Horse News

Joanna Grossman: Failed BLM policies, not wild horses, are destroying the landscape

Published on The Salt Lake Tribune

Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly cherish horses and support protecting them from harm.

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

That belief is reflected in the landmark Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, federal legislation that mandates these animals be “protected from capture … harassment or death” due to their unique status as “living symbols of … the West.”

Sadly, that directive has been largely ignored by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency entrusted with managing most of our country’s wild equines. As a result of the agency’s flawed policies, wild horses have seen their designated habitat shrink by nearly 20 million acres since the 1971 law’s passage, and their numbers dwindle in select herds to unsustainable levels that threaten genetic viability.

Meanwhile, cattle, which outnumber horses and burros by 28 to 1 — even 90 to 1 in some years — are causing serious environmental degradation, as underscored by a United Nations study that called livestock “the major contributor to soil erosion on agricultural lands” in the United States.

Yet if we are to believe two recent opinion columns in The Salt Lake Tribune, authored by Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley and University of Utah senior Saige Bowen, horses are invading and trampling our public rangelands and the most “humane” approach is to round them up and warehouse these hardy animals in government-run corrals as the only alternative to starvation.

Among the BLM’s accomplishments touted by Pendley are accelerated removals and fertility control. In reality, the BLM spends less than 1 percent of its Wild Horse and Burro program budget on proven and safe fertility control methods such as the porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine. Instead of pursuing options that enjoy broad support in the scientific community and among animal protection groups, the BLM has repeatedly proposed using an outdated and highly controversial surgical procedure on a herd in Oregon.

The procedure, “ovariectomy via colpotomy,” involves blindly inserting a metal rod-like tool to sever and remove the ovaries of wild mares while they remain conscious. Under the BLM’s current research proposal, as many as 25 ovariectomies would be performed each day in nonsterile conditions with minimal post-operative care.

The agency’s previous experimental goal involved quantifying the number of aborted foals resulting from the surgeries — a particularly gruesome aspect that Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, noted during a recent congressional hearing.

Despite opposition from the public, federal lawmakers, the National Academy of Sciences, veterinarians, university researchers and a preliminary injunction issued by a federal court, the BLM is floating new plans to potentially implement the same risky sterilization surgeries on herds in Wyoming and Utah. The agency has even found an ally in Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who has repeatedly endorsed bankrolling mass sterilizations.

The BLM continues to view wild horses, who occupy only 12 percent of the vast expanse of the West managed by the agency, as an “existential threat” (as Pendley put it) to ecological health. But evaluating wild horse populations over varied terrain is far more complex than the BLM would care to admit. During the 19th century, an estimated 2 million wild horses and burros roamed the West. The current national “appropriate management level” of about 27,000 animals was deemed so critically low several decades ago that it prompted federal protections to prevent wild horses from disappearing from the landscape altogether. More recently, the National Academy of Sciences determined that the BLM’s designated management levels appear to be arbitrary and not supported by science.

Among the populations targeted for roundups by the BLM are Utah’s famous Onaqui wild horses, admired by tourists worldwide for their motley hues. Far from starving on the range, these animals have adapted well to often harsh and desolate conditions.

In other herd areas, footage of more aggressive roundups has documented foals struggling to keep up with their mothers, before ultimately being separated, helicopters driving panicked mustangs into barbed wire fencing, and horses literally being run to death.

The BLM won’t solve this situation by adhering to a failed and increasingly abusive management plan. Unfortunately, the interests of these free-roaming (often in name only) horses are being forfeited to pacify the livestock industry.

9 replies »

  1. Information from the ongoing Eagle HMA roundup is telling, they are finding very few to no foals. Think about that in light of the endless push to rip out mare’s ovaries and “study” their reproductive behaviors afterwards. This is nothing but barbarism being shrouded by the word “science” and is worse than black magic.

    How do 5 foals equal an overpopulation when 1263 adults are captured (and counting)? In any other protected species this would be cause for a massive intervention to PREVENT, not CAUSE extinction.

    Operation Totals to Date: Wild horses captured, 1263 (563 Studs, 695 Mares, 5 Foals) Any wild horse born in 2019 considered “weanable,” according to BLM, is being counted as an adult for this operation (about 3 months old).

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  2. Under operation of existing laws it feasible to reduce the massive spending bill being prepared for final congressional action AND redistribute the Nevada concentrated herd numbers by maximizing basic wildlife laws and Pittman-Robertson Act funding.
    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director Casey Hammond told the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in Boise ID on July 11, 2019, that lethal methods to control wild horse herds options are off the table.
    However, on Sept. 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $35 million for a massive reduction of America’s relatively minor wild horse/burro herds scattered throughout the West through an arrogant misinformation blitz, including the film “Horse Rich…https://www.recordcourier.com/opinion/wild-horse-and-burro-plan-not-a-way-forward/
    Current capture policies facilitate the prohibited CONVERSION of government property; specifically detailed in the 1980 case. United States v. Hughes (see Animal Legal & Historical Center https://www.animallaw.info › case › united-states-v-hughes. The capture, sale, and warehousing conversion of Wild horses and burros has created an entire cottage industry at a cost the tax payer has rallied against.
    Options for rewilding are also provided, even mandated, under existing wildlife laws and regulations.
    Even if there was any iota of accuracy to the alleged claim of 90,000 excess wild horses in 10 Western states, that number would represent the least amount of grazers on the public domain. For instance, there are 80,000 elk in the state of Utah alone and one million elk nationwide in addition to deer, antelope and the multitude of livestock grazers.
    . There is a plethora of quantifiable public landscapes available for relocation/rewilding Wild horse herds whose distinct population segments are protected by ESA special status species law.
    One out of every 10 acres of wildlife habitat in the United States is managed by the BLM National System of Public lands – approximately 245 million acres (380,000 square miles) in 23 states in addition to county and state multiple-use habitat designations and wildlife preserves
    Federal Aid for Wildlife Restoration via the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed in 1937. Revenues generated from these excise taxes are apportioned to state wildlife agencies for their conservation efforts, https://www.animallaw.info/statute/us-funding-state-pittman-roberson-act-chapter-5b-wildlife-restoration#669a (8)

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  3. The BLM, is a failed agency. It was created to protect our public land , and our living National treasures the wild horse , and burro herds , given public land , thought the Wild Horse , and Burro Act of 1971. Wild Horse Annie , inspired thousands of children , to collect and donate rolled up pennies , to help get the Wild Horse , and Burro Act. I’m sure if all those grown up children , knew that their passion for saving our wild herds , and their efforts in having a law passed to protect them was being violated , by the very agency established to protect them then they would be telling Washington, to pass the Safe Food Act. If the Safe Food Act is passed it will stop all American equines , wild and domestic from shipping to slaughter , to Canada, Mexico, China, Japan , or Korea.

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  4. The article states, “…federal legislation that mandates these animals be “protected from capture … harassment or death” due to their unique status as “living symbols of … the West. Sadly, that directive has been largely ignored by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency entrusted with managing most of our country’s wild equines.”

    What is REALLY SAD is the fact that the protection of the wild horses and burros is the LAW LAW LAW and is not just a “directive” and the LAW

    What has happened to our America when the LAWS of our country actually meant something?
    What has happened to truth and honesty?
    “Honest people don’t hide their deeds.”

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  5. The Eagle Roundup underway tallies from another website right now shows:

    “Totals captured to date: 1265 (563 Studs, 696 Mares, 6 Foals) 16 wild horses have died.”

    This should give everyone pause. They have rounded up over 1200 horses and found only SIX foals. How is this an overpopulation, and how can anyone think sterilizations and removals will lead to anything but exctinction under the guise of “management?” Per the BLM’s own gross exaggerations of population growth, nearly 700 mares should have had about 700 foals at their sides. But SIX only were rounded up with the rest by helicopters. They aren’t hiding out there, folks, guaranteed!

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