FoA returns from Wyoming protests; discovers abuse from wild horse roundups reaches CT 

By Nicole Rivard

When Friends of Animals learned back in July that the Bureau of Land Management’s scheduled wild horse roundup would eliminate almost all wild horses (800 to be exact) on the 1.2 million acre checkerboard land (alternating one mile square sections of private and public land for 20 miles on either side of Interstate 80) within three Herd Management Areas (HMA) in Wyoming, the organization sprang into action. It joined four other wild horse advocacy groups and organized a protest and press conference outside the Wild Horse and Burro Advisor Board meeting on Aug. 24 in Riverton, Wy. FoA staff members also spoke out during the public comment period about the plight of all wild horses, not just those in Wyoming. 

 FoA’s message was clear to the group that advises on national policy for wild horses—the BLM needs to lower the number of livestock on public lands, not wild horses—and stop being bullied by ranchers. They held banners and signs that read: BLM + Ranchers=Thieves, Stop Stealing Wild Horses from Public Lands; and Stop the BLM’s Criminal Reign of Terror, Protect Wild Horses Under Endangered Species Act.

 “We are here because we want to transform the attitudes the BLM and other government agencies have toward wild horses—from the current one of persecution to one of protection,” Birnkrant said during the press conference. She went on to explain that the best way to protect wild horses is having them listed under the Endangered Species Act. 

 Birnkrant interrupted the final minutes of the meeting after the advisory board failed to come up with any substantive recommendations to the BLM. She unraveled a roll of police crime scene tape on the table the advisory board was sitting at and reiterated that the BLM roundups are criminal to horses and that the advisory board should be ashamed of itself. 

Since FoA has returned to Connecticut it has learned that the abuse caused by these roundups is far reaching and has affected Fairfield County, Conn., where the organization’s headquarters are located. Lisa Lind-Larsen of Redding has been charged with two criminal counts of animal cruelty and faces two years in prison if convicted after the state Department of Agriculture seized her two horses, Chinook and Cheyenne, two wild horses she adopted from the BLM in 2005. They were found badly emaciated and fly-bitten and their stalls piled with manure eight inches deep. FoA will be in court to support the prosecution and to represent the horses who can’t represent themselves. FoA has also offered to sponsor Cheyenne and Chinook’s recovery as well as their placement in a sanctuary. 

Stay tuned.

Birnkrant’s entire statement from the press conference in Wyoming follows:

“In June we and The Cloud Foundation filed 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). The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WHBA), which was passed in 1971, has failed to protect our wild horses, as the BLM has become dangerously beholden to ranchers who think they are entitled to steal our public lands to breed and slaughter cattle and sheep and expect the government to screw over wild horses and taxpayers. 

It is time to end the BLM and ranchers’ criminal actions against wild horses on America’s public lands. And listing wild horses, which the BLM claims are non-native despite scientific evidence, under the ESA, would provide needed regulation to halt further exploitation of this species, and end the brutally cruel roundups that rip the horses from their families and rangelands they belong on. 

Tragically, six states have already completely lost their wild horse populations—Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Will Wyoming be next?

In 1900, there were two to seven million wild horses in the United States compared to around 41,000 that currently roam on public lands. It’s a crime that today there are more wild horses trapped in miserable holding facilities—approximately 47,417—than living free on the range. The BLM should be ashamed of itself. 

The advisory board members gathered in Riverton today should not be here discussing how many horses to roundup or sterilize, but instead should be focused on how to ensure there is a healthy and viable population of wild horses for future generations. The key to viability is having adequate horse numbers and enough habitat so that there could be some exchange between herds. 

The BLM needs to stop sticking its head in the sand—ignoring recent scientific evidence regarding the status of wild horses as reintroduced natives. While little information was known about the relationship of wild horses and prehistoric North American species at the time the WHBA was passed in 1971, today the record is clear that the modern horse originated right here in North America about two million years ago and evolved here before being killed off by early humans and environmental conditions. We owe it to these horses to save them from being wiped out again by the very agency charged with protecting them. 

From a scientific perspective, the largest threat to wild horses on U.S. lands is the management of herds to artificially keep individual herd numbers low. It is a matter of population genetics. Experts have warned that the “majority of wild equid populations managed by the BLM are kept at population sizes that are small enough for the loss of genetic variation to be a real concern.” 

Of the remaining Herd Management Areas throughout the West, 72% have what the BLM deems as Appropriate Management Levels of 150 horses—a deficient standard to begin with—and many of these are much less than 100, even numbering in the teens.  That means the majority of herds are not capable of having genetic variation to prevent extinction. Therefore the BLM is managing these horses to extinction. That’s currently the case in California, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. In Montana, 6 of the original 7 herds have been wiped out. 

The Equid Specialist Group of IUCN Species Survival Commission recommends minimum populations of 2,500 individuals in a connected area for the conservation of genetic diversity and currently there are no herds that have a large enough population to meet the recommendation. 

BLM’s assertions that wild horse populations on public lands are increasing by some 20% or more each year are not based on sound scientific methodology. The population has barely changed in size since Congress found that they were in need of protection in 1971.

In addition to the small herd sizes, since passage of the WHBA in 1971, wild horses have lost an additional 41% of their habitat. 

BLM is obligated, under WHBA, to protect wild free-roaming horses as an “integral part of the natural system of public lands.”  But BLM falsely claims that wild horses need to be removed from public lands to protect rangeland health. The reality is the vast majority of public lands are given over to cattle and sheep grazing, which causes far more damage to the land—actually animal farming is a leading cause of environmental destruction. For example in two counties in Utah—despite a chorus of demands from ranchers for the removal of wild horses from the over-grazed range—data shows cows and sheep outnumber wild horses an outrageous 10.6:1 in these areas. Right here in Wyoming, cattle and sheep also far outnumber wild horses. There are 356,222 cattle; 45,206 sheep; and only 1, 912 wild horses, within the Checkerboard HMA targeted for roundup. 

It’s time for the BLM to stop being bullied by ranchers, own up to its own data and demand voluntary reductions in livestock on public land, as well as give back to horses some of the 41 percent of their rightful habitat that has been stolen from them. 

This is not just a problem facing the West. Everyone’s tax dollars contribute to the animal abuse caused by roundups and the BLM’s criminal mismanagement of wild horses. In the 2013 fiscal year, BLM disgracefully spent $4.8 million on roundups and removals and spent $46.2 million on holding costs. We are asking people all over America to contact Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and tell her wild horses on public lands must be listed and protected under the ESA before it’s too late.  

In addition, we are adamant the advisory board gathered here today recommends that BLM immediately stop any actions to round up wild horses while the government reviews the information that Friends of Animals and the Cloud Foundation submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in its Endangered Species Act Petition. 

Our goal is to stop the BLM’s criminal reign of terror. FoA will be back in Wyoming in September to intervene if the BLM is allowed to go forth with the disgraceful roundup they have planned.”