The Bureau of Land Management’s recent report to Congress outlining management options for a “sustainable wild horse and burro program” shows its true colors — that it evolved from the United States Grazing Service, which, as the name suggests, catered to cattle and sheep ranchers.
Asking an agency wedded to the meat industry how to manage wild horses on public lands is like asking Harvey Weinstein to come up with a plan to address the atrocities against women brought to light by the MeToo movement.
That’s why Friends of Animals is not surprised this “report” calls for massive removals, permanent sterilization, sale without limitation and slaughter. It even mentions that at the National Wild Horse and Burro Summit in August, there was overwhelming support for commercial use of wild horses for pet food and to feed zoo animals.
But what’s missing in the 24 pages is the truth — that commercializing Western public lands is the real problem, not the wild horse population. Upwards of 2 million cattle graze public lands, and the government has authorized thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on these areas as well. These activities are the real cause of range degradation, and have substantially fragmented and reduced habitat left for wild horses.
The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 does not establish mechanisms to ensure adequate habitat for wild horses — since its passage, wild horses have lost 41 percent of their habitat, more than 20 million acres. Of the 245 million acres of public land managed by the BLM, 155 million is open to livestock grazing. By contrast, wild horses are restricted to just 26.9 million acres, which they must share with livestock.
The report, which laments the cost of the wild horse and burro program, also fails to mention that U.S. taxpayers had lost more than $1 billion over the past decade because of livestock grazing on public lands, according to a 2015 study. In 2014 alone, taxpayers lost $125 million in grazing subsidies on federal land.
Six states have already lost their wild horse populations: Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Montana has a paltry 166 left.
BLM, which ignores the fact that wild horses do have natural predators and do succumb to old age and environmental stressors, will not be happy until wild horses are extinct.
So if America wants to save the horses and other wildlife on our public lands, we need an honest discussion in Congress about reforming laws that allow for unbridled development at the expense of wildlife.
Congress should also consider amending the WHBA to allow wild horses to be returned or relocated to Herd Areas in states where wild horses have been wiped out. Another amendment should restrict cattle and sheep from grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas.
Just as we don’t want our parks, schools and housing in the middle of industrial sites, we need to separate commercial activities from wildlife habitats on public lands before it’s too late.
Priscilla Feral, Darien, Conn., is president of Friends of Animals.