A new study by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) blasts the Bureau of Land Management for ignoring the devastating impacts of cattle and sheep grazing on federal public lands where wild horses and other native wildlife live. The study’s conclusion that livestock grazing is the primary culprit behind range degradation is something Friends of Animals has been bringing attention to through its legal and educational efforts to protect wild horses for years.

BLM has recorded approximately 54 million acres of public land as failing to meet land health standards and attributes cattle and sheep grazing as a cause in 72% of the 21,000  allotments its responsible for. But reprehensibly, the agency doesn’t even factor its own assessments of the impact of livestock grazing when it makes management decisions to round up wild horses and burros. The agency instead often cites drought conditions, lack of available water to sustain wild horses and damage from wildfires as reasons to rip wild horses off federal public lands.

It is astounding that there are huge swaths of land that BLM has not even assessed

PEER obtained 78,000 records spanning three decades through Freedom of Information Act requests. The data covers 13 Western states from 1997 to 2019 and holds information from every BLM field office in those states.

The PEER study underscores why FoA submitted a rulemaking petition to new Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning to halt wild horse roundups and convene an independent panel of scientists to overhaul the agency’s controversial Wild Horse and Burro Program rules and policies. FoA wants the BLM to not only include the impact of cattle and sheep ranching on public land range assessments, but immediately reduce the number of cattle and sheep within wild horse herd management areas when any wild horse management is planned because of range deterioration, followed by a phaseout of all livestock as grazing permits expire.

The rulemaking petition points out that roundup decisions are being made based on speculative, unscientifically sound information pertaining to wild horse populations and range conditions.

Stone-Manning, the former public lands expert with the National Wildlife Federation, was appointed BLM director last September, and has yet to be forthcoming about her views of wild horse protections. Under the Biden administration, roundups have been prioritized.

If the BLM denies the petition, FoA will likely take the agency to court.

You can read the PEER study here: Agency Field Data Paints Bleak Picture of Western Lands (arcgis.com)