We do not usually publish OpEd pieces on our website. However the “hub bub” over a recent article by journalist Dave Phillips in the NYTimes has spurred a huge outcry in social media by wild horse advocates. We did send this to the Times (and they will not publish if a piece is published elsewhere). However we are feeling a bit of pressure from the “instant” media we now all seem to prescribe to in our daily lives to respond to YOUR need for a response. Here is what we sent to the NYTimes:
“Ranchers Fear Public Land Will Be Gobbled Up at the Dysfunctional Feast on Public Land,” might have been a better title?
In a recent article in the NYTimes (September 30, 2014) journalist Dave Phillips, a Pulitzer prize nominee, wrote an article “As Wild Horses Overrun the West, Ranchers Fear Land Will Be Gobbled Up.” The article is getting a heated response from many in the wild horse and burro advocacy camps.
However I tend to be a “glass half full” person. I see Dave’s piece in a bit of a different light, although the title is unfortunate. The Editor should have used something more like “Ranchers Fear Public Land Will Be Gobbled Up at the Dysfunctional Feast on Public Land.” I thank you Dave for giving us another chance to get this into the national spotlight, but not because of the expose in your article, but the backlash (Dave uncovered BLM selling more than 1700 wild horses to one killbuyer for slaughter as they denied it and garnered himself the threat of a “punch in the face” by former Secretary of the Interior, cattleman Ken Salazar).
Dave does touch on the crux of the wild horse issue, “protected by federal law and managed by a perplexing system on the brink of a crisis.” Here is where he gets into trouble, instead of saying “purportedly” or “allegedly” he states the following as a hard and true statement: “There are now twice as many wild horses in the West as federal land managers say the land can sustain. The program that manages them has broken down, and unchecked populations pose a threat to delicate public land, as well as the ranches that rely on it.”
Dave then quotes multiple sources, but all of them essentially carry the same opinion prior to giving a wild horse advocate a brief spot further on in the article that seems to have been missed by many reading the piece.
It would have been great if Dave included the PEER Review on livestock damage and inappropriate allocations (too much) grazing being given to domestic livestock that is seriously omitted from many current grazing decisions. It would have been great if Dave had included all the intimidation done by some of these “salt of the earth” ranchers when any attempt is made to get them to comply with the law (the Cliven Bundy debacle and the current “Grass March” by powerful Nevada ranchers against an attempt during drought to get them to “get the cows off”). It would have been great if Dave mentioned the Government Accountability Office statistics that public land grazing is operated at a direct loss of more than 120 million to US taxpayers as it produces less than 4% of the nations beef. It would have been more than appropriate for Dave to mention the real threat to ranching in the West, the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (leaving western public land ranchers scrambling to grab every bit of resource they can before the “super chicken” takes it away). Oddly there is no mention of the largest force on public land, extraction (that includes fracking), and where many ranchers are making money on the sale of water rights.
There are a few “gems of truth,” in the article but you have to really look for them. Dave does note that the entire wild horse population is confined to a land base that is less than that of the state of Alabama (showing that our wild horses are not “overrunning” our west regardless of the title of the article), that birth control is not utilized appropriately and that the “solution” seen by many is to slaughter horses because the government can no longer house them (because BLM leadership failed to change policy years ago).
Dave’s article contains this quote: “Horses are so beloved in our society that no one wants to make a hard decision,” Professor Garrott (wildlife management and ecology at Montana State University) said. “So we take this disastrous policy and just keep kicking it down the road.” (note: he means slaughter, not REAL management).
Not true Mr Garrot. We keep kicking this policy down the road because in order to change what is happening on our rangeland we have to get the historic bully in check on public land. Intimidation from public land ranchers is so intense in the west that any attempt to curtail their use is met with an intensity that borders on civil war. Look at what happened in Nevada with Cliven Bundy. Look at what is happening to the ony district manager actually restricting livestock as it should be during drought, the BLM Battle Mountain district’s Doug Furtado. Furtado finds himself the subject of a coast to coast march by ranchers he dared to restrict as they head to Congress to demand he be fired and control of federal land be given to the state.
We keep kicking this policy “down the road” because of fear of change. Fear of backlash from a huge lobby that has the “ear” of many in Congress. Fear of what might happen to your job if you work for the BLM and actually try to do your job. Fear of what might happen to your wives and children that live in that community. And yes, fear for your life.
I know it is easy to keep things simple because “column inches” are rather precious in these changing times. However as a nation we need to find a serious backbone before we fall to the wasted ground without it.
Categories: Wild Horse Education