Wild horse advocates say Utah ranchers are using mustangs as scapegoats for forage shortages in a drought-hit range – and they say they have the numbers to prove it.
The Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation have released livestock data for public grazing land in Beaver County and Iron County, showing that livestock outnumber wild horses by 10.6 to 1 in these areas.
Ranchers began demanding the removal of the wild horses shortly after the bureau asked them to reduce their own livestock grazing, according to the horse groups. Ongoing drought has forced the move.
Ranchers in the counties want 697 out of 777 wild horses removed from the public rangeland called the Bible Springs Complex and have been lobbying the bureau to conduct roundups.
Ranchers have close to two million acres of grazing allotments in Iron and Beaver counties that overlap eight herd management areas where wild horses have federal protection.
The four herd management areas within the Bible Springs Complex make up just a fraction of the half-million-plus acres where wild horses and livestock graze together under multiple-use land policies.
“When the BLM refers to wild horses as ‘overpopulated’ they must have their tongues firmly in their cheeks,” Cloud Foundation director Ginger Kathrens said.
“The only reason they characterize wild horses as overpopulated is because they allocate the lions’ share of forage to livestock.”
Wild Horse Freedom Federation president R.T. Fitch said: “The BLM is correct on one point. Public lands are overgrazed; but the villains are not wild horses, burros and wildlife.
“The destruction comes from privately owned, BLM-approved, taxpayer subsidized, welfare cattle and sheep.”
The groups also provided comment from Bob Edwards, a range scientist and a 30-year veteran of the BLM.
He said: “It is irresponsible and false for Iron County commissioners or anyone to claim that the wild horses in that area are having a significant negative impact on livestock and wildlife as some local news releases have indicated.
“Having been well acquainted with these areas for over 25 years as a BLM employee, it is obvious that resource degradation has been and presently is mostly caused by livestock which have been historically allowed on these areas in excess numbers and duration.
“The situation of lacking forage started years ago with continual overuse of forage resources by livestock.
“The practice still occurs. To now use the wild horses as a scapegoat because livestock numbers must be reduced is totally unfair and unacceptable,” Edwards said.
“The rationale for this is not and cannot be based on scientific data. The BLM and Iron County commissioners must step up and deal with the real problem on the landscape: allowing livestock to graze public lands.”