MUSTANGS AND BURROS REMAIN AT RISK
Congress has declared: wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.“
But, like the bison, mustangs and burros are deemed misfits on their own land; they are fighting a losing battle against cattle ranchers and oil barons, and yes the very agencies designated to protect them, the US Forest Service and primarily, the BLM.
Once numbering more than 2 million, the wild horse and burro population had been decimated by the time they received federal protection in 1971, with only 17.000 remaining. (Currently, the BLM maintains that the mustang and burro population exceeds 26,000, but these numbers are disputed by both activists and scientists)
More than 1 million had been conscripted for World War I combat; the rest had been hunted for their flesh, for the chicken feed and dog food companies, and for the sport of it. They were chased by helicopters and sprayed with buckshot; they were run down with motorized vehicles and, deathly exhausted, weighted with tires so they could be easily picked up by rendering trucks. They were run off cliffs, gunned down at full gallop, shot in corralled bloodbaths, and buried in mass graves.
Were it not for the efforts of Velma B. Johnston, aka “Wild Horse Annie” and her letter-writing legions of school children, these herds might well already be lost. Her grassroots campaign against wild horse abuse and slaughter led to the passage of Wild Horse Annie Act – Nevada Public Law 86-234 in 1959. This legislation becane the model for THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195).
In the nearly four decades that follow, the BLM has done little to protect and preserve free-roaming herds, but instead has focused policy almost exclusively on “managing” popluation and removing “excess” wild horses and burros from the range. When the 1971 Act was passed, wild horses and burros were assigned 303 herd areas representing some 47 million acres of public land. Over the years, agency regulations have stripped the horses of their range; they are now managed in 201 Herd Management Areas (HMAs) on less than 35 million acres. Horses and burros are placed in the BLM Adoption Program and more than 35.000 languish in one of several BLM holding facilities. This warehousing of wild horses costs taxpayers more than $29 million per year. Most recently, “Trump’s budget proposes an 11 percent cut to the BLM’s $1.1 billion budget and a reduction of 29 jobs from the Wild Horse and Burro management program. The full House Committee on Appropriations will vote on the 2018 Interior Appropriations bill on Tuesday. This bill reduces money for wild horses and burro birth control, and would allow the BLM to sell captured wild horses and burros to slaughterhouses that kill them for meat.”
The impetus for this policy is of course private demand for the use of public lands. Cattle grazing represents the largest threat, as ranchers are eager to profit from public subsidies for beef production. “The Federal grazing fee for 2017 will be $1.87 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.87 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the Forest Service.” That rate remains unchanged. In addition to the ecological damage by over-grazing, the federal livestock grazing program runs at a loss of a minimum of $128 million each year. The full cost is likely to lie in the range of one half to one billion dollars each year. In addition to cattle interests, the BLM also allows oil, gas and minng interests to avail themselves of public lands.
The current BLM policy is a costly failure — costly for the environment, for taxpayers and most of all, costly to the wild horses and burros it is supposed to protect. Only public outrage – akin to that generated by Wild Horse Annie and those impassioned school children – will force federal agencies to actually enforce – rather than thwart – the legal mandate of protection.
They’ll Shoot Horses, Won’t They?, NY Times
“Lawmakers in Congress must decide: Are they — and more important, their constituents — comfortable with the killing of animals that for nearly 50 years have been under congressional protection?
For years, the answer has been no, as legislators from both parties have sided with the 80 percent of Americans who, polls show, oppose horse slaughter. But they are being lobbied heavily by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and a small but vocal group of ranchers who graze their livestock on public lands, who say the current practice of annual roundups of wild horses isn’t working…
The bureau spends $80 million a year to drive wild horses by the thousands each year off the public lands they call home. Under its Wild Horse and Burro Program, these animals are herded by helicopters for hundreds of miles over rugged terrain into pens. The cruel roundups cause injury, suffering and death.
The bureau argues that wild horses are damaging Western grazing lands — a questionable claim, and one that ignores the millions of head of private livestock that it allows to graze on those same public lands. Even though, compared with wild horses, livestock graze on eight times as much federally managed land and consume 55 times the amount of food, a blinkered bureau sees the wild horses as the problem — despite explicit orders from Congress to protect them.
The result has been a self-defeating feedback loop that wastes taxpayer dollars and endangers the welfare of thousands of animals. As the National Academy of Sciences explained in a 2013 report funded by the bureau, a policy that focuses solely on moving wild horses to corralled land is “likely to keep the population at a size that maximizes population growth rates, which in turn maximizes the number of animals that must be removed to holding facilities.”