No home on the range for wild horses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:

WASHNGTON D.C.–If Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imagined
his plan for wild horses would please anyone for long, he guessed
wrong. Few wild horse advocates have had praise for any it, fiscal
conservatives have slammed the projected cost of it, and almost
nobody imagines that the Salazar plan will lastingly solve the
problem of the Bureau of Land Management holding almost as many
“surplus” wild horses in captivity as remain on the western range.

Salazar on October 7, 2009 proposed to U.S. Senate majority
leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) that the BLM should establish new
federally owned facilities in the East and Midwest, at cost of $92
million, to keep even more impounded horses.
The two new facilities would compliment five others on
leased land in the west. The seven sites would together hold about
25,000 horses. About 7,000 would remain in BLM corrals, including
those just captured and those up for adoption.
The Salazar plan also “includes ‘aggressive’ use of
contraceptives, changing the sex ratio of wild herds, and possibly
having gelding herds,” summarized Diane Tennant of the
Virginian-Pilot. “The goal is to have 17,500 breeding wild horses on
public lands,” among about 27,000 wild horses in all, Tennant
added. “They would produce about 3,500 foals a year,” wrote
Tennant, “which is about the number adopted each year,” at least
recently. Before reforms were instituted to prevent bogus “adopters”
from selling wild horses to slaughter, about 5,000 horses per year
were adopted.
The ten westernmost states of the continental 48 presently
have about 37,000 wild horses and burros on about 34.3 million acres
of BLM land, down from 53.5 million acres that wild equines roamed
when the 1971 Wild Free-Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act made
the BLM the often reluctant custodians of U.S. wild horses.
The BLM was already mandated to manage public lands for
cattle grazing, oil and gas production, mining, and recreation.
The original BLM mission was grazing management, and the BLM has
historically shared the view of many ranchers that wild horses hurt
the livestock industry by competing with cattle and sheep for grass
and water. But numbers suggest that wild horses have only a minor
influence. About 2.5 to three million cattle and sheep now graze on
BLM land in the west–not even 10% of the 20 million cattle and 25
million sheep who were on the range circa 1900, when ranchers hoped
that the west could support even more weight in livestock than it
once supported in bison. There were about 10 times more horses on
the range then, too, most of them working steeds.
“Any proposal to improve horse and burro management in the
West should include removing domestic livestock from public lands,”
Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians told Associated Press writer Martin
Added Nevada wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, “Both the
Forest Service and the BLM have the right to remove livestock to
ensure viable, healthy populations of wild horses. But their master
is primarily the traditional ranching interests.”
The BLM wild horse program cost $36 million in 2008, $50
million in 2009, and could cost $85 million by 2012, Salazar
projected. But Salazar rejected the idea, proposed during the
George W. Bush presidential administration, that surplus horses
should be sold to slaughter–which would require amendments to two
federal laws–or should simpy be killed. “The American public has
shown that it does not want to have slaughtering of these animals,”
Salazar said.
House Natural Resources Committee chair Nick Rahall (D-West
Virginia) praised the Salazar plan, but echoed criticisms voiced by
wild horse advocates. “Years of attempts by BLM to shoehorn these
magnificent animals into ever-shrinking territory has manufactured an
overcrowding problem,” said Rahall. “Restoring horses and burros to
the acreage from which they have been needlessly removed is critical.”
American Horse Defense Fund president Shelley Sawhook told
Washington Post staff writers Lyndsey Layton and Juliet Eilperin that
the 19 million acres of BLM land from which wild horses are now
excluded “needs to be returned to the horses. If that 19 million
acres were still there,” she said, “there would be no need for
holding pens. There would be no need for relocation.”
Charged Animal Law Coalition executive director Laura Allen,
“It’s time for a Congressional hearing and investigation. With no
statutory authority,” Allen contended, “BLM has limited wild horses
and burros’ access to thousands of acres that were historically their
herd areas. The BLM then removes wild horses and burros from
artificially created ‘herd management areas’ on the basis there is
insufficient forage, water or habitat. BLM also targets them for
removal if they cross the artificial boundaries into their original
herd areas.”
“They’re managing wild horses to extinction,” charged
filmmaker and Cloud Foundation founder Ginger Kathrens. Kathrens has
produced a Public Broadcasting Service trilogy following the life of
a Pryor Range palomino named Cloud from foaling to band leadership.
His herd was in August and September 2009 thinned from 190 horses
down to 70 by one of the most controversial BLM roundups in years.
The Salazar plan “subverts the will of the American public
and the intent of Congress,” alleged In Defense of Animals. In
Defense of Animals outlined an alternative plan that would “Place a
moratorium on roundups, at least until accurate and independent
assessments of population numbers and roundup conditions are
available and a long-term solution is finalized; return as many
horses as possible from government holding to the range; and
facilitate the creation of sanctuaries for those horses who cannot be
In Defense of Animals urged wild horse advocates to “Support
Senate Bill 1579,” also known as the Restore Our American Mustangs
Act. The ROAM Act, “passed by the House of Representatives in July
2009, would update existing laws that protect wild horses,
encouraging the reopening of certain public lands to the mustangs,”
summarized the In Defense of Animals statement. “It also restores a
crucial protection to keep wild horses from going to slaughter,
which was stripped away several years ago, and would facilitate the
creation of sanctuaries to house the 33,000 wild horses currently
languishing in government holding facilities.”
In Defense of Animals also urged support of federal grazing
permit retirement. “The Government Accountability Office found that
the federal government spends at least $144 million annually to
manage private livestock grazing operations on publicly-owned land,”
In Defense of Animals recalled, “but collects only $21 million in
grazing fees.”
Salazar offered his wild horse management plan in response to
another pending wild horse management bill, introduced by Senator
Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and passed by the Senate in September
2009. The Landrieu bill, if ratified by the House of
Representat-ives, and signed by Presi-dent Barack Obama, would
mandate that the BLM must adopt a new wild horse management plan by
September 30, 2010.
Some wild horses have already been relocated from BLM holding
facilities to privately owned rangeland, but new relocations tend to
become controversial. For example, the BLM reportedly hopes to
place up to 1,500 horses on the 15,000-acre Spanish Q Ranch near
Ennis, Montana, about 100 miles north of Yellowstone National Park,
but the plan is opposed by neighboring ranchers.
The largest relocation scheme was offered on November 17,
2008 by Madeleine Pickens, wife of oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens.
Hearing that the BLM had proposed to kill several thousand older
“surplus” horses, Madeleine Pickens pledged to buy a ranch large
enough to hold the entire BLM “surplus” horse inventory. “She created
a nonprofit foundation and a web site, and signed a letter of intent
to buy land in northeast Nevada,” recalled Layton and Eilperin of
the Washington Post. “But her negotiations with the government have
sputtered over her request for annual federal stipends to care for
the horses and the use of some federal lands for grazing.”

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.