Pickens bids to save BLM wild horses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2008:
RENO–Just as the Bureau of Land
Management seemed poised to kill 2,000 healthy
mustangs, due to lack of adoptive homes,
Madeleine Pickens “arrived on a white horse,” as
Washington Post staff writer Lyndsey Layton put
Pickens on November 17, 2008 turned a
public hearing in Reno from a perfunctory
condemnation ritual to a celebration.
“Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone
Pickens, made known her intentions to adopt not
just the doomed wild horses but most or all of
the 30,000 horses and burros kept in federal
holding pens,” reported Layton. “Lifelong
animal lovers, the Pickenses just a few years
ago led the fight to close the last horse
slaughterhouse in the United States.”
Posted Pickens afterward to her personal
web site, “Wild horses on federal land are
living symbols of the history of the American
West and must be protected. My view is for a
wild horse sanctuary that will be a tourist
destination where Americans and tourists from
around the world can observe this great part of
American history.”

Elaborated Pickens to Guy Adams of The
Independent, “We will take all the excess
horses, and put them somewhere where families
can see them and live among them, and camp out
in teepees and have bonfires and look up at the
stars and get to know this incredible aspect of
our heritage.”
“The response has been simply
overwhelming,” Pickens updated in her next web
posting. “Be assured I am moving forward as
quickly as possible.”
“Pickens, the child of British father
and Lebanese mother who grew up in the Middle
East and went to school in England and France,
said she always had a love for the West and wild
horses,” elaborated Associated Press writer
Jamie Stengle. “She said she has proposed
purchasing around a million acres to be a refuge
for the horses now in holding facilities, and
that the BLM has agreed to give her the horses
once she has the land. BLM spokesperson Tom
Gorey said the agency welcomes the offer.”
BLM deputy director Henri Bisson told
Layton that the BLM will seek $20 million from
Congress to hold the horses now in captivity for
another year while Pickens develops her project.
“As backup to Pickens’ offer,” wrote
Layton, “two animal rescue organizations have
expressed a similar interest in adoption.”
“WildEarth Guardians wants to take
Pickens’ plan further by proposing a solution the
group believes would resolve public land grazing
conflicts that have resulted in the horses
needing a home,” reported Susan Montoya Bryan of
Associated Press on November 29, 2008.
“WildEarth Guardians is advocating legislation
that would allow ranchers to relinquish grazing
permits in exchange for compensation. The idea
is that livestock would be removed from the
allotment, leaving a refuge for wild horses and
other native animals and plants,” Bryan
Bryan was unable to obtain comment from
Madeleine Pickens. New Mexico Cattle Growers
Association executive director Caren Cowan
opposed the idea.
But The New York Times on November 19,
2008 editorially backed both Pickens and
WildEarth Guardians.
“Pickens plans to sterilize the horses on
her land and says she will take any additional
horses the federal government wants to cull from
the wild herd,” The New York Times editors
noted. “Sterilization is the best solution for
long-term wild horse management. The federal
Bureau of Land Management is finally coming to
understand that and is now working with the
Humane Society of the U.S. on very promising
contraception studies in two herds. The bureau
also needs to consider buying back some of its
range permits from cattle ranchers. We suspect
that in this economic climate, some ranchers
would be glad to part with them. The bureau then
could leave wild horses on the range.”
Summarized Layton, “About 33,000 horses
still roam wild on federal lands in 10 western
states. About half are in Nevada. The BLM
believes the range can accommodate only about
27,000 horses. Each year government-hired
cowboys round up 7,000 to 13,000 horses and take
them to holding pens. The roundups became more
aggressive under the Bush administration. As of
June, BLM was holding 30,088 horses, more than
triple the 9,807 held in 2001.” The cost of
keeping the horses also tripled, to $21 million
in 2007.
The November 17 Reno hearing about
killing wild horses came one week after the
Government Accountability Office, a
Congressional watchdog agency, projected that
the BLM would spend $27 million on keeping wild
horses captive in 2009.
“BLM cannot afford to care for all the
animals off the range, while at the same time
manage wild horse and burro populations on the
range,” the GAO concluded. The GAO noted that
Bisson had in June 2008 suggested killing or
selling horses to cut costs.
Under an amendment to the 1971 Wild and
Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act
slipped through Congress as a last-minute rider
to the November 2004 Consolidated Appropriations
Act, the Bureau of Land Management is now
mandated to sell “without limitation” any
“excess” horse or burro who is more than 10 years
of age, or who has been offered for adoption
three times without a taker.
“Other options could be explored, the
report said, including relocating infertile
herds to areas outside original boundaries set by
the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act, or giving tax
breaks to large land owners willing to care for
large numbers of animals,” summarized Associated
Press writer Sandra Chereb.
“This is a situation where we have to
have a conversation about what the law requires,”
Bisson told Layton. “We’re hearing from members
of Congress that they don’t think euthanasia is
an appropriate solution, but the law says, ‘You
shall.’ If people don’t like what the law says,
they need to address it. We hope we will find
homes for all of these animals before the year is
out, and Congress will decide what it wants to
do about the law.”

Meanwhile at the BLM

Bisson added that the BLM will round up
about 5,000 more horses in 2009.
“The word ‘euthanasia’ suggests that the
BLM will be putting these horses out of their
misery. But they are not in misery in the first
place. It’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever
heard,” responded Deanne Stillman, author of
Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse, to Adams
of The Independent.
“In Nevada alone, added Jerry Reynoldson
of the Wild Horse Adoption Association, “the BLM
controls 47 million acres,” or 47 times more
land than Pickens hopes to buy.
According to data gathered by Nevada wild
horse ecologist Craig C. Downer, presented to an
October 12, 2008 “Wild Horse Summit” organized
by the International Society for the Protection
of Mustangs & Burros, the BLM has reduced the
amount of its land accessible to wild horses by
18% since 1971. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
has excluded wild horses from 53% of its holdings
in former horse habitat–mostly in the name of
conservation. Yet more than 95% of the land used
by wild horses in 1971 is still used for grazing
livestock, in much greater numbers.
“While forage and water rarely seem to be
an issue for the established livestock and big
game interests,” Downer charged, “these same
resources are almost always portrayed as being
too little for the relatively tiny members of our
nation’s remaining wild horses and burros. My
overall analysis reveals an effective
displacement of the wild equids from at least
75%, or three fourths, of the public lands–
both BLM and USFWS–to which they are legally
entitledÅ Our supposed public servants have
already eliminated the wild horses and burros
from the grazing allotments of 36% of the public
lands ranchers in spite of the legal right of the
horses and burros to live there.”
Downer calculated that livestock consume
nearly 14 million Animal Unit Months’ worth of
forage per year on BLM and USFWS land, while
wild horses consume barely 400,000 AUMs.
“Given the length of time equids have
evolved here, it would be blind not to recognize
the great importance of the equid element in the
North American ecosystem,” Downer continued.
“Yet government personnel persist in maintaining
that the wild equids do not warrant native
wildlife designation. I suggest they visit one
of our national monuments, by the name of
Hagerman Horse Fossil in Idaho, and carefully
consider the abundant evidence from
paleontological science that establishes the
horse family, genus, and even modern-day
species, Equus caballus, as among the most
truly native in North America, of longest
evolutionary duration here. The horse as
returned native species and the burro as a
species with substantial evolutionary roots in
North America are proven factsÅ but rarely if ever
acknowledged by BLM and USFS officials charged
with their protection.”

Slaughter lobby

In the background, the National
Cattlemen’s Beef Association in mid-2008 joined
lobbyists for the horse slaughter industry to try
to prevent the passage of federal legislation
that would criminalize selling or transporting
horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.
“Although the House and Senate have both
passed legislation by wide margins intended to
stop the slaughter of horses for human
consumption, and state legislatures have banned
horse slaughter and shuttered the remaining
U.S.-based plants, American horses are still
being exported to Canada and Mexico to be
butchered,” explained Humane Society Legislative
Fund director Mike Markarian in July 2008.
Markarian predicted that “The horse
slaughter industry will try to make the tired
argument that there are too many unwanted horses
and nowhere for them to go. There is a network
of horse sanctuaries and rescuers who stand ready
to help,” Markarian rebutted. “We have heard
time and time again from these dedicated folks
who try to rescue horses or purchase them at
auctions, only to be outbid by the ‘killer
Markarian posted affirmations from 18 horse rescuers in 10 states.
The strengthened anti-horse slaughter
legislation that the Humane Society Legislative
Fund wants did not reach the floor of either the
U.S. Senate or House of Representatives in 2008,
but it did clear the House Judiciary Committee in
September. It may stand an excellent chance of
passage by the next Congress.
About 79,000 U.S. horses were sold to
slaughter in Canada and Mexico in 2008, more
than before horse slaughter stopped in the U.S.,
but probably fewer than at the peak of the
slaughter export traffic more than 20 years ago,
when as many as 61,000 U.S. horses were
slaughtered in Quebec alone.
Proponents of horse slaughter may believe
that adding the 30,000 captive wild horses to the
79,000 who purportedly have nowhere else to go
will reinforce the impression they hope to create
that slaughter is necessary, to cope with the
surplus. That argument gained spin on November
12, 2008 when Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition
founder Robert Bedard, 57, was charged with
aggravated animal cruelty in connection with the
alleged starvation deaths of at least 13 wild
horses last winter on the 640-acre Seven Eagles
Ranch, west of Browning, Montana.
Bedard founded the Blackfeet Buffalo
Horse Coalition in 1994, with six fillies and
two stallions whom he believed to be of direct
descent from some of the Spanish horses who
escaped to become the ancestors of most North
American mustangs.
“The state Department of Livestock and
the Glacier Sheriff’s Office began investigating
the Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition last
spring,” reported Great Falls Tribune staff
writer Kim Skornogoski, “when concerned
neighbors and animal activists notified them that
many of the 120 to 130 horses on the ranch were
starving or dead.”
Bedard, also known as Bob Black Bull,
is not an enrolled member of any Native American
tribe, but was not charged earlier, Glacier
County prosecutor Larry Epstein told Susan
Gallagher of Associated Press, because he was
believed to have been subject to tribal rather
than local jurisdiction. Now living with his
mother in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Bedard told
Gallagher that horse care on the ranch slipped
after he was nearly killed a year ago in an
all-terrain vehicle accident.
Epstein ordered that all of the surviving
horses were to be removed from the ranch by
December 5, 2008.
“Only 76 horses remained when volunteers
led by the Montana Horse Sanctuary arrived to
begin rounding up the animals and readying them
to be taken to new homes across Montana and as
far away as Canada and Kentucky,” wrote
Finished Gallagher, “Had the volunteers
not arranged relocation of the horses, Epstein
said, they likely would have gone to slaughter,”
but slaughtering them either in Mexico or Canada
would have required a haul of more than 1,000

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