Editorial by Laura Leigh, founder of WHE:
Today you can not click on any news service and not see an article about the Advisory Board recommendation to kill wild horses in holding. Every advocacy organization has an inbox flooded with frantic emails from people either ready to commit acts of “civil disobedience” or “get in bed and never come out.” News articles quote this “hard decision” by Advisory Board members that “took this seriously” as they considered all options prior to adding this recommndation.
So just say “no,” to all of the above. It’s not time to be extreme in any way. By all means express a written opinion to the board, that is the boards function. But it is not time for extreme action, unless of course we mean actually getting work on the ground accomplished.
First I will say once again that the citizen Advisory Board is not the BLM and has no legal authority. Congress has repeatedly defunded the killing of any healthy wild horse. Before BLM could take such a step a bunch of processes would need to occur that could be engaged. The Advisory Board has made this recommendation in the past, just not using the same language. It didn’t happen then and it is not currently, nor can happen, without going through a dozen other channels first. The likelihood of BLM doing this is slim.
Second, the citizen Advisory Board is not, and did not, look at the larger picture and look at the solutions that are available, but not engaged. If it were the truth that we are doing all we can at the Field Office level to manage our public land based on science and hard work and still have extraordinary problems, then the statement of “looking at this as a necessity” would be a valid statement, it’s simply not.
When I sit at these board meetings or engage media on the “issue of wild horses” it is an anomaly, not the norm, to have anyone look at how wild horses fit into the equation of public land. “Wild horse” conversations are addressed as if they live in some isolated space causing “all the ills” on public land. Justifications are simply given to continue to do what we have always done, and expect a different result. Can we stop the crazy train?
A conversation about a “Final Solution” is only valid when you have addressed A-Y. After that you can talk about “Solution Z.” Creating an article that deals with the “A-Z” would have most people losing interest around “D or E” and thinking they understand all they need to. Or simply the sad fact that most people are not actually looking to solve a problem but looking to perpetuate an agenda or for validation. If you are looking for solutions than that is the only agenda, not looking for the next bend where you can point your finger at the guy across the table.
One of the greatest challenges is creating a conversation based on the law and the truth as it pertains to the law and the reality of the entire picture of public land. Before having a conversation about killing horses we really need to begin to understand that we need to solve the problem of the broken conversation that leads to broken management.
- Wild Horses (and burros) represent a resource, not a use. What does that mean? It means that private entities apply for a permit to utilize a public resource for personal profit (uses that do: mining, livestock, off road races, etc). A public resource is to be preserved and protected as “multiple uses” are permitted for “the public good” (grass, water quality, minerals, wild horses).
- Any conversation must begin with that knowledge ingrained into each and every discussion point. In order to integrate each interest (everything and anything that people want to do or see on public land) into any process that achieves any sustainable, sane, equitable outcome this distinction must be understood.
- This distinction creates not only distinction in management practices but a distinction in the process of engaging human interaction through policy to achieve objectives. If this is not understood, nothing that occurs after it will lead to anything resembling appropriate.
- Wild horses (and burros) are a very small portion of the public resource. About 11% of public land managed by the BLM contains areas the BLM designated (through discretionary practice) for this resource to exist. Within the areas designated for this resource we are to see the resource preserved and protected as a “wild” species as defined by Congress (the debate over this is irrelevant when it comes to the law that exists today. If the law is changed based on new scientific evidence then it becomes pertinent, but that has not happened at this juncture and is irrelevant to creating solutions in todays world).
- If the “wild horse” issue were the reason for degraded habitat we would only have the problem of degraded habitat where we have wild horses and we do not.
So if we take the these major points in the first area we need a “solution” to the broken conversation that creates management practices of public land. Once that is addressed we can then apply those to addressing root core issues.
But we always like to blame symptoms for the disease. The symptoms get worse every year and we spend more and more time on the symptoms. The symptoms end up with a mythology of it’s own that compounds the problem of an effective conversation that changes the root of management and the cycles repeat again.
Then we like to mythologize our villains. We paint elaborate myth about who the players are at the table. We create elaborate pictures of the cast of characters that adds another layer of irrelevant drivel to cut through before we ever get to the actual “solutions.” (WHE and our founder Laura Leigh (me) have a huge mythology around our work that claims we are extreme animal rights trying to push a vegan agenda and Leigh (me) is either a millionaire heiress or a wanted felon).
So before we ever get to a solution conversation we have to cut through the lack of basic information about law and rangeland and then cut through perpetuations of myth. Why do myths and politics rule the conversation? Because this is an extremely effective strategy if your objective is to obstruct progress. It has worked for over 100 years in public land management and for more than forty years in obstructing creation of a sustainable wild horse program.
Wild horses in holding, adoptions, a volatile political environment, range degradation, etc are all symptoms of broken land management practices across the board. The wild horse issue itself is a symptom of land management problems, not a distinct issue.
In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences crafted a report on the Wild Horse and Burro Program. The BLM National office has not created any list of recommendations from the report as any mandate that needs to translate into on the ground management.
The agency moved forward on Sage Grouse issues that have essentially revamped public land management. That process cost the tax payer about a billion dollars if you include all associated costs. The Sage Grouse plans simply insert the old broken paradigm for wild horses, dissected by the National Academy of Sciences to represent absolutely inaccurate and fictional practices, into the new land use planning process.
Why did the National Office not create recommendations to correct the faulty variables and inaccurate equations prior to addressing wild horses in the new land use process? We can speculate all we want as to “why?” but it does not change the fact that we are not addressing any root problems when we fail to address the changes required on the range.
If we have broad scale range degradation across the board, even where we have no wild horses, we need to address those causes. According to some bizarre “rule” of land management it appears that if there is an HMA, all the issues stem from horses.
Is that logical? Can any of those conversations be made by anyone proposing any “solution?” If you mention that you become the subject of a personal attack. I guess that validates the argument?
We have a big problem on public land. If you look at the NAS report that addresses the lack of data in the WHB program you can also note that we have a lack of data across the board. At the beginning of the year the GAO released a report on livestock grazing and trespass livestock being a very big problem. How we allocate forage to domestic livestock is also data and logic poor. That use impacts 66% of public land including the 11% that is occupied by wild horses. Can you ignore the impact of a use to a resource (remember wild horses are a resource, not a use)? Saying that as a logical fact then subjects you once again to personal attack, because that is the way to win an argument. Unfortunately that is not a funny joke, but a fact.
Our public lands have become a series of fenced areas crisscrossed by highways. There is no such thing as “open range,” unless you simply mean the areas there is no fence near a highway and you need to be careful driving so you don’t hit a cow.
Why don’t we begin addressing this allotment by allotment, not HMA by HMA (keep it simple stupid)? Create a current rangeland health assessment. Utilize aggressive application of temporary fertility control and collect a baseline data equation that identifies the herd to protect the genetics (able to reproduce itself is the simplistic definition of wild, meaning those genetics must be able to replicate as the most basic definition of preservation). Monitor carefully how all the animals utilize the range. Is there a way to time livestock turnout that assists in moving horses to better facilitate vaccination? Is the lowland able to sustain a winter habitat? If the lowland is unhealthy and creating a harder use of resources in the uplands how do we address it? What habitat is critical to wild horses? Can we then mitigate appropriately with expanding mining operations to protect that habitat? Is the allocation of forage able to sustain wild populations of all species? Are water sources maintained and in working order (remember fences impede natural movement and often waters have been engulfed by mining requiring wells and pumps and pipelines to provide water)?
Only when we begin to address the reality of the range can we talk solutions. Solutions come in a site by site package.
We have several volunteers engaged today in classes on assessing water monitoring, modeling and mapping. We have volunteers in various educational classes that address controlling invasive grasses, fire management and rehab, legal seminars, etc.
Wild horses are a part of a complex conversation. We must engage the entire picture in order to ensure that wild horses remain apart of it. We must engage wild horses in that big picture and stop addressing this as if it is an issue that exists in a vacuum.
Is any conversation that involves killing horses that lost their freedom because of our failure to address issues appropriate? No, it is lazy, ignorant and simply clears the way to continue to fail.
Our series for the pragmatic Advocate will continue in our next article.