Failure to tackle the “holy cow of the West” costing wild horses dearly – advocate

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

A wild horse advocate who travels the US western rangelands to monitor federally-backed roundups accuses federal authorities of repeatedly turning away from creating sane and achievable management initiatives for wild horses.

Wild Horse Education founder Laura Leigh was commenting on recent testimony before the US House Appropriations Committee hearing on the proposed Department of Interior budget for fiscal year 2018, which covers the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.

The budget proposes a $US10 million dollar cut to what she says is an already underfunded wild horse program. The agency is also pushing for the right to sell the horses without the current limitations, a move that advocates fear could see thousands of mustangs end up at slaughter plants.

Leigh said the current budget proposals were effectively putting a bullet in the heads of wild horses, or allowing kill buyers to profit off wild horses by sale to slaughter.

Leigh voiced concern over moves to review conservation planning that she said already favored industry. “This will provide an even more favorable climate for exploitation.”

She said the current administration would literally throw away a billion taxpayer dollars in planning to gain even more favor with exploitive industries and states that resent any authority of the federal government to protect public resource.

“But sending tens of thousands of wild horses to take a bullet to save ten million is somehow acceptable?

“Over the last decade, I have watched our public lands deteriorate, politicians help livestock permittees to break the law, entitlements given to permittees in drought as they continued to pound the range.

“I have watched federal land managers roll over, time and time again, for states, counties and exploitive interests. But do they pay any heed to creating sane and do-able management for wild horses? No. They simply continued to scapegoat the wild horse that is a marginal user of federal grazing land.”

Leigh said a 2013 National Academy of Sciences report criticized the BLM wild horse program on any pretense of management based on scientific review.

“The study was commissioned by the BLM at a cost estimated at $US1.5 million,” she said.

She asserts that information in the report was cherry-picked by the BLM to continue flawed practices instead of being incorporated into practice.

“To date, no series of formal recommendation have been issued by the BLM national office and put into practice at the field level.” The agency was sticking with an old broken paradigm to satisfy exploitive interests, she said.

“Environmental interests and wild horses are sent into a black hole of silence.”

Leigh singled out US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke for criticism.

“Zinke keeps saying that he needs to give states and industry more voice,” said Leigh. “Out here those are the only voices that are heard.

“If Zinke wants to leave any legacy, he needs to decide if he is the guy to put an end to the constant waste of taxpayer money used to placate exploitative interests.

Leigh noted that Zinke, in recent testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, discussed development on public land as an “investment/return” based discussion.

She said the American taxpayer got absolutely no return from cattle grazing on public lands.

The BLM livestock program operated at a loss of at least $US125 million a year, she noted, yet only involved about 3% of all beef used in industry.

“Domestic livestock production is the single most destructive use of public land grazing, not wild horses. In a state like Nevada, one casino in Las Vegas employs more people than the entire agriculture industry statewide.

“Wild horses occupy less than 12% of public land and use about 16% of available forage. To scapegoat wild horses for an industry that grazes 66% of public land, uses over 80% of public forage, often breaks the law and runs out of permitted use times and produces less than 4% of beef is an absurdity.

“Killing tens of thousands of wild horses, that are a protected cultural resource, not a profit driven use, is not acceptable because Mr Zinke wont address the ‘holy cow’ of the West.

“If Zinke wants to sound credible on any issue, he must address serious entitlement reforms.”

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