At the time of writing this, five wild horses from the Cedar Mountain Herd Management Area in Utah have been killed as a result of a Bureau of Land Management roundup currently underway that is being sold as an effort to “save” these animals from drought.
While there are some areas in the West that are experiencing drought, the BLM is using drought as an excuse to remove hundreds of wild horses from the range as an “emergency,” thereby bypassing legal requirements for analysis and public comment. These roundups occur even though the agency’s own handbook classifies droughts as events, not emergencies, that “can be detected in advance and are managed through the normal planning process.”
The flimsiness of the agency’s “emergency” excuse for large wild horse removals was recently on full display in Nevada, where an emergency removal of horses due to lack of water in the Antelope HMA was only temporarily halted due to flooding from heavy rains.
Truth be told, there has always been an issue with water within the Cedar Mountain HMA. Historically, the BLM has mitigated the situation by hauling water to the horses in the summer, which keeps the horses wild — something that 80 percent of Americans want — and doesn’t burden the taxpayer nearly as much as rounding them up.
The five horses who have died so far from this operation are the casualties of the BLM’s failed approach. So too are the 250 other wild horses who will lose their freedom and join the 46,000 wild horses already in government warehouses across the country.
Instead of proactively managing these horses in the wild through fertility control and range stewardship (e.g. protecting and restoring water sources), the BLM has once again reverted to its unsustainable practice of roundup, remove and stockpile. This is the same “business as usual” approach to wild horse management that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded in 2013 was “expensive and unproductive for the BLM and the public it serves.”
We are faced with an Interior Department that is marching to the tune of the industry special interests — in this case, the livestock lobby that views wild horses as competition to cheap taxpayer subsidized grazing on our public lands. As D.C. issues directives for more roundups and trapping operations — including a roundup of Utah’s incredible Sulphur wild horses beginning Aug. 1 – it’s taxpayers and our wild horses who are paying the price.
When it’s over, nearly 10,000 wild horses will have lost their freedom this year alone. There’s a more sustainable path — the NAS confirmed that — but the lack of leadership and will to reform goes straight to the top.
Suzanne Roy is executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.