Politics taking a heavy toll on wild horses and the West, says advocate

Wild horses in the Triple B Herd Management Area. Photo: BLM
Wild horses in Nevada’s Triple B Herd Management Area. Photo: BLM

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.

Wild horse advocate Laura Leigh has been honored for her work.
Wild horse advocate Laura Leigh.

“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.

7 thoughts on “Politics taking a heavy toll on wild horses and the West, says advocate

  • June 4, 2016 at 7:44 am

    A growing number of Humane0Princpled Wild Horse Advocates do not feel, nor agree, with those who support the Pesticide PZP, and this article is incorrect, in detailing misinformation to the Public.

    A Note here – the fact many large non-profits, in particular those assuming assistance for animals and wildlife safety and security and humane treatment (which BTW does not include death as some would like to twist the terms Humane Reasoning) and to safe-guard them, have indeed twisted, and yes, even redone the term Humane. Many, including this writer, now see Humane as catering to an Industrial-Type of Humane, rather than its correct terminology and meaning – “Humane – having or showing compassion or benevolence . . .”

    Perhaps many of these supposed animal welfare non-profits should change their non-profit status to a more Industrialized-style of Humane, which is far more truthful indeed, so people actually know and can acknowledge what it is they, indeed, are contributing to – as today it is quite obvious the term twisted, and the actions, in a reality, do not correspond with saving of animal life nor placing them into a safe environment —

    Here is one example, and make no doubt many more available, our government and non-profits appeal toward — Today this is exemplified with the Pesticide PZP . . . and within this example —

    foal“Interesting that we promote a Pesticide, and make-believe it is a supposed life-saving situation, even though it is a Pesticide — and those who support it, well, lie, misinform the public, and attest that was an error in registration process.

    Well, no error what so ever! Over an extended period of several years, and failure to register the product Pesticide PZP with the FDA, that also agrees it is a Pesticide, it was finally approved for, essentially, a marketable product in the United States, and only as a Pesticide and by the EPA. Thereby, it is referenced correctly — The Pesticide PZP, and make no doubt of this classification and genetic alteration.

    Then we move to the False Premise of Over-Population of Wild Horses. Well, once again we look at lies, misinformation given to the public, and those who sell the ideas of this Pesticide also lie about wild horses starving on Public Lands (photos of one group of wild horses in southern Nevada being the promoting element of the lies, but derived from a questionable situation down there, at best) — the contradiction here very provable, are the facts of the horses still wondering freely on America’s Public Lands, that are very wholesome, healthy, and vigorous within their environment. Contradictory evidence of the promotion of Lies — yes, this simple, yet apparently ignored by many — IGNORANCE?

    Greed and Illusory Superiority is an odd killer of our environment and wildlife today.

    Then we go to the fact that Humane-Principle’s had to be changed, warped into an information package of utter irresponsibility, and the assumptive quality only being the fact of developing a birth control that pretty much sends the Wild Horses to Extinction — to supposedly Save their Lives, of America’s Wild Horses — a Commercialized rendition of Humane Principle’s — or Ignorance rearing its ugly face, again and again . . .

    No Wait a minute — this has nothing to do with correct terminology what so ever — it has to do with human greed, with irresponsible people in charge of the well being of America’s Wild Horses, and Ignorance.

    We need change — and from these types of people that would lie, misinform, and all around assume their objective, and no one else is of paramount significance — and despite the reality — Wild Horses Becoming Extinct, and very soon!

    More on this subject at the internet site listed below, where the premise of All on this planet Connected, and Humane Principles, rather than money and greed must prevail . . .

    • June 5, 2016 at 2:47 am

      I’d like to remind people, that Laura Leigh was the only person to ever take blm to court on inhumane treatment and won multiple rulings. Go to Google and read about pzp. Get the real facts.

    • October 15, 2019 at 7:08 am

      A truthful and remarkable explanation of what is really happening to our wild horses, why it is happening, and the irresponsible parties who are getting fat from the deaths of these magnificent animals. It breaks my heart.

  • June 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Laura Leigh is the only person to ever take blm to court on inhumane treatment and she won multiple rulings. People go to Google pzp and read.

    • October 15, 2019 at 7:09 am

      Thank you Laura Leigh for all you do for our wild horses! You are a Godsend.

  • June 8, 2016 at 5:26 am

    As a rule, it is best to never trust an advocate. This is true whether one considers the Cattlemen’s Association, or Laura Leigh, who similarly advocates for grazing on public lands at great taxpayer expense–albeit by horses rather than cattle.

    Let’s review the usual talking points presented by horse advocates:

    -“Horses legally occupy only a small part (12%) of our public lands” The Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act provided that horses should be protected in ranges specifically identified by the Secretary of the Interior, and that the Act should not be interpreted as a mandate to extend the range of the horse beyond those areas occupied at the time of enactment. Why? Because Congress understood that horses, like cattle, are destructive of native plants and animals and very expensive to manage. It was never the intent of Congress to allow horses to multiply to great number and spread across all public lands.

    -“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.” Actually, the remove and stockpile management practice resulted from pressure by horse advocates. The law itself required that horses be managed in a cost effective manner, with un-adoptable horses being destroyed. Under pressure by advocacy groups, the BLM has subverted the law, choosing instead to maintain captive herds illegally and at great taxpayer expense. There are tens of thousands of horses held in BLM pens, and the life-long maintenance cost of each horse amounts to $50,000! Ms. Leigh correctly points out that taxpayer subsidies to cattlemen will amount to billions of dollars over the course of a decade (if range impact is factored in), but fails to observe that horses will cost much more (and grow astronomically if herds are left to multiply and spread). The same report by the National Academy of Science that criticizes stockpiling horses also points out that many populations double in number every four or five years–a fact routinely denied by advocacy groups who prefer to pick and choose details of the report that best serve their own interests.

    -“The agency [BLM] …allocates more than 80% of available forage to private profiteers.” Ms. Leigh accuses BLM of mismanagement in allowing more cattle than horses, yet ignores the fact that BLM is bound by law to restrict horse numbers and ranges (as described above) and also charged with maintaining the multiple-use nature of public lands. The purpose of publicly owned lands is to provide resources and economic value to the American people–even the non-landowners. These resources may include healthy rangelands and forests to produce oxygen, prevent erosion, store water, remediate pollution and provide lumber; these may include energy and minerals; these may include beef and wool; and these may include wildlife resources and recreation. Congress understood the value of public land resources and specifically stated that the Secretary of the Interior must respect these interests while simultaneously designing protections for horses. The law also specifies that Federal authorities shall work with State authorities in developing horse management plans, and so it is expected that Nevada, for example, would act to protect the perceived interests of this state.

    Protection for horses, it seems, is entirely political. Even the Act written to protect them only came into being under political pressure by advocates, and acknowledges no scientific rationale for their reintroduction to the continent following their extinction thousands of years before. In fact, the best rationale provided is that horses were “symbols of the American West”–hardly an endorsement by the National Academy of Sciences–while the body of the law outlines the responsibility of BLM in protecting wildlife, resources, and other users from the damage horses may inflict.

    For lack of any real argument in favor of horses, Ms. Leigh is forced to compare them to cattle in the hopes that Americans disillusioned with cattle will elect to place horses on their public lands, instead. What she does not point out is that horses are as destructive to our native plants and animals as are cattle and much more expensive to maintain. Yet, the entire argument in favor of horses seems to be that they are, in her mind, “better than cattle.” In painting a muddled picture of an either-or choice between horses or cattle, advocates hope that taxpayers will not consider a third and much superior option which is the reduction or elimination of both. The irony of the headline is that this entire question is well-recognized as one of politics, with the average American squeezed in the middle, unaware of the cost that he is forced to bear as a result of political pressures applied by special interests on either side.

    • October 15, 2019 at 7:16 am

      Science, not politics should be the answer to our so called “problems” on our public lands. Politics seem to be the most destructive entity in our USA and should be limited daily.


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