(WASHINGTON, D.C.) One June 22, the House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on challenges and potential solutions for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) management of wild horses and burros on federal land.
Unfortunately for the wild horses and burros the people invited to give testimony and ask for Congressional intervention were mouthpieces for the Department of Agriculture and the American Farm Bureau—in other words representatives of the livestock industry who want a landscape void of wild horses and burros and instead filled with doomed cattle and sheep.
The transfer of off-range wild horses from the BLM to state and local agencies to be used as work animals, unrestricted sales of young healthy wild horses, killing of older horses, increased BLM budgets for immediate massive on-range roundups, as well as the quick implementation of permanent sterilization methods, were all part of this horrific, one-sided misguided conversation between the witnesses and the members of congress.
That’s why Edita Birnkrant, Friends of Animals’ Campaigns director, disrupted the hearing for two minutes at the midway point, yelling: “The solution is getting welfare ranchers off of our public lands, which have been turned into feedlots. This meeting is a disgrace; you are demonizing wild horses. Give our public lands back to wildlife.”
Members of Congress then continued to speak, showing no love loss for wild horses or for what they consider BLM’s mismanagement of wild horses.
“Basically what we are doing is crowding out the grazing of livestock for human consumption and economic prosperity to create more and more land for wild horses. Does this make sense to you?” Rep. Tom McClintock, asked the witnesses. “So we are supposed to continue to harvest the surplus of cattle but not of wild horses?
“The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 requires the BLM to remove excess wild horses to prevent an overpopulation. So since Congress passed the law, we’ve seen the numbers wildly exceed what the appropriate management level will tolerate. That means your entity (the BLM) is in violation of the law, right? If you aren’t meeting the goals, maybe somebody else should have the responsibility,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California.
“There was a bill some years back that was advocating permanent sterilization and temporary sterilization so that the horses could enjoy the process of multiplying when they had done appropriate family planning. What is the holdup in defending ourselves against massive runaway costs from the overpopulation of wild horses and burros? Why can’t we have an effort once and for all to utilize sterilization,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. “It sounds like there are all these (sterilization) studies being done, but the veterinarian on the panel is pointing out we don’t have time for a lot more studies. I would recommend a bill that would end the studies and start the implementation of what we know needs to be done.”
The leaders of the lynch mob, the invited witnesses who perpetuated the myth that wild horses are overpopulated despite cattle and sheep far outnumbering wild horses on public lands were: Dr. JJ Goicoechea, state veterinarian and deputy administrator for the State of Nevada Dept. of Agriculture; Callie Hendrickson, chairwoman of the American Farm Bureau Federation Federal Lands Issue Advisory Committee; and Keith Norris, director of the government affairs for the Wildlife Society. They were joined by Steve Ellis, deputy director of operations for the BLM, and Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Cloud Foundation, the latter who were often bullied by everyone in the room.
Perhaps the most ominous suggestion came from Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, when he alluded to longstanding Congressional appropriations language that limits BLM’s ability to sell healthy horses and kill older horses.
“Mr. Norris, are you aware that Congress has contributed to the mismanagement of wild horse and burro populations by explicitly prohibiting public land management agencies through an unnecessary appropriations rider from complying with the law and managing wild horses and burros in the most cost effective and humane manner possible,” Gosar asked. He then asked Norris if the rider should be removed to help BLM and other agencies manage wild horses.
“I think the removal of the rider is certainly an option that Congress should consider,” replied Norris. “It would allow BLM to address the off range population. It would relieve them of their obligation to care for that off range population, which would allow them to manage the on range population more appropriately.