For Immediate Release
Aug. 18, 2014
Jenni Barnes, staff attorney, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program
Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director, Friends of Animals

BLM + Ranchers = Thieves

Advocates to protest the stealing of wild horses from public lands


WHAT: Friends of Animals will protest the Bureau of Land Management’s criminal roundups of wild horses on public lands that benefit ranchers.

WHEN: Protesters will gather at noon outside the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting on Aug. 25, which will be held in the Student Center Building at Central Wyoming College, located at 2660 Peck Ave., Riverton, Wyoming. A press conference will follow the rally prior to the meeting’s public comment period at 1 p.m.

Recent years have seen horses in the western U.S. ripped from their families and homes during horrific, often deadly roundups, which damage the overall fitness of the herds. Now the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is poised to eradicate the last large wild horse herds in Wyoming on behalf of ranchers. This comes at a time where there is mounting evidence that unless better protections are put into place, wild horses on public lands might go the way of the dodo bird—extinct.

“The tragedy of horse roundups exists because the BLM appears devoted to turning arid western public lands into feedlots for cows and sheep to appease cattle and sheep producers,” said Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director for Friends of Animals (FoA). “Friends of Animals finds this morally and ecologically reprehensible, as wild horses are driven off lands to leave the bulk of water, forage and space for two species of domestic animals exploited and slaughtered by ranchers.  We oppose the BLM’s of underhanded plot of privatizing wild horses and insist all roundups end.”

“The Wild Horses and Burro Advisory Board is a farce. Its members have a preconceived conclusion that wild horses are a bane to cattle growers/ranchers who think public lands exist entirely to accommodate their commercial interests,” added Priscilla Feral, president, Friends of Animals. “What the BLM and ranchers are doing to wild horses is criminal—and Friends of Animals will be bringing actual yellow ‘Crime Scene’ tape to our protest to symbolize the treachery and criminality being casually discussed by the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board on Aug. 25.”  

The BLM has agreed to delay the proposed roundups in Wyoming (they were supposed to begin Aug. 20) to allow the court to make a ruling in a lawsuit filed on Aug. 1 by wild horse advocates to block the BLM from rounding up more than 800 wild horses from the Adobe Town, Salt Wells and Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs) known as the Wyoming Checkerboard. The lawsuit alleges that the BLM violated multiple federal acts set up to protect wild horses by authorizing the permanent removal of hundreds of wild horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard. BLM made the authorization without conducting any environmental analysis, engaging the public during the decision-making process or making certain statutorily required determinations under the Wild Horse Act.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of The Cloud Foundation and Friends of Animals filing a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list North American wild horses on public lands as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since the Wild Horse and Burro Act (WHBA), which was passed in 1971, has failed to protect our wild horses. Six states have already lost their wild horse populations—Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“There are fewer than 41,000 on public lands, where they are supposed to be protected,” said Jenni Barnes, staff attorney, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “The petition states that these few remaining horses are divided into even smaller herds, whose populations are so low that they are susceptible to being wiped out completely by a chance event or change in the environment.”

Listing wild horses, which the BLM claims are non-native despite scientific evidence, as either threatened or endangered under the ESA would provide needed regulation to halt further exploitation of this species, particularly roundups removing the animals from their range.

BLM claims that wild horses need to be removed from public lands to protect rangeland health. However the vast majority of public lands is open to livestock grazing, which causes far more damage to the land. In Wyoming, for example, livestock far outnumber wild horses. There are 356,222 cattle; 45,206 sheep; and 1,912 wild horses, within the three HMAs targeted for roundup, according to the BLM’s own data.

Most people do not realize that instead of protecting these horses, BLM has stolen and rounded up—forcibly driven off the land and put in holding facilities—more than 200,000 horses since the WHBA was passed. And this is not just an issue of importance to American’s living out west.

“Everyone’s tax dollars contribute to the animal abuse caused by roundups,” Barnes said. “In the 2013 fiscal year, BLM spent $4.8 million on gathers and removals and spent $46.2 million on holding costs. A report by the National Academy of Science concluded ‘the continuation of business-as-usual practices will be expensive and unproductive for BLM.’”

From the holding facilities, the horses are not supposed to be sent to slaughter. However, there have been reports that indicate that is what happens when some of them are “adopted.” There is also mounting fear, FoA says, that the government will start to kill horses in holding facilities, yet another threat pushing wild horses toward extinction.

Photo Credit: Carol Walker