Monday, July 21, 2008

BLM's Proposal to deal with "excess" horses

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has in its infinite wisdom has removed over 75,000 horses from the wild since 2001. While allowing over 4 MILLION cattle to remain grazing on public lands that were set aside for the preservation of the wild horses and burros.

Many of these removed wild horses end up in long term holding facilities. At its best the adoption program could only adopt out between 5,000 to 8,000 wild horses into homes (actual adoption rates fall far short of these numbers, especially in times of economic hardship like those facing the country right now). This means most of the horses removed eventually end up at the long-term holding facilities. It is no surprise to those who follow the issue that there are over 30,000 wild horses in these facilities at a cost to the tax payer of over $26 million a year ($10.9 million for long term holding and $15.5 million for short term holding where many long term horses are housed until they can find a place in one of the overcrowded facilities). At best wild horses are held for approximately 200 days by the BLM before adoption.

Many wild horse advocates have warned over the years that the aggressive removal program that the BLM was advocating would lead to issues such as this, but the BLM was determined to remove as many horses as possible. Shocking, but now the BLM says that they have too many horses in long-term holding! Their solution? To kill all the horses in those facilities. It would save money and it would free up more budget to remove even more horses. So, in a few years there would be an overflow of horses once again who would all need to be shot (they also want to shoot horses on the range so they don't have to remove quite as many horses). With such a plan in place is it crazy for wild horse advocates to say the goal of the BLM to destroy the wild horses?

I should say here that the BLM has authority to euthanize horses under the 1971 law. This authority was given to them to allow them to put down horses with extreme injuries or who were suffering. The BLM already uses this authority to destroy healthy horses with any type of deformity or illness during removals. However, in previous years when they sought Congressional approval or budget for mass euthanasia, Congress has not approved such measures.

A report prepared by American Herds (posted July 9, 2008) says that there are currently so few horses remaining in the wild that they may already be in danger of becoming extinct. The report shows that the process that the BLM uses to estimate the number of wild horses living wild on the range is flawed and their estimated number of 33,000 is off by approximately 20,000. If the report is correct, and the research was intensive and can be checked by anyone who can add, the current number of wild horses residing on the range is closer to 13,500 to 16,000. The BLM says that the Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the range of over 125 million acres is around 25,000 horses. According to the BLM this is the total number of horses that the range can support.

The BLM states that they arrive at the AML by taking a number of factors into account, including range health. According to the BLM wild horses and burros do more damage to the range than cattle or sheep. Wild horse advocates charge that this is a blantant falsehood. I did a simple search on Google and found that even Wikipedia disagrees with this charge. According to Wikipedia "Researchers note that most current Mustang herds live in arid areas which cattle cannot fully utilize due to the lack of water sources. Horses are better adapted by evolutionary biology to such climates.[17]; they may range nine times as far from water sources as cattle, traveling as much as 50 miles a day.[18] This allows them to utilize areas not grazed by cattle. In addition, horses are "hindgut fermenters," meaning that they digest nutrients by means of the cecum rather than by a multi-chambered stomach. In practical effect, horses can obtain adequate nutrition from poorer forage than can cattle, surviving in areas where cattle will starve.[18]"

However, wild horses are blamed for all rangeland degradation. The BLM is in the process of removing wild horses in areas where they are "starving" or because water holes have dried up. In the recent removals of wild horses observers noticed that while horses being removed were fat and fit. In response the BLM issued statements that the horses were being removed under emergency orders because the horses might possibly starve, not because they were.

The BLM also proposes gelding stallions and returning them to the wild. This may sound, on the face, like a good idea to control herd growth, but it has far reaching problems. Gelding stallions would create a problem with herd structures as well as inhibiting herd health and viability. Geldings would suffer greatly in the wild. They would be targeted by unaltered stallions and create an break in the strict societal structure of herd life. In the herd area that is on Nellis Air Force Base the BLM proposes removing ALL wild horses and replacing them with a total gelding herd. This would ensure that when the last gelding died of whatever, no horses would remain on that herd management area. PZP is the preferred method of birth control because it is reversible and allows the animal to contribute to the genetic pool, but with the herds at dangerously low levels in most areas it is not needed at this time. Gelding removes those genes from the pool forever because it is not reversible and it disrupts the herd dynamics to the point of putting the herds in danger on a number of levels. It is simply another way the BLM proposes to remove every horse from the range.

I was recently told by a reporter that my suggestion that the BLM was mis-managing the program which could lead to the extinction of wild horses was overly dramatic because the BLM would lose funding if they didn't have the program. That is untrue. The BLM oversees many programs, the wild horse and burro program is simply one of many programs. The BLM is an agency under the Department of the Interior and would continue to receive funding to oversee the grazing of cattle and other livestock, other wildlife, mining, drilling and public land use. They do NOT need the horses to justify their existence. I stand by my statement that the BLM has abused the wild horse and burro program, mis-managing it to the point that it has become a fraudulent use of taxpayer funds.

As of this writting the BLM is under investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). When the GAO previously investigated this issue they found that the BLM was not properly administering the program. However, the investigation was stopped short. We sincerely hope that this time the GAO, who is supposed to be unfettered in their investigations, is allowed to pursue the issue completely. Their preliminary report is due in September 2008 to Congress. Congressman Rahall and Congressman Grajalva have asked the BLM to postpone any actions toward killing any horses in long term holding facilities until the GAO report is complete. They have also asked for answers to a number of questions. In previous years the BLM has not responded well to such inquiries. Hopefully, they will be more forthcoming with this request as these Congressmen head the committee that funds the BLM.

The government needs to have the wild horse and burro program taken over by another agency, preferably a new agency without the same conflicts of interest so our wild horses and burros can survive for our future generations as Congress intended when they passed the law for their protection in 1971.

If you would like to voice your opinion on the BLM's proposal you can call a special number they have set up for public input 1-800-710-7597. You can also donate to a variety of programs designed to help the horses, including the AHDF.

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