We didn’t waste any time reaching out to Nada Culver, the new deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, to tell her we can assist her with building back a better wild horse program. Read our letter here:
Dear Ms. Culver:
I am writing on behalf of Friends of Animals, to congratulate you on your new position as the Deputy Director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to offer assistance to build back a better wild horse program within the BLM.
Under the Trump Administration, BLM pushed the false narrative of exploding wild horse populations that threaten America’s public lands and removed tens of thousands of wild horses. Not only is the practice of rounding up and holding wild horses costing the BLM hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is also resulting in the needless suffering of these animals. The truth is there are not too many wild horses on federal public lands. Instead, BLM has historically sacrificed the protections Congress afforded these animals to commercial interest in using public lands for profit. As the National Academy of Sciences reported in 2013, BLM’s management of wild horses lacks scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on rangelands. BLM, who commissioned this report, has never sought to correct these problems.
Today, of the 245 million acres managed by the BLM, 155 million is open to livestock grazing. By contrast, wild horses are restricted to just 26.9 million acres, which has been and continues to decrease each year under BLM management. Upwards of 2 million cattle graze public lands, not to mention sheep, and the government has authorized thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on these areas as well. These activities, not wild horses, are damaging the environment, fragmenting wildlife habitat, and contributing to climate change.
As the new administration works to build back better, we hope that you are committed to the reexamination of the agency’s implementation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. These animals deserve our commitment to the legal protections afforded them, implemented using legitimate science. Wild horses thrived in North America for over a million years before the arrival of humans. Native to this continent, wild horses are unique creatures sharing our world. They are highly social and intelligent. They are also well adapted to our western landscape. Unlike the destruction to native vegetation caused by cattle and sheep, wild horses, like many native wild animals, work to ensure a healthy, thriving ecosystem.
This year marks a half century since Congress deemed wild horses to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and “an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” A failure in leadership since that time has resulted in the loss of 41 percent of their habitat—more than 20 million acres. It is time to reverse the policies that prioritize destructive commercial uses over the protection of wild horses and other natural resources.
What we do in 2021 regarding wild horses might seem trivial given all that is happened in our world this past year. But choosing to protect these iconic animals, as opposed to treating them as pests, will tell us a lot about our future relationship with the natural world.
Thank you for your attention to this issue. I am very encouraged by the priority you have given to the well-being of our public lands throughout your career and I am happy to help in reforming the Wild Horse and Burro Program. Friends of Animals plans to submit a more detailed proposal on how to improve the Wild Horse and Burro Program in the coming months and I would appreciate the opportunity to work with you on this issue.
Assistant Legal Director
Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program