Every day the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes decisions about America's wild horses. More often than not, the decisions are NOT in the best interest of the horses, but in the best interest of cattle ranchers. As a matter of fact, I am probably giving the BLM more credit than they deserve. Frankly I have not seen a decision made by them that was made in the best interest of the horses at all, but I am trying to be diplomatic. Yes, last year they did a removal of horses who were suffering from lack of water, but that condition was brought on by decisions the BLM made which caused the lack of water.
The issue of the West Douglas Herd is a similar situation. In August 1997 the BLM decided that the West Douglas Herd Area couldn't sustain the number of horses on the range. They decreased the "appropriate management levels" (AML) on this 128,000 acre reserve to between 0-50 to "improve range conditions". At the time the BLM accepted public comments for this decision, many protested that this would leave the herd levels too low for genetic viability. At that time the BLM stated that it would introduce mares into the area to counter this argument. However, today in 2008 they are "phasing out" the herd BECAUSE it is below genetic viability! Exactly the argument made in 1997.
The sister area the North Piceance herd Area is also being wiped out to allow for the exploration of oil and gas. Wild horses do not need to be removed for oil drilling. They avoid the area where drilling occurs and don't interefer with work being done. However, the BLM's policy for drilling was determined by the actions of cattle who will follow the equipment and will actually injure themselves by drinking the water and chemicals used in drilling. Their policy is that all wildlife should be removed from the area during drilling and be returned later once the drilling companies "rehabilitate" the land. However, once horses are removed from any area for any reason they are never returned and this includes drilling. They will reintroduce cattle, elk, big horned sheep and other wildlife, but not horses.
The BLM can and should reintroduce mares to bring the herds back from genetic extinction and stop all removals in these areas. However, returning horses has never been a decision the BLM has made, even though it is an option available to them. The area can certainly tolerate a larger herd. At this time the number of cattle on the land is 41,478. The BLM also manages other wildlife on the property including elk. The number of elk exceeds their management levels and has for over 20 years. Yet there is no move toward reducing those numbers, just the horses.
What makes this decision worse is that they plan on doing the removal in the winter season. Of course they have generously offered to not do removals when temperatures fall below -10 degrees or run the horses more than 5 miles when the snow is more than a foot deep. How generous of them! The area where the West Douglas Herd lives is in a mountainous region where danger abounds for horses being run with a helicopter, but in the winter when many hazards are hidden by snow and ice it is a recipe for disaster.
The ranchers who run cattle on this land receive government subsidies. One, the Cripple Creek Cowboy Company received over $77,000 between 1996 and 2006. They also seem to have the support of Senator Wayne Allard, who has been an advocate for the cattle companies. It isn't that the Senator shouldn't support his constituents, however he shouldn't do it at the expense of our wild horses and certainly not at the expense of violating the federal law which protects these horses. These companies are creating a financial burden on the taxpayer with their subsidies and the cost of the removals the BLM does to satisfy their lust for more land. These cattle companies are taking our tax dollars to operate their business, are getting preferential treatment AND decimating OUR wild horses!
If forage for these horses was decreasing in 1997 the BLM had the right to remove all or part of the cattle on the range. BLMs Code of Federal Regulation 43 CFR 4710.5(a) Closure To Livestock Grazing, which states: "If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of the public lands to grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock." Instead they began a campaign to remove all wild horses from the range.
Why should we care about this? First, these horses may be the oldest documented herd. Reports of their existence go back as far as the 1770's making them a historical tie to this nation's beginning. The BLM is counting on the American public not responding to their call for comments, and apathy for how they manage our wild horses. We are asking that as many people as possible offer their comments to the BLM protesting this removal as inhumane and the fact that these horses should be preserved. The Cloud Foundation is working on stopping the removal through the courts. But we cannot leave it to them to do all the work. Please send your comments to the BLM by May 23,2008 by 4:30 pm Mountain Time. Comments should be sent to Bureau of Land Management, White River Field Office, Attention: Melissa Kindall 220 East Market Street Meeker, Colorado 81641 or you may email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please take a few minutes to put your comments into writing no matter how short your comments may be. Ask your friends and neighbors to also write because these are their horses as well. The BLM needs to know that the American public is not apathetic to the plight of our wild horses.
I would like to thank The Cloud Foundation and the American Herds for their assistance in resources for this post.