Priscilla Feral: Utah shamelessly supports BLM’s wild horse extinction plan

Bureau of Land Management ignores federal law in order to support more cattle on public land.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Two wild horses from the Onaqui wild horse herd spar and fight, in Utah’s Onaqui Mountains near Dugway, on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. That makes the state of Utah’s brazen anti-wild horse position even more disgraceful.

The state recently filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit Friends of Animals filed against the Bureau of Land Management challenging four of the agency’s 10-year management plans that authorize fertility control and ongoing, multiple roundups of wild horses from six herd management areas, including Utah’s Muddy Creek and Onaqui Mountain HMAs.

Why? Because the state wants to protect the cattle ranching industry at all costs, including sacrificing the lives of wild horses. The state’s brief reads like one written by a cattle rancher’s association—it shamelessly indicates that Utah’s interest in this case is the economic effect on the state’s livestock interest and protecting state revenue derived from cattle ranching operations in and adjacent to the Muddy Creek and Onaqui Mountain HMAs.

BLM’s 10-year management plans give the agency unfettered discretion to round up wild horses for a decade into the future while eliminating public input and oversight. The truth is BLM desires to take this type of long-range, but short-sighted, approach to managing wild horses to avoid further scrutiny of its overall plan to virtually zero out wild horse populations on public lands.

Apparently, Utah has no qualms about BLM’s wild horse extinction plan.

Utah’s motion completely ignores the interests of its residents who care about wild horses. It ignores the benefit of having a transparent National Environmental Protection Act process and the right of Utahns to have their comments considered by the agency.

Utahns should be livid over such a tone-deaf response to the public uproar that ensued over the summer when BLM ripped 435 wild horses from the Onaqui HMA after forcibly drugging them with fertility control for years.

Decisions about wild horses should consider public opinion and the latest scientific information, not just the crony politics of the BLM. The agency has a long history of mismanaging wild horses and catering to destructive industries that see wild horses as a roadblock to money-making ventures on public lands. For decades, the BLM has ignored science to justify its wild horse eradication efforts. As the Governmental Accountability Office declared back in 1990, “Despite congressional direction, BLM’s decisions on how many wild horses to remove from federal rangelands have not been based on direct evidence that existing wild populations exceed what the range can support.”

In 2013, the National Academy of Science stated, “How Appropriate Management Levels [for wild horse herds] are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with added information and environmental and social change.”

Wild horses are not overpopulated. The real issue is the BLM thinks it is above the law meant to protect them. So, for decades it has prioritized commercializing federal public lands over wild horses, thus obliterating the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

The meat industry, as well as oil, gas, and mineral extraction projects, are fragmenting habitat for wild horses and other wildlife, damaging the environment and contributing to climate change.

Since the passage of the Act a half-century ago, wild horses have lost 41 percent of their habitat — more than 20 million acres. Utah only has a paltry 3,672 wild horses left on 2,154,458 acres.

Six states have already lost their wild horse populations entirely: Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Don’t let Utah be next. Utahns should contact their state legislators and the governor and demand that the state withdraw its reprehensible motion.

Priscilla Feral | Friends of Animals

Priscilla Feral is president of Friends of Animals.