Groups lay out arguments for wild horse moratorium

November 20, 2009

Concerns over strategies for managing wild horses in the United States have been spelt out in a letter to US politicians from concerned groups and citizens.

More than 100 groups and individuals have signed a letter to President Barack Obama, Congress and the Department of Interior, calling for an immediate moratorium on wild horse and burro roundups.

The groups argue that current management strategies employed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are flawed and argue the so-called Salazar plan for future management of herds has serious shortcomings.

The groups, which include the Equine Welfare Alliance and the Cloud Foundation, which campaigned hard for the preservation of the Pryor Mountain horses, argued that major changes were needed in the management plan.

"While we agree that the programme is in dire need of reform, and we applaud your Administration's commitment to avoid BLM's suggested mass-killing of horses, the plan outlined in October by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar raises numerous concerns," the signatories said.

The groups argue that the Salazar plan perpetuates the "flawed assumption" that wild horses and burros are overpopulating their Western ranges.

"In reality, the BLM has no accurate current inventory of the 37,000 wild horses and burros it claims remain on public lands. Independent analysis of BLM's own numbers reveal there may be only 15,000 wild horses remaining on public lands."

They argued against the continuing "mass removal of wild horses and burros from their rightful Western ranges".

"The BLM intends to spend over $US30 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to capture more than 12,000 wild horses and burros. This stockpiling of horses continues even as an astounding 32,000 are already being held in government holding facilities at enormous taxpayer expense."

The groups argued that wild horses and burros were the scapegoats for range deterioration, even though they comprise only a small fraction of animals and wildlife grazing our public lands.

"Far greater damage is caused by privately owned livestock, which outnumber the horses more than 100 to 1."

The signatories argued that moving wild horses and burros east off their western homelands to new herd areas in the east and Midwest at an initial cost of $US96 million could create significant health concerns if animals adapted to western landscapes are managed on wet ground and rich grasses.

"Removing tens of thousands of horses and burros from their legally designated Western ranges and moving them into government-run facilities subverts the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horse and Burro Act, which mandated that horses be preserved 'where presently found'.

"A 2009 DC district court case held that 'Congress did not authorize BLM to 'manage' the wild horses and burros by corralling them for private maintenance or long-term care as non-wild free-roaming animals off the public lands'."

The signatories said they appreciated the Obama Administration's recognition of the horses' value as an ecotourism resource.

"However, the display of captive, non-reproducing herds in eastern pastures renders them little more than zoo exhibits, further discounting the contribution to our history and the future of the American West.

"We believe that workable solutions to create a healthy 'multiple use' of public rangelands, protect the ecological balance of all wildlife, and preserve America's wild horses and burros in their rightful, legally protected home can be achieved.

"We are calling on the Obama Administration to reform the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Management Programme."

They called for a moratorium on all roundups pending an accurate and independent assessment of population numbers and range conditions, and the development of a final, long-term solution.

They called on the government to restore protections included in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, update existing laws that protect wild horses by reopening certain public lands to the mustangs and burros, and return healthy wild horses and burros in holding facilities to all available acres of public land designated primarily for their use in 1971.

"If these lands are not available, equivalent and appropriate western public lands should be added in their place."

The government, they argued, should support federal grazing permit buybacks and set appropriate management levels for herds areas to allow for self-sustaining, genetically-viable populations to exist in the west.

It also called for Congressional hearings over the "mismanagement" of wild herds and sought an investigation into the "inability of BLM to correct the shortcomings of the programme as audited by the Government Accountability Office's 1990, 1991 and 2008 reports".