Wild horse and burro advocacy is often difficult for the public to navigate. Caught in multiple layers of laws that govern public land management, multiple jurisdictions that manage free roaming populations and various actions by other uses of public land (extraction, livestock) the public often gets confused and frustrated.
Our audience is broad here at Wild Horse Education. We are a resource for a broad age range of newcomers and seasoned veterans. This creates a real challenge for us as we try to inform our readers to the existing and escalating issues in management practices.
We often “surf” social media to see what issues have created the most confusion or are vacant from public conversation. We created this piece to address some of those issues. We have tried to keep each section as simple as possible and added links for those of you that require more depth to answer your questions.
WHE focuses primarily on the management of horses by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that manages more wild horses than all other jurisdictions combined. The state of NV has more wild horses than all other states combined. The following pieces cover primarily wild horses and burros managed by BLM.
We hope this is useful.
This is the single most explosive issue we face in advocacy. 80% of Americans (polled) are against the slaughter of horses. However there is a powerful lobby interest that pushes slaughter for profit of horses every single year. This year we are going to see “wild horses” as a huge public relations tool utilized by that interest. The “blame the horse” mentality will run full steam as range degradation, due to a lack of accountability in management practices west wide to curtail livestock use of public land during drought, is turned into a burden that will be thrown onto the back of the wild horse.
This push began as the “State Right” agenda gained steam. We have seen counties file legal actions since 2012 like the “NACO” action in NV that called for broad scale removal and destruction (slaughter) of wild horses. Advocate efforts (like ours), along with the BLM attorneys, defeated that action in district court (on Appeal in the Ninth Circuit). However more counties like Eureka in NV, are pushing that same action in courts like the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), where we filed as Intervenors. To date that case has been defeated through the efforts of the BLM attorneys supported by our briefs. But that case is still active.
Wild horses are at risk of going to slaughter, just as our domestic horses are. That risk is faced every single day. Once a wild horse or burro is “titled,” either through adoption or sale, it losses it’s status a “wild” under law and all protections afforded by that law.
However it is a misrepresentation that BLM’s objective is to sell wild horses to slaughter. There are individuals in BLM that personally support both the livestock industry and a resumption of slaughter, but that is not the position of the regulatory agency held to the law. Congress has repeatedly defunded provisions that allow the sale of horses to slaughter by the BLM. BLM can interpret many laws in many ways, but that provision is not one of them.
If BLMs agenda were to sell wild horses to slaughter we would not have nearly 60,000 of them stockpiled in facilities. There would not be scandalous headlines when wild horses are shipped from holding to kill buyers, like the case of Tom Davis. (That investigation has not yielded any information to date but we are pushing for action. You can read more here https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/08/31/all-the-missing-horses-still-no-answer/)
There is a real risk that horse slaughter will slip into larger agenda items as the State’s rights push gets hot. Horse slaughter IS part of that movement. They use anti government sentiment to confuse. They use a lack of ability of the government to address domestic livestock pounding of the range to push a twisted mindset that destroying wild horses is “a humane way” to solve this “problem.” They increase threats against any restrictions to their ability to pound the range to create an environment of fear. The “proslaughter” movement is well funded and connected. The risk is higher than it has been in years.
Appropriations (funding) gets tricky as Congressmen in the pockets of the livestock industry play games with multiple spending bills.
The only way to remove it from the table permanently for wild horses is to repeal the “Burns Amendment.” The first Action item includes the language of a bill to repeal the Burn’s Amendment. You can sign our ongoing letter or use the information to craft and send your own. https://wildhorseeducation.org/invitation-to-action/
Right now the SAFE Act needs support to get to a vote to protect all horses, domestic and wild. HSUS has a a good click and send alert https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=6680&s_src=web_shadow_id85541261
LINKS for further reading
Some jurisdiction questions answered here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/reality-of-wild-horse-slaughter/
What is “three strikes?” https://wildhorseeducation.org/three-strikes-adoption-and-sale-authority/
What is the “Burn’s Amendment?” https://wildhorseeducation.org/burns-amendment/
The public response to roundups has always been intense. Stampeding wild horses over rough terrain for long distances with a helicopter has shown tragic results. Wild horses have been run through barbed wire fences, electric shocked in the face and even hit with helicopters. Bleeding faces, broken necks and limping babies create an outrage.
Wild Horse Education (WHE) has the largest documented library of wild horse removals since 2010. Our data bank is larger than the federal governments. It is ten times larger than any other wild horse organization. Our footage has been used worldwide by news organizations online, in print and in broad cast media.
Our intensive engagement of roundups gained the first court orders in history against conduct. Those orders required the government to do revues and present them to federal court judges. We continued to bring conduct issues into the courtroom and continued to win.
The BLM has created a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Plan (CAWP). A version of CAWP is now included in all roundup contracts. The effectiveness of this policy is yet to be determined. Yet a solid foundation, that was brought through intensive documentation and litigation, has been built. That frame is one that can be used to hold actions accountable and to address any flaws in CAWP.
Building that foundation was a key component to the work of WHE. Often you will not read about that fact on any other website but this one. That points to a sad state of affairs in advocacy. As those that push to have wild horses removed are united in their agendas, advocates remain competitive.
Roundups are NOT accelerated at this time. We are in the third year of deceleration due to primarily financial (fiscal) issues faced agency wide. Nearly 10,000 wild horses a year were removed from the range from 2008-2011. From 2012 to the present the numbers removed have declined dramatically. That fact is one being used intensively by those pushing for removals (livestock), yet goes unrecognized by a vast majority of advocacy organizations.
Every roundup of wild horses is a concern particularly when there are issues left unaddressed in the larger picture. A lack of data and accountable actions across the board make every removal that takes place a contentious issue.
LINKS for further reading
Our work to create a humane handling policy and timeline https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/05/06/whe-works-humane-care/
This subject has become one of the most widely misunderstood and misrepresented in the current management of wild horses across a broad arena. The controversy even created a mass “bash” campaign in social media that contained a dangerous component of outright fictions that have turned into a literal weapon being used by those that want wild horses removed (and even slaughtered).
There are two categories of fertility control. One category includes temporary fertility control that is labor intensive. The other category includes permanent sterilization with a component of surgical procedures in an unsterile environment.
PZP (in any form) is a temporary vaccine made of an isolated animal protein. The PZP vaccine simply blocks the sperm receptors on the ovum and there is no pregnancy. PZP is non hormonal and does not disrupt the endocrine cycle therefore the impact to behavior is minimal. However because it is short acting it requires boosters to remain effective. The recommended practice for “PZP native” (Assateague is a great example) is three years on, take the mare off until she has a foal (essentially this allows her genetic contribution) and then placing the mare back on the vaccine. To accomplish the practice of vaccination records are kept on every mare, her band and her foals (including any foals born into the vaccination program and data base on the herd).
You can learn more about PZP here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/09/05/the-science-and-conservation-center/
However the controversy over this temporary method (and the need for data collection and readministration of the vaccine that requires a labor intensive component), has the BLM looking for “faster fixes.” Drugs that have a potential to permanently sterilize wild horses that do interfere with hormonal chains like “GonaCon” are being used (Antelope “pilot program” and studied). Ovariectomies through the rectum are being studied for broad use in wild mares. The BLM is moving forward to turn an HMA (Saylor Creek in Idaho) into a long term holding facility for geldings.
It almost seems absurd that $11 million is being poured into “research” into options that WILL severely impact herd behavior, and will result in the risks of death from surgical procedures in the field, when those funds could easily be used to implement a non-permanent option (PZP native) and provide the man power to create the data required. The data gained through implementation of PZP native would also fulfill the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences report to gather data (the NAS failed BLM on basic data incorporated into any decision record). You can read the NAS report here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2013/06/05/nas-report-a-first-look/
It will be at least two years before the $11 million dollar investment shows any indication that the studies have provided any action that can be utilized appropriately and to navigate the multiple legal challenges that will arise. For half of that “bad bet” the BLM could have invested in creation of field teams that could be gathering sorely needed data and using a safe, effective tool available now (PZP native) to begin to impact the long term welfare of wild horses on the range. Just half that investment could have paid for three years of broad scale use of the tools we have now. In addition to impacting population growth the data collected could have created valid decision records instead of the continuation of the “patchwork approach” to creating assessments that lead to removals.
When we look at the reality of the “ground” we can not help but feel this, the failure to use tools at hand and available funding wisely, is one of the greatest tragedies in current practice.
“You build a house from the ground up.” The same is true for a wild horse and burro program. When your foundation is flawed every aspect of the “building” is flawed. This is the core problem.
In 1971 the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed. The Act gave jurisdiction to the federal government to manage them on public land and stop “mustanging.” Mustanging was a free for all practice where wild horses were being removed and sold for dog food or ground up for fertilizer and chicken feed. The Act has been resented as removing a “cash crop” from those that engaged in the practice (primarily ranchers) since the day the act passed.
We have a program that was never built on sound scientific practices geared toward any concept of preservation of a living being. The federal government simply changed the face of “feral livestock management” and stockpiled wild horses in facilities (often run by former profiteers of the “mustang” trade). At no time was any real thought given to creating a basis that protected horses as a “wild” component of public land requiring a protected resource to sustain it. Essentially they were given what was “left over” after public land grazers were given what they wanted.
Public land grazing is the single most destructive use of public land resource that only exists through a heavily subsidized mechanism. The public land grazing program produces less than 3% of all beef utilized in industry yet operates at a cost of twice that of the entire wild horse and burro program. Holding facilities, on the range management and the adoption program all operate at less of a financial burden to tax payers than the cows and sheep eating your public land. Public land grazing is NOT based on scientific analysis of simply “what the range can sustain.” It was based on historic use that historically pounded our rangeland. “Cuts” made to “use” because of drought or other factors are made to historic use, not scientifically established baselines made on a healthy landscape. The landscape was in dire straights before the Taylor Grazing Act (that established grazing districts) was ever passed into law. We began the current federal grazing program on “sick” land.
When people think of the American western landscape they think of a vast expanse of open range. There is no such thing, it is a myth. Our landscape is literally a series of fenced areas for livestock. Cattle guards and barbed wire litter our “open range.” The areas where wild horses are managed, or HMAs that exist on about 11% of our public land compared to 70% for domestic livestock, are no exception. Wild horses are managed in fenced areas. As an example an HMA may be listed as being 200,000 acres, but those acres are likely cut into at least 3 or 4 livestock grazing allotments. As livestock use a range they use areas that are low in slope (unless driven out) and are close to water. Domestic cows are not of a “free roaming mindset.” This creates a situation where lowland areas take a beating.
In drought that set ups catastrophic conditions for wildlife and wild horses. As rangelands produce less forage in drought, domestic livestock continues to consume forage. Wild horses and wildlife head upslope and consume the residual forage that may have grown the previous year and new growth. This process could be a “band aide” in an odd “hard year,” but after three years of extreme drought, we have set up an horrific scenario.
Obviously if drought does not abate we will see the range slowly die, but what if it ends and we get the snowpack we need? We should be terrified. If we receive a heavy snowpack and wild horses and wildlife come into the lowlands because they can not break through to any residual forage upslope, there is not enough to sustain them in winter. We will see death. There are ranges now where there is not enough forage (through a failure to curtail livestock use in drought while beef prices are at an all time high) where wildlife and wild horses do not have enough forage to see them through a hard winter. In many of these areas we already see the “blame the horse” machine gearing up to attack the BLM for failure to manage horses by the very industry that fights tooth and nail to keep cows on the same ranges. They are gearing up to attack wild horse advocacy. They are gearing up to push slaughter as a humane alternative to starvation.
Efforts today to create a data based management strategy are met with fierce opposition. The opposition is from polarized extreme perspectives. Oddly we see both livestock interests and animal rights activists fighting on the same side as they attempt to stop data collection and the use of temporary fertility control. Many livestock interests want the only alternative to be the destruction and sale of wild horses to slaughter. The extreme activists? We are unclear of the agenda and believe it comes from a lack of comprehensive knowledge of the landscape and a need to perpetuate myths.
If you scroll to the top of the page you can begin this vicious cycle all over again.
PEER on how wild horses get the short end when BLM assess the range in the upcoming sage grouse rebellion. Many defend livestock use with the claim “livestock are not on the range all year.” They do not need to be there all year to create the devastation, a swarm of locusts is a brief event. http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2014/09/16/blm-weighs-wild-horse-iavily-than-cattle/mpact-much-more-he
“Rangeland Under Fire” propaganda piece from livestock addressed https://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/02/14/rangeland-under-fire-under-fire-editorial/
As an advocate you can become involved in addressing any, or all, of the pieces of management that are impacting our wild horses and burros. What is crucial is that you understand that each piece makes up the whole, and how those pieces impact each other.
We stand on the verge of the decision to “list or not list” the Greater Sage Grouse on the endangered species list. Either decision will create a more intense field than ever.
Learn a bit about the pending “Sage Grouse Rebellion” here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/09/14/sage-grouse-rebellion-what-to-expect/
EDIT: The land use plan amendments have been signed on Sage Grouse and changes are coming.
We need your help to stay in the field, meeting room and in the courts.