Public Confidence Lacking in BLM Wild Horse and Burro program

Misinformation and name calling are not paving a road to progress

In recent years public concern over the government’s management of wild horses and burros on public land has skyrocketed.

In 1971 President Nixon signed into law the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act .The Act was intended to curtail “mustanging.” Mustanging was an unregulated brutal practice engaged in by many ranchers and private individuals to eliminate wild horses and profit from it by selling them into the fertilizer and dog food markets. This practice led Congress to declare these animals “fast disappearing from the American landscape” and in need of protection from “capture, branding, harassment and death,” and handed the honor of protecting and preserving them over to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

BLM regulations and policy state that wild horses and burros shall be managed as viable, self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in “balance” with other multiple uses and the productive capacity of their habitat (CFR 4700.0-6). Self-sustaining refers to the process whereby established populations are able to persist and successfully produce viable offspring which shall, in turn, produce viable offspring, and so on over the long term.

Stone Cabin Roundup, February 2012

After 40 years of BLM mismanagement the “wild horse program” has reached a crisis state. This crisis not only encompasses their management practices, but public confidence in the agencies ability to represent the truth. One of the spin tactics seems to be to portray public opinion as not credible and to disregard the publics legitimate and real concerns.

In a recent article responding to the public outcry, regarding the appointment of a second very pro-horse slaughter member to the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, BLM DC Public Relations head Tom Gorey said “the activists are resorting to dishonest scare tactics to help push their anti-management agenda by any means possible. Their apocalypse-now, sky-is-falling rhetoric is flagrantly dishonest and is clearly aimed at preventing the BLM from gathering horses from overpopulated herds on the range.”


“This kind of argument by Gorey is intended to diminish the credibility of questioning their actions through spin instead of addressing very valid issues.” said Leslie Peeples of Wild Horse Education, “the public calling for balance on the Wild Horse and Burro advisory Board is not dishonest, but what is dishonest is the quote ‘anti-management agenda’ and ‘over populated herds.’  Advocates simply want ‘fair and balanced management’ where wild horses and burros are considered ‘comparably’ with other users of public land.  BLM’s claim that they are over populated is in fact fabricated by their methods of considering all other users of the land first and then allotting the left over crumbs to wild horses and Burros. The BLM calls this (AML) Appropriate Management Levels and a ‘natural ecological balance.’ Then dismiss concerns instead of address them.”

Here is why the BLM is getting such a strong response from the public about this Advisory board appointment. Over the last year there has been a small contingent pressing hard for resuming horse slaughter in the U.S. and they have publicly stated that wild horses should be processed for human consumption. The newest appointee to the BLM advisory board Callie Hendrickson, appointed to the position of General Public Advocate, has indicated she is in favor of unlimited sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros.

BLM storage facility in Fallon, 2012

Currently the BLM style of “feral livestock” management has an increasing number of concerned tax-payers asking the government that represents them the following valid questions:

1.     With more wild horses in expensive government holding facilities than in the wild, why hasn’t BLM come up with a more creative “on the range” management strategy? Why, after 40 years, is viability of wild populations not studied, migratory patterns are unknown and inaccurate boundary lines remain unchanged?

2.     If BLM’s “official stance” is that no wild horses will go to slaughter, and knowing the public would be outraged, why would they appoint two pro-slaughter members to the Advisory Board when they have yet to appoint any member representing the wild horse advocate community at large? Why does BLM continue to appoint members to the board who are clearly anti-wild horse?

3.     Why in 40 years is there still no clear and defined humane care standard for management and handling of wild horses and burros? Almost every state in the nation has a humane standard for domestic animals and even slaughter bound animals have laws and standards in place regarding their care.

4.     Why are so many extractive projects being fast-tracked into the areas where horses are legally allowed to live without consideration of the impact on them, or compensating the animals with additional space to exist?

5.     Why are all other interests on public land defined as “viable uses” when the simple definition of what makes wild horse and burro populations “viable” for the long term is an unknown and is not taken in to account?

6.     Where is the “balance” in BLM’s “natural ecological balance” statement or why is there such an “unbalanced” policy in the allocations given wild horses and burros as compared to other uses of public lands? And how can the public have any confidence that there is “balance” when BLM spends only 1% of the budget planning for herd management?

7.     Why are the BLM’s total on the range population numbers the same, 38,000, year after year, and how can the public have confidence that BLM’s numbers are accurate when they spend only 1% of the budget on “estimating” the populations of the animals with no “independent” oversight.

8.     Why is the agency fighting transparency at tax-payer expense, in the Courts, instead of simply fixing the problems in the program so that they can be transparent to the tax-paying public? Why if there is nothing to hide, are many of BLM wild horse and burro holding facilities off limits to public view and the public held at such a great distance from viewing roundups?

9.  Why do government employees that work for the Wild Horse and Burro program refer to these animals as feral livestock? The entire program, and everyone employed within the program, exists by an Act of Congress that declares these animals “wild and integral.”

10. Why is the American taxpayer still paying over 125 million a year to support the grazing industry and approximately 3 million privately owned livestock, while some 30,000 (by BLM estimates) wild horses and burros are the scape goats blamed for creating the range damage and must be removed, again at taxpayer expense?

11. What is the BLM justification for not addressing that over 50% of our wild herds below genetic viability for long-term survival?

12. How does the BLM get away with receiving thousands of public comments, simply calling that “public involvement” and continuing business as usual effectively blocking true public input and participation?

Listed above are just a dozen of the valid questions a concerned public wants answers to.

Horses being removed in sub-zero temperatures

The public concern becomes magnified when BLM employees are quoted in the press making blatantly false and pro-slaughter statements in defending the agencies failing adoption program.  BLM Specialist Chad Hunter said, “With the slaughter houses all shut down, there isn’t an outlet for unwanted horses.”  http://www.thespectrum.com/article/20120407/OUTDOORS01/204070324/Wild-Horses-Utah-BLM?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFrontpage

“Here we have another government employee supposedly in a knowledgeable position spouting anti-horse propaganda. Horse slaughter is a reality faced by horses and horse owners in the US daily,” stated Laura Leigh, Founder of Wild Horse Education “Horse slaughter is a foreign export business, any horse owner could sell their horse into the slaughter pipeline today, it is still an option. The BLM adoption program is not a priority. And besides, how do they expect the public to want to adopt a wild horse if the agency can’t even demonstrate wild horses and burros are worth developing a human care standard for?”

“The lack of public confidence in the Wild Horse and Burro Program is not a product of any ‘activist anti-management strategy,” said Leigh “ It’s the Agencies inability to engage the public in credible transparent dialogue.”

In 1971 an Act was passed by Congress to protect these animals as an American Heritage Species. It is long overdue that the agency address the public’s legitimate concerns.

It is time for an honest conversation, transparency, humane policy and truly “balanced” management.”

On April 23-24 in Reno, Nevada the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board will meet at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. Public comments will be accepted on Tuesday in person, registered by 10 am. If you cannot make the meeting you may submit written comments to: Bureau of Land Management, National Wild Horse and Burro Program, WO-260, Attention: Ramona DeLorme, 1340 Financial Boulevard, Reno, Nevada, 89502-7147.  Comments may also be e-mailed to the BLM at wildhorse@blm.gov  .



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