WHE Challenges BLM

WHE Challenges the BLM

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued challenges and generated studies. One of the studies was a 1.5 dollar study by the National Academy of Sciences and BLM failed. We have had multiple studies simply on “do we need shade structures?” and if things like hitting a horse with a helicopter or using a hot shot (electric prod) on a foals’s face are “humane or not.”

Wild Horse Education submits a challenge of it’s own to the agency.

“Wild horse and burro ‘management’ is an American disgrace,” stated Wild Horse Education President Laura Leigh “It’s more than past time we stopped symptomatic thinking and address a cure.”

(Each area listed below is an area we are actively engaged in through land use planning, Congressional letters, on the ground data collection or litigation)

Wild Horse Education challenges the BLM to address the following:

CURRENT AMLs ARE WRONG, CHANGE THEM. There is nothing “appropriate” about “Appropriate Management Levels,” (AML). The National Academy of Sciences report must be evaluated in it’s entirety. Stop cherry picking what you want from the report. In stating “the recent NAS study that urged the BLM to make wider use of fertility control and found that, on average, the BLM undercounts the Westwide population of wild horses and burros by 20 to 30 percent,” you fail to address an underlying issue here once again. In high school algebra we all learned that what is applied to one side of an equation MUST be applied to the other or your equation is invalid. IF BLM currently undercounts populations by 20 to 30 percent then basic logic applied to this scenario must include the factor that an undercounting occurred when AML’s were set. As AMLs were primarily set decades ago the undercounting is likely to be even more severe than 20-30 percent. In the most basic of terms AML is therefore at least 20-30 percent below what was actually on the range and considered “appropriate” and should be increased to create a valid mathematical equation that represents the reality of what was actually on the range.

To simply use the inaccurate “AML” as a baseline, and justify a continuation of this equation, is to invalidate the entire basis for any “management” and continue a “broken program.” The results will be invalid range management of wild horses and burros.

As a footnote: When an HMA is at “double AML” and still uses only a fraction of the allocated forage or “AUMs,” please explain what “AML” is anyway but an arbitrary number?

CURRENT BOUNDARY LINES ARE WRONG, CHANGE THEM. The same inaccurate data utilized to create “AML” was utilized in creating current boundary lines. When we have Herd Management Areas (HMA) that do not have year round water sources the lines are wrong. In 2014 wild horses and burros drink water all year and the logical conclusion is that they did so in 1971 when the law was passed to protect them. If the answer to that is “they move” from HMA to HMA, then the land they travel on to get from one water source to another is also “HMA.” If domestic livestock graze on areas that are now considered Herd Area (HA), area removed from their use, then wild horses can exist there and the resource must be returned to HMA status. Any livestock allotment on public land that has an HMA on one border and an HMA on another, yet miraculously was excluded as having no wild horses when the boundaries were drawn, must be immediately evaluated for consistent wild horse use. If consistent seasonal or territorial use is found a “mistake” must be corrected and the boundary line redrawn. It is well known that multiple courses of action were engaged in to exclude allotments. These practices included shooting wild horses or claiming all the horses on an allotment as “private” (in Nevada alone more than 17,000 wild horses were claimed).

This manipulation, accidental or intentional, must be rectified.

Water haul for livestock in the Diamond Complex prior to grazing restrictions being implemented

Water haul for livestock in the Diamond Complex prior to grazing restrictions being implemented

CURRENT AUM ALLOCATION IS WRONG, CHANGE IT. There are basic flaws in the allocation of Animal Unit Months (AUM, or available forage) within Herd Management Areas (HMA).

“Multiple Use,” as a legal mandate should not represent a “prioritized” use of available forage to domestic livestock producers within HMAs. Wild horses are confined to approximately 11% of our public land. Legally they have “no where else to go.” The AUMs allotted must begin to recognize that basic fact.

A serious flaw is again present in the creation of the equation to determine availability of the resource. Simply because forage exists does not mean that forage is “appropriate forage” for use by the defined user. Our public rangeland is not “pastureland,” it is the open western landscape that has varied terrain. Much of our western landscape is rough terrain with mountain ranges that exceed 7000ft above sea level. “Slope” is another basic mathematical concept. In research surrounding domestic cattle use the necessity of using a slope grid to determine actual availability of forage is more than demonstrated. “Steepness of slope of a grazing area considerably influences distribution of cattle. On a 10% slope where access is only from the bottom, 75% of cattle use is likely to be within 810 yards of the foot of the slope. On a 80% slope, 75% of use is likely to be within only 35 yards of the foot of the slope,” Mueggler. (1) The pattern of use is further influenced by distance from water.

“Part of the reason that BLM lands are ‘in jeopardy’ is likely a result of many BLM grazing permits currently over-allocating existing forage. Most permitted levels of grazing on BLM lands are the result of forage capacity assessments conducted by the agency long ago,” Caitlin, Carter and Jones. (2)

By allocating forage in a “this is what’s available and 70% go to domestic livestock” type equation that has been a standard practice, is it a wonder our public lands are severely degraded? Lowland grazing is winter habitat for wild horses and wildlife. When the lowlands are already overgrazed by domestic cattle (because the allocation did not match the reality of distribution) we then create an artificial pattern of use for other grazers.

When we compare areas where domestic livestock production has been eliminated, yet wild horse populations exist, the contrast is more than evident. Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge has had a wild horse population that they claim exceeds the capacity of the range, yet the comparison to any BLM HMA is staggering. Native species of grasses flourish where just over a fence line on BLM land you find stubble that may take decades to regenerate.

Let’s “get basic here.” ONLY when allocation of AUMs reflect the reality of distribution of legal users can any allocation reflect anything that resembles a valid equation. Stop blaming wild horses for BLMs failure to address inappropriate grazing of our public land by the livestock industry.

FOLLOW THE LAW. (Public Law 92-195, December 15, 1971 “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” In presenting the definition of a “wild horse or burro” on the BLM website BLM chooses this: “wild free-roaming horses and burros” means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States.” Yet fails to define “range” in this manner: “ ‘range’ means the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept for the public lands;”

Instead the BLM redefines the word “range.” The BLM makes claim that an HMA is not a range. That “Ranges” are special places limited to special areas defined by the Secretary of Interior. Here instead of a mathematical problem we have one with the basics of “English class.” The LAW uses a lower case “r” that references the land a “herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros” uses. The LAW does not place  five herds above all the rest. We have never even remotely come close to conceptualizing how this translates into practice: ‘range’ means the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept for the public lands.” The land wild horses and burros legally occupy in the western United States in around 11% of our public land. Perhaps we can begin to conceptualize what management might look like in that small slice of public land if managed with wild horses as a principle use?

This “switch” of “r” to “R” happened. It appears to have simply happened. WHE is researching and can find no public input or process in which the term “Herd Management Area” was born, range “died,” and principally became a way of operation. It appears that this fell under the “discretion” of the Secretary… and became policy. This is where the “confusion” began in the public perceiving wild horses as protected.

Land use plans then set “AML” and created the legal framework in which removals occur.

Family band drinks and moves off water source in Nevada

Family band drinks and moves off water source in Nevada

DEFINE VIABLE WILD HORSE AND BURRO USE. In order to begin to follow the LAW we must first actually begin to look at a wild horse or burro and determine exactly what that “use” requires to exist “as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands,” in a sustainable fashion. That requires an understanding (not convenient guesswork) of natural movement of herds, actual natural sex ratios (prior to manipulation), natural foaling rates and seasons (in each HMA) and genetic components as “knowns” prior to any manipulation through “management.”  This concept is the most basic yet the most avoided. How the heck can you claim to manage anything without a real grasp of what it is that you are managing? Congress declared “wild and integral” as the terminology that applies to management under the law. Furthermore management practices are to be at the “minimal feasible level,” NOT the population of wild horses being “minimal.” The population is to be “wild and integral.”

What we MUST do is define what is wild horse and burro use and what are the resources to sustain that use as “wild and integral.” Only then can any management practice be considered “appropriate.”

Run to collapse under BLM "humane handling memo"

Run to collapse under BLM “humane handling memo”

HUMANE HANDLING POLICY. Stop handing the public a lie of a “humane handling policy.” BLM has no humane care policy. An Internal memo that puts the discretion to determine humane conduct into the hands of the people performing the task is just plain crazy. Why don’t we let Americans determine what they should pay in taxes? Or criminals determine their sentences? What is so hard about about saying “you shall not” hit a horse with a chopper, run bands so babies can’t keep up, use a hotshot on young or pregnant animals, attempt more than three runs at the trap, run animals more than 10 miles? Why can’t we say that if an animal is injured and down at the trap that operations cease until the horse is moved or euthanized? Why is it so hard to create an actual policy?

Create a POLICY. Fix it later if you have to. But make one now. An infectious disease protocol and shade would also be a step to BLM claims of “good husbandry” practices. Right now? How can you expect any public trust when you fail to create a standard for care? (If you are getting “push back”  on this basic issue from internal employees you might want to look at their handling record instead of taking their word on “humane care”).

We are still waiting for the policy to be announced. READ HERE http://wildhorseeducation.org/whe-pledge/

I can guarantee that when BLM actually begins to treat wild horses and burros as something of value your adoption numbers will also go up.

1  Cattle Distribution on Steep Slopes, Walter Mueggler https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/jrm/article/viewFile/5333/4943
2 A tool provided to the GSENM range staff, provided by the Southern Utah Land Restoration Project, James Catlin, John Carter, and Allison Jones  http://www.rangenet.org/directory/jonesa/sulrprec/appendixb.html 
3 THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195) http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/wild_horses_and_burros/sale_authority.Par.69801.File.dat/whbact_1971.pdf

The BLM is saying that it is working on reform in the program by giving a grant for NEW population control methods (surgical and new drugs) and working on it’s adoption program and working on humane care. This situation would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Population control would only be needed if it were warranted by underlying information or as a temporary measure as a real “fix” of the program was attempted. PZP has been available for more than a decade and they have failed to ever use it as an appropriate tool and instead seek other methods (all at more tax payer expense). Adopting wild horses? Wild horses and burros are amazing animals and an incredible experience as they become part of an individuals life. But increasing adoption wont fix the program.

The symptomatic approach to cover up the disease of the absolute broken foundation of the entire program is not acceptable. Steps MUST be taken to address the basic flaws in a foundation built on “guesswork” not hard fact. 

BLM we challenge you.

Wild Horse Education is involved in multiple projects that WILL begin to identify and address flaws in data. As those flaws are addressed management plans can be created based on the truth. We continue to address issues of access and humane care.

“If you get in the saddle, be ready for the ride,” old cowboy saying. We in the saddle and can handle the ride… help us be “ready.”


Wild Horse Education is devoted to gaining protections from abuse, slaughter and extinction for our wild horses and burros.


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