A wild horse advocacy group says politics, not science, is driving the management of the US western rangelands, and horses and the environment are suffering as a result.
Wild Horse Education suggests some political figures are pandering to the interests of ranchers. It is calling on federal officials to aggressively use temporary fertility control to manage Nevada’s wild horses rather than opt for large-scale roundups.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) strategy of rounding up horses and placing them in long-term holding has faced criticism for years, amid rising costs and limited success in keeping numbers in check.
The Nevada-based nonprofit organization wrote this week to the agency’s chief, Dean Bolstad, in its national office asking that the BLM deny a request for funds for large-scale removals in the state and instead immediately implement data collection and temporary fertility control.
Wild Horse Education’s founder, Laura Leigh, said “every political figure” from the Nevada governor’s office to its congressional representatives had sent letters in recent days demanding that wild horses be removed and that drought-related livestock restrictions be lifted.
The BLM’s state director, John Ruhs, has asked the national office for emergency funding to complete broad scale removals of wild horses, Leigh noted.
“Rush made that request after writing a letter to livestock permittees claiming they would need to reduce livestock grazing, citing degraded rangeland health due to livestock and wild horses in Elko county, Nevada.
“No county-wide official restrictions or closures to livestock have been implemented since the letter was written,” she added.
“Over the last four years political figureheads representing Nevada’s livestock interests have repeatedly denied the drought ever existed.
“These same politicians sent letters, and supported efforts, that repeatedly thwarted any attempt to restrict livestock during the drought. Livestock use of public land was never restricted as it should have been during the last four years due to pressure on the BLM from political figureheads.
“The same politicians even put pressure on BLM to reduce fines for ranchers that ignored restrictions and ran illegally, or in trespass. Our western rangelands suffered as a consequence.”
The historic scapegoat for poor range management has always been wild horses, said Leigh.
“Wild horses are a legally designated resource, not a permitted use for profit. The agency has repeatedly failed to make that distinction as they allocate more than 80% of available forage to private profiteers.
“The ‘remove and stockpile’ management of wild horses to satisfy livestock producers has led to tragic consequence for the wild horse and to our rangeland.”
Leigh cited the 2013 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report which criticized the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program. The report said large-scale removals of wild horses actually increased reproductive rates.
The NAS recommended the use of temporary fertility control and aggressive data collection to appropriately manage wild horses.
“Since 2012 the state of Nevada, and our entire western landscape, has experienced drought,” Leigh said.
“Livestock producers that found themselves subject to restrictions not only applied for government relief but created tension throughout the state that even included threats of violence.
“The livestock industry on public land has cost the American taxpayer over $US1 billion just in the last decade alone, according to a study done by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The study does not cover the continued cost as health rangeland is fast becoming a myth affecting wild life, wild horses and sage grouse. Congress continues to allow grazing permits to be renewed without rangeland health assessments.”
Leigh noted that the BLM treated 400 wild horses with the PZP contraceptive vaccine in the 2015 fiscal year.
“In fiscal 2016 the number rose to an expected 496 nationwide. About 25% of all the wild horses treated with the vaccine in 2015 were in an area called Fish Creek in Nevada. Livestock interests filed legal action to stop the release of treated horses. The legal action failed, yet the program was shut down presumably because of politics.”
Nevada manages more wild horses than all other states combined yet currently has no ongoing fertility control, she says.
“Instead of managing our rangeland and resources according to any pretense of science we manage them according to politics,” Leigh said.
“Nevada is the only state in the West without any ongoing use of a proven fertility control vaccine, PZP. You have to begin to wonder if the volatility is a choice, not an accident.
“Doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity, and the exchange of letters from politicians and BLM figureheads fits that description,” Leigh continued.
“This fall we could literally treat thousands of wild horses with fertility control and begin a database for actual management. We need leadership that can carry us into a better tomorrow, not perpetuate the past.
“BLM wonders why the public does not trust them? Maybe it is because a child could see just how crazy this is.”
Wild Horse Education’s letter to the BLM national accompanies a letter urging the agency to begin to use temporary fertility control to manage wild horses and gather data to manage the rangelands effectively, signed by wild horse advocacy groups nationwide.
Nationwide wild horses legally exist on only 12% of public land, Leigh said.
Livestock in Nevada is managed on 45 million acres of public land while wild horses are restricted to 14 million acres.