Horse News

Livestock industry’s campaign to get rid of wild horses is a scam to cheat the taxpayers

By   as published on The Wildlife News

There’s an organized campaign underway to get wild horses off America’s western public lands, and the livestock industry is both its primary salesman and beneficiary. It’s all about the money and expanding the livestock industry’s stranglehold on western public lands.

Private Cattle being moved on Antelope Complex while the BLM was removing wild horses ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

The livestock industry has cooked up a cock-and-bull story about how wild horses are the primary threat to land health in the West. The now-disgraced BLM interim director William Perry Pendley made that false assertion into official federal policy, but this self-serving fairy tale by the livestock lobby does not deserve to be taken seriously.

Wild horses are found primarily on Herd Management Areas (HMAs) spanning 26.9 million acres (11 percent) of the 245.7 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but are completely absent from the vast majority of western federal lands. Wild horses are often held at very low populations though aggressive federal roundups. Cattle and sheep, on the other hand, graze on the majority of western public lands, and hugely outnumber wild horses. Domestic livestock are officially authorized to cause major ecological destruction, grazing at densities known to be destructive to native vegetation and that encourage invasion by cheatgrass, the flammable weed that is fueling the unnaturally large and frequent wildfires in the West. Range management science states that limiting livestock forage removal in semi-arid areas to a maximum of 25 percent of the yearly grass production is appropriate, but the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service regularly  authorize livestock use of  50 percent – or even more – of the grass each year, destroying rangeland health. That doesn’t even count the numerous cases of livestock trespass that happen every year – ranchers taking advantage by putting cattle on too early, leaving them out too late, or sneaking more cattle or sheep onto public lands than they are legally allowed.

Wild horse removals are just one more handout in a long line of taxpayer subsidies to the livestock industry. Ranchers pay only $1.35 a month to graze a cow-calf pair or five sheep on public lands. This is called the “Animal Unit Month,” or AUM, and wild horses also are weighted at one AUM apiece. Renting private lands in Mountain West states for the same livestock costs an average of $23.40 a month in the 16 western states, so the below-market federal rates amount to a massive taxpayer subsidy. Removing wild horses from public lands doesn’t help land health when it simply leads to more cheap grazing for the ranchers who rent federal allotments; instead, impacts stay the same (or even get worse) while cattlemen get more cheap grazing. The Bureau of Land Management openly admits this is happening. In its 2020 analysis proposing to zero out three wild horse Herd Management Areas in Wyoming’s Red Desert (and radically reduce horses in a fourth), the Bureau states that after horses are removed, “AUMs previously allocated to wild horse use may be allocated to wildlife, livestock or other ecosystem functions.”

After wild horses are removed from public lands, the males are castrated (called “gelding”), and they are warehoused in short-term holding facilities. The government then attempts to auction them for adoption by horse buyers, but many of them don’t get bids. Thousands are sent off to long-term holding pastures, which federal agencies rent from private operators (at taxpayer expense) for the princely sum of $60 an Animal Unit Month on average. It’s a very, very expensive program.

To sum up, federal agencies spend millions of taxpayer dollars on helicopter roundups to remove wild horses from lands where the grazing is valued at only $1.35 a month per animal, spends millions more on short-term holding and transportation, then houses them on private lands where the taxpayers get to pay an average of $60 a month per horse for the rest of their lives. The ranchers out west can then expand their public land herds at rock-bottom prices, while ranchers in the Midwest get paid premium prices to have the formerly wild horses graze their pastures. The livestock industry is taking advantage of the taxpayers for huge subsidies, coming and going, and is laughing all the way to the bank.

But the really sick part of all of this isn’t the obscene cost to the taxpayers or the livestock industry raking in financial windfalls. It’s the fact that the federal government is removing the horses that are ecologically well-adapted to dry conditions of the arid West and replacing them with cattle that are suited only to moist climates and are far more damaging to arid public lands. And to top it all off, they’re pasturing formerly wild horses on private lands in areas with abundant rainfall, pushing cattle off the very lands to which they’re ecologically suited. So in the end, the public gets more cattle on public lands, more ecological damage to public lands, wild horses shifted to private lands, less-sustainable beef production, and then gets to foot the bill for this whole package of expensive mismanagement to boot.

We have a land health crisis, and a cheatgrass pandemic, on our western public lands. It’s not because of wild horses, it’s because our federal agencies are enabling ecological degradation by failing to competently manage the livestock grazing on public lands. This problem isn’t getting solved by shuffling large herbivores around the continent. It’s long past time to manage wild horse numbers sustainably on the range instead (restoring natural predators and temporary birth control show promise), and to refocus federal attention and funding on the real problem – excessive domestic livestock and the cheatgrass invasions they cause – so we can restore healthy public lands, abundant wildlife, and clean-flowing streams and rivers throughout the West.

 

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and serves as Executive Director for Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife and watersheds on western public lands.

8 replies »

  1. Read this on Wildlife News – it should be published in “main stream media” but unfortunately – they are too busy with whats his name. Its a shame all this wasted coverage when they should be covering what MATTERS! Before every species other than all important humans are wiped out. (sorry for short rant-but its all way too much at this point).
    Keep up the good work, RT & everyone else here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a disaster! I believe it should be removed from the Federal Registry because Pendley was NOT confirmed and was working illegally in that position! One would hope when this new Administration moves in they will call upon Congress and the Senate to remove this from the Federal Registry! Don the Con and his Repub thugs have made a mockery of this country and it’s laws! And God help us! I hope those in Georgia are alot brighter than those in Kentucky! It’s hard to remove items from the Federal Registry but it can be done! This should not be difficult because Pendley was suppose to be removed by a Federal judge! Again, it’s all about the money! And definitely NOT about the Wild Horses, Burros and our Public Lands! We as Americans MUST NOT tolerate this! Whom ever is given the challenge of the Secretary of The Interior MUST be ready to hit the ground running from day 1! I’m tired of the media reporting false facts without doing the proper research before writing articles! Those of us that have been advocating for the Wild Horses and Burros have watched their demise by the Repub thugs! It’s all coming to a head and Americans have had it! It’s not going to be easy, but I believe this will be a year for ALL OUR Equines! We have a big CHALLENGE, but together we will face it and save our Public Lands, Wild Horses/Burros, domestic horses and other animals! So I ask each and every one of you be READY to accept the CHALLENGE and WIN! These SOULS are depending on us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its beyond me why there are not any consequences for “bad actions” (really understatement) for all these crooks. I realize that it isnt just this administration thats to blame but there has never been an assault like this on every freedom we or our wildlife ever had. You’re absolutely right, Gail, in everything you wrote.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can this article be sent to new president and vp? How on earth is this being allowed to happen? Who in the Dept of Interior is allowing this to happen without being accounted for?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Further, other countries are introducing equids to rewild and reinvigorate damaged ecosystems, why the heck are we so far behind so much good science? If the argument is we don’t have relevant science here (since so much of our public rangeland is degraded) why not segregate and establish better science (see Craig Downer’s ideas for Reserve Design for one approach).

    It also is rarely mentioned but our paid professional “managers” place introduced livestock into competition with our wild equids in all or nearly all the legal areas those equids are allowed to live. A very simple and effective approach would be to segregate these species and document the ecological affects. Livestock already are allowed in the vast majority of our public lands; wild equids a small and ever-shrinking acreage. Creating conflict intentionally at the expense of our populace and our shared future under the guise of “management’ is ludicrous and indefensible. And yet, it persists, because we allow it to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Had some issues posting my reply so the above is disjointed. Here’s the whole comment:

      Good observations but a few things should be added.

      First, equids aren’t just “ecologically well adapted” but the fossil record proves this continent is their ancestral homeland. In other words they are native species here when clearly domestic cattle and sheep are not. Even our iconic Bison wandered over to this continent and found wild equids to welcome them.

      Next, our country has subsidized and in other ways propped up public lands grazing as part of our history of settlement. This approach has always benefited the few at great cost to the range, and eventually to the majority of people. Originally the idea was to feed more people on the coasts by “mining” free grass in the arid West. Those days are simply past now, though the subsidies remain and the grazing laws are largely unchanged and or unenforced. As is widely documented, most of the grazing leases are corporate owned (not the small hardscrabble ranch families of yore), and most of the lamb is exported since Americans eat so little lamb. The lasting range damages continue, but the subsidies don’t cover any remediation, this too is put back onto taxpayers.

      Further, other countries are introducing equids to rewild and reinvigorate damaged ecosystems, why the heck are we so far behind so much good science? If the argument is we don’t have relevant science here (since so much of our public rangeland is degraded) why not segregate and establish better science (see Craig Downer’s ideas for Reserve Design for one approach).

      It also is rarely mentioned but our paid professional “managers” place introduced livestock into competition with our wild equids in all or nearly all the legal areas those equids are allowed to live. A very simple and effective approach would be to segregate these species and document the ecological affects. Livestock already are allowed in the vast majority of our public lands; wild equids a small and ever-shrinking acreage. Creating conflict intentionally at the expense of our populace and our shared future under the guise of “management’ is ludicrous and indefensible. And yet, it persists, because we allow it to.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Info on the Agenda that pits Americans against each other in the battle for land use control and Resource Management plans.http://www.freedomadvocates.org/download/research/USD-A21-pamphlet_2012.pdf .

    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 wildlife/livestock grazers on the public domain. Wild horse advocates can circumvent the livestock grazing issues altogether.
    Options for rewilding are also provided, even mandated, under existing Congressional wildlife and Cultural Preservation Acts. Protocols provide for amending fatally flawed Resource management plans to provide habitat for special status species of Native American’s Wild Horse Culture w/ supporting case law.

    There is a plethora of quantifiable public landscapes available for relocation/rewilding heritage herds whose distinct population segments are protected by ESA special status species law applied through Resource Management Plan Amendments..
    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 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act 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) the term “wildlife-restoration project” includes the wildlife conservation and restoration program and means the selection, restoration, rehabilitation, and improvement of areas of land or water adaptable as feeding, resting, or breeding places for wildlife, including acquisition of such areas or estates or interests therein as are suitable or capable of being made suitable therefor, and the construction thereon or therein of such works as may be necessary to make them available for such purposes and also including such research into problems of wildlife management as may be necessary to efficient administration affecting wildlife resources, and such preliminary or incidental costs and expenses as may be incurred in and about such projects.

    Excerpt from letter to
    .Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP)
    Executive Director John M. Fowler
    jfowler@achp.gov
    Since the legendary priest, Rev. Eusebio Francisco Kino, in May of 1700 rode from Tumacacori to the town of San Ignacio, just in the nick of time to save an Indian who was about to be executed, the Colonial Spanish Horse (CPA) has been a part of America’s cultural practices and beliefs. The wild remnant herds represent 500 years of cultural heritage. They also represent a Cultural Resource under Sec 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Their hoof print evolved with the birth of this nation to the present, http://www.galiceno.org/history-of-horses-in-the-americas.html. Now it is so necessary and imperative to add all American’s Colonial Spanish Wild Horse Herds to the inventory of Historic Cultural Resources. This is consistent with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. FLPMA required(s) that: “… wild horses and burros shall be considered comparably with other resource values in the formulations of land use plans” 43 CFR Sec. 4700.0-6 .

    Liked by 2 people

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