By Nicole Rivard
It looks like there’s trouble in paradise.
A little over a year ago, a reckless wild horse population control plan was put forward by HSUS, the ASPCA and the National Cattleman’s Association, as well as others in a coalition that betrayed wild horses. At the time, these groups considered themselves Bureau of Land Management (BLM) assets and heroes who were eliminating the threat of slaughter for thousands of wild, free-roaming horses by shrinking the size of herds primarily through expanded fertility controls.
Their first mistake was perpetuating the myth that there are too many wild horses on federal public lands. But I digress.
Now HSUS is crying foul and whining that in its recent report to Congress, the BLM falls short on fertility control. HSUS, which is the registrant of the fertility pesticide PZP, believes massive, widespread fertility control is what is truly needed to create a humane wild horse and burro program. Surprise, surprise!
Creating a zoo-like setting for wild horses on federal public lands is anything but humane.
Also not surprising is that in a recent blog HSUS neglects to point out what is really upsetting about BLM’s new report to Congress—its heavy focus on rounding up most of the wild horses on federal public lands in the years ahead, putting them at a bigger risk for slaughter than ever before—and gruesome sterilization surgeries.
And that Congress gave the worst government agency an extra $21 million of additional taxpayer dollars to do what it wants. (BLM was required to provide the report to Congress for a review prior to using any new funding. The increase to the BLM’s $81million yearly budget was part of a final omnibus FY 2020 spending package signed into law in December.)
HSUS and other so-called advocates have done enough harm to wild horses. They need to stay out of the way of wildlife. Wild animals never have and never will need a plan to control their behaviors; they need to be left alone. Perhaps HSUS should get to work on a plan to control humans, allowing wildlife to live their best lives. (Partnering with zoos, HSUS has tested PZP on antelope, deer, zebra, giraffes, bears and sea lions and funds research for using PZP on African elephants.)
Congress needs to get its head out of the sand and realize there is no scientific justification for seeking to limit the national wild horse population to an “appropriate management level” under 27,000. It is just an excuse for public lands to be used for doomed cattle and sheep and other disruptive industries.
BLM prioritizes livestock grazing on public lands over the protection of wild horses on public lands and that flies in the face of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. How ironic is it that BLM is trying to get the wild horse population to the number that Congress realized was so dangerously low it had to pass legislation to protect them?
In 2004, 79% of BLM land in the West was used for livestock grazing. In 2014, 97% of forage was allocated to livestock while only 3% was allocated to wild horses and burros. BLM annually administers approximately 18,000 permits and leases, which equals approximately 12 million Animal Unit Months (AUM). An AUM is the amount of forage needed for an animal grazing for one month.
BLM manages 245 million acres of public lands, and 155 million acres are allocated to livestock grazing. Wild horses are only allocated 26.9 million acres, which they share with livestock. Contrary to BLM’s statements, reducing AUM’s for livestock is not only consistent with BLM guidelines, it is required. The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 states that the range should be principally devoted to wild horses, and the Secretary is authorized to “designate and maintain specific ranges on public lands as sanctuaries for their protection and preservation.
Furthermore, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 does not preclude reducing forage to livestock. BLM is authorized to close public lands to grazing by all, or a particular livestock “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.”
When BLM quietly slipped its first report to Congress in the summer of 2018 outlining management options for a “sustainable wild horse and burro program” it showed its true colors—that it evolved from the United States Grazing Service, which as the name suggests, catered to cattle and sheep ranchers. That is why Friends of Animals is not surprised that the “report” called for massive removals, permanent sterilization, sale without limitation and slaughter.
It is shocking that any animal advocacy group thought it was a good idea to become a BLM asset.
Instead, we continue to present more rational options for Congress, including:
● Limiting or entirely restricting cattle and sheep from grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs).
● Limiting oil, gas and mining operations in HMAs
● Amending the Wild Horse and Burro Act to allow wild horses to be returned or relocated to Herd Areas in states where wild horses have been wiped out
● Protecting natural predators such as mountain lions and wolves
● Adjusting outdated appropriate management levels to accommodate more horses
Rest assured FoA’s Wildlife Law Program will continue to litigate and go to the wall for wild horses. We were recently buoyed by a victory that forces the Environmental Protection Agency to consider new research demonstrating the need to cancel the registration of PZP for use on wild horses and burros because of its negative effects.
There are some groups who can live without wild horses roaming the range, and some who cannot.
Friends of Animals cannot.
Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 24 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.