Horse News

BLM calls wild horses biggest threat to public lands — here are the real threats

By Erik Molvar a published on The Hill

Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley told the Society of Environmental Journalists in Colorado on Friday that wild horses were the biggest problem facing federal public lands in the West.

photo by Carol Walker of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

The silliness of this statement becomes obvious when one considers that wild horses don’t exist on more than 85 percent of BLM lands, and where they do occur, they have to share the range with domestic livestock which typically have an even bigger impact on the land.

Pendley’s misstatement would be funny if it weren’t so dishonest and is symptomatic of major problems stemming from placing one of the nation’s most vitriolic opponents of environmental conservation in charge of our biggest land management agency.

Let’s examine some of the real problems facing the Bureau of Land Management, from the standpoint of an environmental professional, to put Pendley’s claims in some context.

Symptomatic of BLM’s problematic role in the global extinction crisis, populations of the greater sage-grouse continue to plummet, as federal sage grouse plans fail to restore degraded habitats and spur a rebound to healthy population levels.

The Obama-era plans failed to deliver on their stated intentions. The promise of limiting livestock grazing to leaving seven inches of grass height in key grouse habitats never materialized, as the vast majority of 10-year grazing leases were renewed under the terms of a congressional grazing rider that rolls over permits without adding sage grouse protections. Restrictions on industrial use were riddled with loopholes, but the Obama administration did remove 5 million acres of sage grouse habitat from oil and gas lease auctions; without leasing the land, the oil industry couldn’t do much damage.

Enter the Trump administration, which in the absence of the threat of Endangered Species listing was able to sweep aside the requirement to prioritize mineral leasing and drilling outside sage grouse habitats, eliminate livestock standards, and amend expand the loopholes so there is essentially no habitat protection left. Today, states are reporting sage grouse declines of 33 to 61 percent since the plans went into effect, and this magnificent bird remains on a path toward extinction.

The livestock industry continues to run roughshod over the vast majority of our Western public lands, causing a cascade of major environmental problems. The “take half, leave half” mismanagement of the grass on typical grazing leases, permitting by design the removal of far more than the 25 percent removal of forage plants that is the allowable maximum based on range science, results in chronic overgrazing and serious damage to public lands and their wildlife.

Native herbivores like elk and mule deer are at fractions of their pre-livestock populations as a result, streams suffer such heavy damage from cattle concentrating near the water that many no longer can support native trout, and domestic sheep spread disease that wipes out bighorn sheep on such as scale that this majestic mountain denizen may itself be headed for an Endangered Species Act listing. The impacts of wild horses are miniscule by comparison.

The oil industry has fragmented and industrialized millions of acres of Western public lands, decimating wildlife populations, obstructing migration corridors, contaminating groundwater with fracking fluids and destroying the recreational value of the land. When the oil, gas, and coal from Western public lands — minerals owned by the American public –—are extracted and burned, they contribute to a climate crisis that is costing the public billions in disaster cleanups alone and making the planet less habitable for humans and almost every other form life. But, wild horses?

Then there is the scourge of cheatgrass infestations across more than 60 million acres, an invasive weed from Eurasia spread by heavy livestock grazing. Some might characterize large-scale fire as one of the BLM’s biggest problems, but the real culprit is highly-flammable cheatgrass, which lives for a few brief weeks in the spring before dying and drying to form the perfect tinder to carry flames across sagebrush habitats that under natural conditions would go centuries without a fire.

Once the flames roll through an area where livestock grazing has suppressed the native grasses and soil crusts that are nature’s defense against this invader, fire-intolerant sagebrush is eliminated and cheatgrass becomes a vast monoculture that sets the stage for even larger and more frequent fires in the future.

A host of other significant environmental problems plague BLM public lands: 600,000 miles of barbed-wire fences that guillotine sage grouse by the hundreds and impede deer and antelope migrations, mountaintop removal and strip mines where habitats are destroyed utterly with no hope of returning to their natural state, diversion of water for irrigation that in many cases dries up entire streams (the lifeblood of arid lands) and the changing climate with its droughts of increasing length and intensity.

Each one of these problems are of far greater magnitude than issues related to wild horses, which might have a significant effect in a few isolated areas but are kept scarce across most of the 12.7 percent of BLM lands designated for their presence by an aggressive BLM program of roundup and removal.

Perhaps the crowning moment of absurdity in Pendley’s recent statements were his characterization of wild horses as “an existential threat to these lands.” An “existential threat” to BLM lands, by definition, would threaten the very existence of those lands. And that’s precisely what Pendley himself called for when he argued in the National Review that that federal government should sell off America’s Western public lands into private ownership.

Pendley’s misstatements about wild horses and the magnitude of environmental threats on the lands that his agency manages speaks either to a monumental incompetence and ignorance, or to an aggressive dishonesty and commitment to a “fake news” approach to informing the public about Western public lands.

In either case, the fact that the Trump administration has placed Pendley in charge of the nation’s largest public lands agency attests to its commitment to sacrificing our environment, our wildlife and our public lands on the altar of corporate greed.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project, an environmental conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife throughout the West.

14 replies »

  1. “The livestock industry continues to run roughshod over the vast majority of our Western public lands, causing a cascade of major environmental problems.” – Erik Molvar

    “What can be done to address the problems associated with public lands livestock grazing? There is a simple answer: end it. Get the cows and sheep off, let the wild creatures reclaim their native habitat, and send the ranchers a bill for the cost of restoration”
    – Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West


  2. Thank you Erik and WWP for standing up for our public lands and our wildlife.

    “Perhaps the crowning moment of absurdity in Pendley’s recent statements were his characterization of wild horses as “an existential threat to these lands.” An “existential threat” to BLM lands, by definition, would threaten the very existence of those lands. And that’s precisely what Pendley himself…” IS!

    Time is short for our wild horses and burros, these haters are charging ahead full speed today and are capable and focused on extermination and extinction, against the public will. It’s key to contact your elected representatives (especially Senators) and repeatedly call for saner solutions, and at a minimum a moratorium on lethal legislation now being pushed to the fore. It’s on us if our voices are too few or too silent to redirect this latest (last?) push.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The biggest threat to our public lands is NOT wild horses and burros, it is human folly and the too-familiar human vices. Consider the latest roundup and removals of the Fish Creek herd, the focus of a much-litigated and now stillborn collaboration between the BLM, actual science work, and concerned citizens.

    And of course, there’s more:

    BLM move would split apart key public lands team

    “The move has been contested by lawmakers, conservationists, and former BLM employees who see it as a way to dismantle the agency and sideline career staffers who could present a roadblock to some energy development.

    The team that produces the environmental analysis of major projects required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is one of the groups that would be hit hard by the move.

    Under the plan dated Sept. 25, the 20-person NEPA team would be scattered across seven states, with 12 in Denver, and one employee each in Ft. Collins, Colo., Phoenix, Reno, Sacramento, Anchorage, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, and Billings, Mont.

    This comes after Interior announced in 2017 it would streamline the NEPA process by centralizing reviews primarily among some of the highest-level Interior and BLM political appointees.

    “This staff is now being scattered all over,” Ellis said. “And it’s being replaced by this political review in Washington.”

    Environmental reviews play a pivotal role as BLM considers things like whether to green-light drilling for oil on public lands or approve lumber projects in national forests. One recent environmental impact statement reviewed how drilling would affect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    Interior did not respond to request for comment.

    The documents also show how other teams would be broken up under the plan.

    The Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Protection division would be roughly split in two, with half going to Salt Lake City and half in Denver.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmmm. “Just following orders like a good Marine” says another temporary acting political appointee:

    “Pendley said he will serve until one is nominated and then return to his job as deputy director of policy and programs and remain in Washington. His temporary appointment last month was extended by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt until at least Jan. 3. …

    “If you connect the dots you can see it is an attempt to dismantle the agency,” Jim Ramey, director of the Wilderness Society’s Colorado office, said in an interview. “The fact that the most knowledgeable people in the bureau won’t be available to Congress raises serious questions.”

    The wariness over the reorganization is fueled by Pendley himself, who has long been an advocate of turning public lands over to the states and private parties. He also has questioned climate change and the presence of the ozone hole, which posed an international threat in the 1990s, and made inflammatory remarks about immigrants. Before joining BLM, Pendley was for 30 years president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation in Lakewood.

    “The bottom line is that was then and this is now,” Pendley said. “I was not a federal official at the time. I am now, and I have certain responsibilities. I know who my boss is. … I report to the secretary and the president of the United States. I am a Marine. I follow orders.”
    He says he’s a Marine. But can he pass Senate muster?

    The appointment of a full-time BLM director requires Senate confirmation, and critics question whether Pendley would pass muster. “He brings all these views to the office every day, and that is very troubling,” Ramey said.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am of the belief that you all fighting to kill all the horses, are just feathering your own nests, by keeping this in ‘the background, then jumping in the news again, as a supposed lover of horses..You are all evil, and decimating the live stock on the ranges are just WRONG!! Just keep the cattle off the PUBLIC LAND and we will be happy!!


    • Sally, who are the “you’s” you are pointing at here? And to be clear, do you support or oppose removing or reducing livestock on public lands? Decimating means reducing by one tenth, which you are arguing is wrong?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. From Counterpunch

    Predator of Our Public Lands
    SEPTEMBER 6, 2019

    Meet William Perry Pendley. For more than 40 years, he’s been a fringe political operative and lawyer for a network of loopy, anti-environmental extremists intent on helping corporate predators grab and plunder our national assets for their private profit.
    Also, with funding from the Koch brothers and Big Oil, Pendley has been a fanatical fossil fuel proselytizer, even declaring in a moment of rapture that fracking is “an energy, economic, and environmental miracle!”
    Don’t just keep an eye on this corporate extremist – don’t even blink!
    For updates, contact Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility at

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not much more to say! All the comments reflect my feelings. I still plan on picketing all my Congressional members! I also sent a message to Senator Feinstein and my US House and Senate members to bring John Cox and RT to testify before them with all their info. The lies the Dept of the Interior and BLM is beyond comprehension! Everyone should ask their people to have them testify! They let movie stars and others testify why not them! They know the truth. And also the gal from the Cloud Foundation!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We urgently need to hit the “pause” button on any lethal legislation, especially now. Please add that to any comments you make to your elected representatives. The legislation being fast forwarded is not well reasoned or defensible, but is being characterized as an emergency, which is is NOT. We can take time to do better by our wildlife and our people. Once these animals are removed and killed, there is no going back. We need to slow down this train until sanity has a place at the table.

    Liked by 1 person

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