government agency in charge of managing the Wild Horses, created Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) which is the number of horses that each Herd Management Area (HMA) can supposedly sustain in a thriving ecological balance with wildlife and in some areas livestock. Currently, the nationwide AML is 27,000. …”

    [Comment: The BLM and USFS each have management mandates. Masters eliminates the word “natural” which is codified in the law as “thriving natural ecological balance” for reasons he does not disclose. He also fails to comprehend that federal law has more than once declared wild horses as legal wildlife, and that in all or nearly all HMAs wild horses are subjected to the introduction of non-native livestock as competition, though the legal wild horse areas are just a fraction of the total public lands which allow livestock grazing. It is disingenuous to assert that only “some” areas include both wild horses and livestock. The current nationwide AML is a construct based on the estimates made in 1971, not on credible field work, accurate plant and animal inventories, or the exclusion of introduced livestock].

    “On areas where horses are legally designated, horses now outnumber livestock grazing AUMs (Animal Unit Months) by 1.2:1. … I often hear that getting rid of livestock is the #1 solution to fix the Wild Horse issue but even if we got rid of every single livestock producer on HMAs, we’re still faced with the exact same challenge of how to manage an increasing population? Meanwhile Bison, the indigenous large herbivore native to North America, are almost nonexistent on our public lands. … In the United States every other large grazing herbivore is managed. It is past time we add wild horses to that list.”

    [Comment: Vickery’s work counters Master’s uncited claims about horse AUMs outnumbering those of livestock within legal HMAs. The AML calculations are also skewed, counting one cow and one calf (which can be 1500-1600 lbs. of beef on the hoof late summer) as the same as a single 900 lb. wild horse or five 200-300 lb. sheep. One example is the Sand Wash HMA in northern Colorado, where there are 10,000 AMLs permitted for sheep over the winter months, yet a population of around 800 (many contraceptive darted) horses is raising alarms. In addition, the fossil record is clear that Bison arrived on this continent long after the equine family was well established and comprised many clades, so claiming Bison as “indigenous” and all horses as invasive is blatantly and intentionally propagating a falsehood. He further claim all other large herbivores are managed and horses should be as well, somehow forgetting the BLM and USFS have been being paid to manage these animals for nearly 50 years now! As a BLM Advisory Board member this claim is either completely ignorant or inentionally misleading; I’m not sure which is more disturbing].

    My thoughts: We can all agree any population fenced in and forced to compete for survival with private, for profit interests on public lands will require thoughtful, forward-looking sustainable and ethical management. As has been well documented elsewhere, the BLM in particular has shown a propensity for devaluing wildlife to benefit private interests, and in the matter of wild horses and burros repeatedly ignores or scarcely funds cost-effective initiatives while persisting in the highest cost and least ethical approaches as “managers.” Repeatedly putting wild horses in harm’s way and insisting a mass kill is the only reasonable approach should rightly alarm anyone paying attention. In truth, if all the wild horses and all the livestock were magically erased from the public lands struggling under their combined numbers, the problems may differ but transitions are already underway in response to thresholds crossed long ago.

    We are at another sort of threshold now, one whereby we either hold the public servants to account or replace them with paid managers who truly have the best interests of the greater public first and foremost. In truth, the overall costs per capita are quite small (around 25 cents a year) for even this admittedly disastrous “manage crisis by crisis” situation. Mr. Masters professes to be part of a “solution” but offers little or no new ideas, just a modern version of “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” I watched some of the livestream of the Advisory Board meeting last week and found it disheartening that so many of the public brought forth good suggestions and good energy, yet the “rules” required the board members not to engage in any manner, then within an hour of the public comments ending they came forth with their recommendations. This is not enough time to digest or even have a dialogue about better ideas, so clearly shows the recommendations were mostly (if not completely) prepared in advance.

    This is not management but malpractice.

    Shame on all of us for letting this cluster— continue. Stand up for our wild ones, our public lands, our public purse, and our public trust, and especially NOW. Vote this November!


  8. In addition to Vickery Eckhoff’s profound AUM chart, I know for a fact that some public lands grazing permitees (welfare ranchers) are self-regulating in favor of their own pocket-book$$$. I have documentation of excessive and numerous illegal private livestock grazing on Twin Peaks HMA. The BLM was notified and provided documentation (locations & dates & photos) and they looked the other way and allowed the illegal grazing to continue – and not just a few days – for many months.


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