This article is provided to give you an overview of a major political issue in the Western US.
Wild horses and burros on our public land exist in a multitude of jurisdictions that include state and federal lands. Most often this creates a “small picture” in which advocacy toward their protection focuses on precise actions within each jurisdiction according to the laws that govern each specific situation (USFWS in situations like Sheldon, NV Dept of Ag and the horses that go to livestock auction or the BLM that manages more wild horses than any other jurisdiction). Yet right now these “multiple jurisdictions” are caught in the same “agenda,” the protection (or not) of the Greater Sage Grouse.
The Greater Sage Grouse, or “prairie chicken,” has caused the greatest “war” in public land management since the “war” between the free-grazers and land owners that created the need for the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. From BLM website: “The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (43 USC 315), signed by President Roosevelt, was intended to “stop injury to the public grazing lands [excluding Alaska] by preventing overgrazing and soil deterioration; to provide for their orderly use, improvement, and development; [and] to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range” (USDI 1988). This Act was pre-empted by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).” It was also intended to stop the violence that ensued as there was a literal race to eat every blade of grass in the American West by those attempting to “make a living” through livestock production. Our rangelands were in a severe state of degradation, something often overlooked in current conversations.
There was massive “push back” against the federal government attempting to control livestock grazing. Intimidation on local levels and local politics created the “4% ers” of today. Only 4% of beef utilized in industry comes from public land. But when you continue to watch the influence this small segment of livestock production has on our policy makers in DC, and the “wool” constantly pulled over the eyes of a “bought and paid for” American media, you can begin to understand how our rangelands continued to fall below any true “healthy” range standard. The Taylor Grazing Act did not “protect” the range, it simply solidified the ability of the “powerful” to gain more “power.”
In 1971 the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act was passed. The Act was passed because not only was every blade of grass available being turned into profit so were the wild horses and burros. “Mustanging” was a practice that entailed wild horses being removed from the range and turned into a “fast cash crop.” The movie the “Misfits,” released in 1961, brought the reality of the process into mainstream America as the fight to protect wild horses was in full swing through the efforts of women like Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) and Hope Ryden. The Act was passed during an election year by Congress, without one dissenting vote, and signed into law by Richard Nixon. However the resentment against the federal government continued to grow as now not only did public land ranchers need to deal with them “dang federal regulations” on grazing but the “feds” now took away a cash crop (from 1971-1976 “mustanging” continued under what was called a “claiming period” as ranchers claimed the horses on public land belonged to them).
The influence in politics grew as these “4%ers” held local political office and elected their own to go to DC. Laws and regulation were under cut and passed to continue to cater to their interest. As wild horse advocates we are all familiar with the “Burn’s Amendment” of 2004 that again allowed the sale of wild horses to slaughter. What a lot of people forget is that there was pressure as a federal court Judge was asking for accountability to the law prohibiting such activities. Instead of accountability, those violating the law exerted pressure to change it.
Today we have both an election year and the threat of the listing of the sage grouse causing a huge political war. We have fingers pointing every which way and elected officials, the media and those that should be upholding the law (like DC BLM) pandering instead of seeking any deeper truth beyond retaining their jobs.
Food for thought:
The new NRCS farm bill program creates massive opportunity again for public land ranchers to profit. In one instance in Idaho we see $1.77 million going to create an “easement” for sage grouse: http://www.capitalpress.com/Livestock/20141015/ranchers-profit-from-conservation
The “Grass March” arrived in DC last week to deliver a petition that began as an attempt to oust a BLM District manager that had the audacity to restrict livestock grazing during drought (contains sage grouse habitat) and they threw in removing wild horses for “good measure”: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/09/25/not-over-my-wild-horses-grass-march/
Hunters are complaining in the Piceance Basin as oil and gas move in and their ability to get a hunting “tag” decreases in sage grouse “conversations”: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060007647 (and forget about the wild horses there folks, they have been squished down long before the hunters complained https://wildhorseeducation.org/questions-and-answers/big-energy-and-wild-horses/ )
As environmental groups such as Western Watersheds actually push the laws into courtrooms in Idaho and WIN http://www.eswr.com/2014/09/blm-must-re-evaluate-grazing-permits-to-provide-sage-grouse-protection-judge-in-idaho-rulesin-ruling-against-blm/ A huge “complain campaign” against the ability for non-profits to fight against the powerful through Equal Access to Justice amps up http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/220894-big-green-groups-have-self-serving-bargain-with
Top it all off with Department of Interior (oversees BLM and USFWS) head honcho Sally Jewell praising ranchers for conservation efforts: http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/environmental/secretary-jewell-gov-mead-praise-ranchers-for-sage-grouse-conservation/article_ba8b0976-eae3-56ff-922b-d8094f054cef.html
Political pandering is a reality in any election year. Things like Cliven Bundy (the livestock permittee that ignored all rules and attempts were made to create a literal “revolution”) are ignored. Multiple failures by management agencies to protect interests that do not reap a profit have fallen off the grid of the media (I guess campaign contributions by folks like wild horse advocates are below those from extraction and livestock). The FACT that the Grass March is essentially a temper tantrum against any restrictions appears to be lost in the “praise” given to ranchers by Sally Jewell.
From where we sit the American tax payer is going to be reamed into big pay outs to livestock ranchers in order to protect our ranges or there will simply be a huge push back on the ground and restrictions will be ignored.
As a wild horse and burro advocacy organization we must recognize that wild horses and burros do not exist in a vacuum. We have continually watched wild horse issues get relegated to a “blame game” while those tasked with their protection by Congress use the wild horse “issue” as more of a tool to “give ground” to interests opposed to their protection in a “merry go round” of political games.
Right now there is talk of “non reproducing herds” and a resumption of sale without limitation (slaughter) of wild horses in holding. There is a very real risk that these violations of every intention of law will become a trade-off in political pandering to the “4%ers.” We repeatedly listen to those at the “helm” like Sally Jewell, Steve Ellis (Deputy Director of the BLM) and Joan Guilfoyle (National head of the Wild Horse and Burro Program) speak without any comprehension of the laws intended to protect wild horses and even to the extent of what a wild horse actually is. Continuing conversations about “spaying mares in the field” and “neutering” stallions because “the public understands spay and neuter” is an outrage. The public understands that these are NOT dogs and cats in the local animal shelter. The public understands that these are “the living symbol of the pioneer spirit of the West,” and are to be managed as “wild and integral.”
Ignoring historic degradation that dates back more than a century by domestic livestock is a violation of ethics, morals and the law.
The very first case brought under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1975 had the Order of the court stating: “This Court is not saying that the BLM is free to round up wild horses whenever a particular range has an overgrazing problem. Nor is the Court saying that every time the removal of wild horses will have a limited, slightly positive effect on the environment of the range, the BLM can proceed to remove a certain number of those horses.”
For over forty years all we have seen is BLM do the “same thing” over and over in the wild horse and burro program. The court in that very first case noted that the degradation to the range was due to decades of overgrazing by domestic livestock. Instead all we have seen are wild horses continually managed in the “remove and stockpile” method. We have seen herds “zeroed out” and livestock grazing (or mining) move in. We have continually watched wild horses (now relegated to less than 11% of public land and receiving less than 20% of the forage in those areas) used as a political tool to satisfy the “4%.”
In this huge political merry-go-round, that now has the label “protect the sage grouse,” will wild horses and burros simply become a bargaining chip? Or will the “sage grouse” conversation bring about an actual plan to protect the rangeland that has been vacant from the management of our American West? In the jostling to reap a profit off the sage grouse (because that is what is happening) will wild horses and burros find a way to be represented at the political feast of public land?
It’s time to find out how to cast your votes this election. Call your representatives and ask “are they committed to protecting wild horses and burros in the wild?” http://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup
(of note: Every time a BLM official appointed by a Democratic President under fire engages in political pandering to those of the opposite party and ignores the basic facts, regardless of party lines… you look stupid and weak)
Categories: Wild Horse Education