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.”