Livestock numbers a key issue too: Cloud Foundation

Cattle being driven on range land in Wyoming.
Cattle being driven on range land in Wyoming. © BLM

The Cloud Foundation says the comprehensive National Academy of Science (NAS) review of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro program has ignored a crucial element – the impact of millions of head of cattle and sheep grazing the western rangelands.

The foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting and preserving wild horses and burros, generally welcomed the report, but noted its failure to address the issue of grazing public land.

The report, which took two years to complete, declared that the long-term removal of wild horses from their western rangelands and maintaining them in long-term holding facilities was both economically unsustainable and incongruent with public expectations. It advocated much greater use of long-term contraceptive measures to control wild horse numbers.

The foundation said the number of livestock animals allowed to graze on western public lands resulted in an unfair distribution of forage for them.

It said an average of 82 percent of forage was allocated to livestock while burros and horses received only 18 per cent.

The foundation contends that this disparity is driving the bureau’s massive removal and subsequent warehousing of wild horses and burros at taxpayer expense.

It said public land permittees paid so little for the privilege of grazing their cattle and sheep that American taxpayers subsidized the program by $US121 million a year, giving rise to the term welfare ranching.

“We applaud many recommendations and findings by the National Academy of Science but find it hard to believe that the major driver of wild horse and burro removals was not included in this otherwise thorough review,” executive director, Ginger Kathrens said.

“The number one reason wild horses and burros are being warehoused at taxpayer expense is the influence welfare ranchers have on BLM management decisions.”

Foundation board member Lisa Friday added: “Clearly, the BLM did not want the NAS to scrutinize public lands grazing and how it impacts range conditions and wild horses removals.

“While we value our adopted mustangs here at Legacy Mustang Preservation in Virginia, we realize that 50,000 more are held captive at taxpayer expense even though solutions to this money-draining situation are available.”

The foundation said the review, which took two years to complete, underscored many long-standing complaints of wild horse and burro advocates, including their conclusion that incessant roundups and removals of wild horses have led to an increased reproduction rate on the range.

The foundation has long recommended that the horses in short-term feedlots be released back to some of the more than 20 million acres where they once legally roamed. It appeared the bureau did not request an analysis of livestock grazing or solutions to reduce the number of horses in holding pens and pastures.

“This is unfortunate, but the report made a number of recommendations which, if implemented, can improve the management of our wild horses and burros,” Kathrens says. “Let’s hope BLM doesn’t put the report on a bookcase somewhere to gather dust.”

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) welcomed the NAS review, saying it clearly indicated the need for a major overhaul in the bureau’s wild horse and burro management program.

The institute said many of the report’s recommendations mirrored reforms long called for by AWI.

It noted that the report faulted the bureau for its lack of transparency, and dismissed the unscientific and haphazard ways in which the agency estimates populations of wild horses and determines carrying capacity on the range.

The institute said the report lent credence to accusations by the AWI and others that the bureau has been ignoring science and grossly mismanaging the wild equines, and that it pursued policies that favored corporate livestock grazing interests over the interests of the wild horses and burros. That, it said, was in direct contradiction to the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

The institute backed the report’s recommendation that long-term contraceptives be used as a principal tool to humanely reduce wild horse and burro numbers where and when necessary.

“The NAS report should be a wake-up call to the BLM, as it clearly and comprehensively identified substantive flaws in the agency’s management of wild horses and burros,” the institute’s wildlife biologist, D.J. Schubert, said.

“The BLM must fix these deficiencies in its management program to benefit wild horses and burros and the public by maximizing the management of wild horses and burros on the range, reducing if not eliminating roundups, and improving the transparency and accountability of its management efforts.”


4 thoughts on “Livestock numbers a key issue too: Cloud Foundation

  • June 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Has the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) so badly managed the public range land and its resources that only about twenty thousand Wild Horses and Burros can be supported on more than thirty-million public acres of congressionally protected Herd Management Area land? Since when does it take over a thousand acres for one horse per year? It does not! There are no “excess” Wild Horses and Burros on their legally designated land.

    In 1971, Congress unanimously passed the Wild Horse and Burro Act which provided protection for Wild Horses and Burros who were living on 53.8 million acres of public land, of which 42.4 million acres were under the BLM’s jurisdiction. Today the BLM manages Wild Horses and Burros on public lands that comprise 31.6 million acres, of which 26.9 million acres are under BLM management. The federal agencies (BLM and USFS) do not own the land and the resources and the Wild Horses and Burros and other wildlife. This all belongs to the American people and the federal agencies continue to pilfer and exploit what belongs to you and me.

  • June 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    To their credit, the NAS critique of BLM totally discredits the BLM’s unscientific management methodology, particularly re: gauging population levels. Unfortunately, they prescribe a primarily pharmaceutical remedy for a problem that hasn’t been established yet, i.e. ‘over-population’. How can you assert that there is overpopulation of wild horses and/or burros when you:

    1.Don’t know what the population of horses or burros currently is, in a given HMA
    2. Have no data-driven basis for gauging how many horses or burros a particular HMA can support. In practice BLM treats all habitats as being pretty much the same, and as if it was resource poor by requiring 1000+ acres/ horse or burro.
    The NAS report also buys into BLM’s myth that wild horse & burro populations are increasing at a fairly constant rate of 15-20%/ year regardless of some radical differences in range quality between one HMA and another….
    as well as radical differences in the structure, health and genetic viability of one herd vs. the next.
    3 They also fail to address the impacts of cattle and sheep upon rangelands, and upon wild horse reproductive success and recruitment rates

    What I most appreciate about the NAS report is that they confirm key criticisms made by advocates, and ignored by the BLM, for a very long time including:

    1. that the BLM’s population numbers are speculative at best, and fictitious at worst !
    2. that the roundups are a counter-productive and inhumane solution to a problem (overpopulation) which may or may not exist in a given locale, at a given time.
    3. that the frequent and aggressive regime of helicopter roundups actually stimulates increased reproduction, migration and over-population, at -least where enough equines survive the roundups or can migrate from adjacent herd areas. This creates a viscous cycle wherein aggressive roundups create a need for more frequent and aggressive roundups.

    Glaring omissions in the NAS report include:
    1. The question of what constitutes “fair and balanced” apportionment of forage and water between horses and livestock on a given HMA, -which is critical to ascertaining whether the range is being overgrazed, how much, and by what animals. Without exception, livestock are allocated the lion’s share of available forage, typically upwards of 80%, -where data is even available.
    2. what to do with the 37-50,000 horses and burros now languishing in long and short term holding. including what proportion should be returned to their rightful range, on what schedule…. etc. Until this ‘overpopulation problem’ is addressed, there will continue to be a wild horse ‘population crisis’ and a costly one at that.
    3. How to induce an agency accustomed to being regarded by the world at large as the default authority on public rangeland capacity and on wild horse and burro population levels residing on them, to begin managing both on the basis of actual, current data rather than on data, or fudged numbers, of varying age and veracity and hence with questionable credibility.

    Overall, though, the NAS panel indicted a sadly flawed, broken program in desperate need of a total makeover, starting with a basic need for fresh data and a scientific approach vs. the “Trust us because we’re the authorities on public lands and the wild equines that live there” which has prevailed for 40+ years that BLM has been tasked with managing this priceless heritage for all of US

    • June 8, 2013 at 5:28 am

      Let this be the turn-around point for the horses and burros. Release the prisoners.

  • June 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Thank you, GMGregg and Carl, for your important information.
    The Cloud Foundation’s information on the livestock issue shows one of the many omissions in the study.
    The panel did not even recognize our American wild horses as a native species that is symbiotic to ecosystems.
    We can only hope there will be reformation of the BLM, and the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act will be upheld as originally intended and mandated.


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