On Sept. 9, the day that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) halted its plan to surgically sterilize wild horses in Oregon because of litigation from Friends of Animals (FoA) and other groups—a noteworthy victory for wild horses that likely made cattle and sheep ranchers cringe—the agency’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board backed a position to euthanize thousands of wild horses who have been rounded up and imprisoned in holding facilities.
Before the BLM came forward to reject the board’s proposal, hysteria ensued. And Friends of Animals believes that’s just what the Advisory Board wanted…to distract the public and advocacy groups from our victory and from staying focused on other meaningful actions that can protect wild horses, the kind of perseverance of Velma Bronn Johnston, a.k.a., Wild Horse Annie, who led the campaign to stop the eradication of wild horses and burros from public lands and was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 (WHBA).
The Advisory Board is a mouthpiece for the cattle and sheep ranching industry (ranchers have always sat on the board), which has been at war with America’s wild horses since they put their doomed cattle and sheep on public lands. The industry’s vendetta has reached an all-time high as other special interests compete for space on America’s public lands such as mining companies, hunting businesses and oil and gas companies.
FoA has attended numerous Advisory Board meetings, which pretend to be a conduit between the public and the BLM, but we have yet to see any of the public’s or wild horse advocates’ advice incorporated into its recommendations to the BLM.
What we hope members of the public will learn from this latest farce of a meeting is not to waste their time on presenting comments to the BLM Advisory Board, but to instead focus on urging their representatives in Congress to make sure that next year’s appropriations bill continues to contain language preventing BLM from spending federal monies to slaughter wild horses.
Americans can also urge Congress to amend the WHBA to make it possible to relocate wild horses to Herd Areas that existed in 1971. Six states have completely lost their wild horses populations because of the BLM’s mismanagement, and it’s time to give back to wild horses the habitat that was stolen from them. Since the passage of the WHBA, wild horses have lost 22.2 million acres, more than 40 percent of their 1971 habitat.
In the meantime, the Advisory Board should be dismantled as it has proven it is not suited to protect wild horses. If it was, it would not be scapegoating wild horses for destroying public lands. It would instead be recommending that the BLM provide larger herd management areas (HMAS)/wildlife reserves where cattle and sheep are excluded and where predators are allowed. A survey of 50 wild horse HMAs on America’s public lands shows that approximately 82.5% of forage was reserved for livestock grazing, while just 17.5% of the forage was allocated to the wild horses themselves.
During a recent trip to Oregon, a Friends of Animals’ correspondent drove 1,249 miles through seven HMAS and saw a measly 40 wild horses, but observed hundreds and hundreds of cattle. In contrast, 800 wild horses who had been ripped from the range and their families were crammed into 41 dirt paddocks at Oregon’s Wild Horse Corral Facility, where a sign read “See the real thing” to visitors who could take an auto tour of the grounds. That the BLM considers wild horses in holding pens “the real thing” is a disgrace and an insult to the American public.
The Advisory Board has been sticking its head in the sand, and we encourage the public not to follow suit.