Friends of Animals’ invitation to the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing to examine BLM’s wild horse and burro program Tuesday in Washington, D.C. must have gotten lost in the mail.
It’s unfortunate because that left the hearing rigged against wild horses, who, along with other wildlife, call federal public lands home—a home that FoA works tirelessly to safeguard because that’s what’s right.
The reality is, wild horse opponents view wild horses and all wildlife as competition for the meat industry, and that’s why they are hell-bent on annihilating them so the only thing left on public lands are doomed cattle and sheep. Wild horses have lost more than 20 million acres of habitat since the passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
The hearing became a platform for members of a coalition that betrayed wild horses back in April when it released with its “Path Forward” proposal, which promoted a robust rangeland fertility control program and massive, targeted roundups of horses and burros.
If FoA was there, the Committee would have heard the following, humane, rational options for Congress to consider:
● Restrict entirely cattle and sheep from grazing on public lands that are wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs). ● Restrict oil, gas and mining operations in HMAs ● Amend the Wild Horse and Burro Act to allow wild horses to be returned or relocated to Herd Areas on public lands in states where wild horses have been wiped out ● Protect natural predators from predator control programs such as mountain lions ● Adjust outdated appropriate management levels to accommodate more horses on public lands
While the coalition, including ASPCA, HSUS and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, is supposedly against slaughtering as a management tool, FoA believes it’s a matter of time before that changes as members expressed how individually they support selling and euthanizing excess wilds horse who are unadoptable, and how it was unfortunate that restrictions enacted in annual appropriations laws actually prohibit the sale of wild horses for commercial processing.
We were alarmed by much of what we heard, but here is a roundup of the worst offenses with some analysis. We hope after reading this you will support our ongoing litigation, one of the best ways to truly protect America’s wild horses and ensure they remain wild and free on federal public lands.
Sen. Mike Lee, Subcommittee Chairman said:
“The phrase eats like a horse isn’t just a metaphor anymore. Public lands that exceed appropriate management level generally have less vegetative cover from overgrazing and are more susceptible to invasive plants like cheatgrass. Consistent overgrazing and hoof compaction also expose the soil to the elements, causing the land to become increasingly barren. This is a process referred to as desertification.
“We’ve long passed any semblance of multiple use management on the rangeland as horse populations have grown out of control. The resources for livestock along with the wildlife that attract sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts in the west have become depleted.”
Reality check: Lee is suggesting hunters who want to kill wildlife are now blaming wild horses because they don’t have enough elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope or sage grouse to slaughter. Last time we checked the government had authorized thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on federal public lands. And the BLM administers nearly 18,000 permits and leases held by ranchers who graze their livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, at least part of the year on more than 21,000 allotments on public lands. The result is that upwards of two million cattle graze on public lands. These are the real causes of range degradation.
Steve Tryon, deputy assistant director for resources and planning for the BLM said:
“With almost 50,000 horses and burros already held off-range in corrals and pastures, this means that without new opportunities for placing these animals with responsible owners, the BLM will spend more than $1 billion to care for and feed these animals over the remainder of their lives.”
Reality check: U.S. taxpayers have lost more than $1 billion over the past decade because of livestock grazing on public lands according to a 2015 study. Welfare ranchers, who treat wild horses and all wildlife as pests, pay dirt-cheap grazing fees, half of which end up benefitting them, plus they receive federal disaster subsidies and benefit from government predator control programs
J.J. Goicoechea, chairman, Eureka County (Nevada) Board of Commissioners said:
“Forget the knee-jerk reaction that we will remove all livestock and limit other multiple uses in order to hold more horses on the range. That is not a viable solution in the least. We already have horses dying; we are already degrading our rangelands and natural resources because of too many horses. If we are to remove other multiple uses to make room for more horses, keep in mind this will include impacts to wildlife, sensitive plant species, and rural economies, not just domestic livestock. Within just a few years, tens of millions of acres of rangelands will be negatively impacted, hundreds if not thousands more dead horses will litter the landscape. Is this the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?”
Reality Check: He is a fourth-generation cattle producer. He will never admit that animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for at least 14.5 percent of human-induced global greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — accounting for 20 percent of the country’s methane emissions.
In addition to the astounding levels of emissions that come from the feeding, digestion and transportation involved in raising livestock, the staggering amount of land used for feed crops and grazing multiplies the carbon hoofprint of meat consumption.
In addition research shows that more than 175 threatened or endangered species are imperiled by livestock on federal lands. Livestock grazing — not including the large portion of agriculture devoted to cattle production or other forms of meat production — is among the greatest direct threats to imperiled species, affecting 14 percent of threatened or endangered animals and 33 percent of threatened or endangered plants.
In 2017, the U.S. Dept of Agricultures killing machine, wildlife services, destroyed more than 1.3 million animals, including wolves, coyotes and bobcats, all of whom would be natural predators of wild horses, to “protect” livestock.
Apparently this is the legacy he wants to leave to his grandchildren.
Ethan Lane, chairman National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition said:
“Assuming 18% growth in the herd each year, and baring massive die-offs, the following populations are likely:
Year 2020= 112,000 animals on-range
Year 2024=198,000 animals on-range”
Reality check: The most recent National Academy of Science report on the Wild Horse and Burro Program determined that BLM has no evidence of excess wild horses and burros, primarily because BLM has failed to use scientifically sound methods to estimate the populations NAS cited two chief criticisms of the Wild Horse and Burro Program: unsubstantiated population estimates in herd management areas and management decisions that are not based in science. The BLM routinely uses the assumption that wild horse and burro herds increase annually at an average rate of 20%. However, the NAS review of available scientific literature combined with an analysis of BLM data for 5,859 wild horses found that approximately 50% of the foals survived to the age of 1, which indicates a 10 percent population growth rate based on yearling survival rates.
Nancy Perry, senior vice president, government relations ASPCA said:
“The only way to provide a safe future for wild horses and burros on the range is to implement an effective fertility control program.”
Reality check: FoA has a different vision of a safe future for wild horses. PZP is not safe. A lot of the research touting PZP has been conducted by those with a vested interest in it, such as HSUS, which holds the EPA registration for the fertility pesticide. When the HSUS applied to EPA to register PZP, the organization was so excited that PZP was effective at preventing pregnancy in mares that it failed to evaluate whether the forced drugging of horses could negatively impact individual animals or the herd. Indeed, the majority of research submitted by HSUS was published by the late Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, a veterinarian who manufactured PZP, and who never studied the biological, social and behavioral effects the drug can have on wild horses. According to newer independent findings, it is now known that PZP poses the risk of immediate physical damage to the dosed mares, can increase the mortality rate in foals born to treated mares after the PZP loses its effectiveness, can result in social disruptions among herds with treated mares that can damage long-term herd cohesion that is critical to the health of the animals, and places the wild horses at risk of a genetic bottleneck.
Dr. Eric Thacker, Utah State University, said:
“We are in a triage situation if we do nothing we could have almost 500,000 horses by 2030. The complexity of the wild horse problem suggests that the best path forward will be a combination of increased gathers to remove excess horses coupled with population control strategies (contraception and sterilization) and increased adoptions to maintain populations at adequate levels.”
Reality check: The Bureau of Land Management is obligated to protect wild horses under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and has absolutely no authority whatsoever to experiment on wild horses with new and risky surgeries. In fact, Congress has expressly prohibited the use of funds for activities that would kill wild horses as sterilization experiments may do. In its own 2016 Environmental Assessment of a sterilization program planned in Oregon, BLM admitted the three methods of sterilization—oviarectomy via colpotomy; tubal litigation and laser ablation—would likely cause death or necessary euthanasia and that the sterilization procedures would not stop unless the major complication rate for any gestational stage group exceeded 20 percent. In no uncertain terms, that meant that the BLM could destroy, or kill, up to 45 wild horses before stopping the experiments.