Our wild horses live on public lands. The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act) does have the legal definition of “range” clearly stated: “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;
Wild horses are confined to an extremely limited amount of public lands, about 11%. If you read the law you would make an assumption that on that fraction of public lands wild horses have a lot of the resource. When hearing the phrase “overpopulated” many make an assumption that wild horses have eaten a lot of grass and it becomes “unfair” to others that share those acres. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not one Herd Management Area (HMA) is managed “principally but not necessarily exclusively” for our wild horses. In truth we really do not know what their “territorial limits” even were in 1975 when the maps were drawn. Many of those maps did not even include areas that BLM documented wild horses standing on.
There is absolutely no paper trail on todays assertion that the “lower case r” actually only refers to the upper case “R” used in Wild Horse Range. A Wild Horse or Burro Range is an area designated prior to 1971 like the Pryor Mountain Range. We only have a handful of these in the nation. Today the BLM claims that specific criteria must be met to achieve that special status. Yet again, there is absolutely no paper trail to determine when, how and by whose hand, that distinction became management protocol.
Today we hear the phrase “multiple use.” That phrase came from the Federal Land Management Policy Act or FLMPA. That law was passed in 1975 and the phrase “not in derogation of any other Act or law” is included. That means the language of the 1971 WFRH&B Act should have remained intact; the language remained, the intention simply did not.
Dividing up the public forage
Livestock is a permitted private profit use of public lands. Wild horses are a public resource. That distinction is very important. A use is permitted when it wont cause environmental damage that can not be undone. A resource must be protected.
Today over two thirds of our public lands is occupied by livestock. In wild horse HMAs livestock is given 80-90% of all the grass that grows. Even at 4 times what BLM calls an Appropriate Management Level (AML) for wild horses the amount of actual forage consumed is a mere fraction. We urge you to check out comparative overview of how we allot the grass that grows on public lands, state by state, CLICK HERE.
In 2016 the Government Accounting Office (GAO) published the results of an investigation into trespass livestock. The findings showed this was a rampant practice in the West. It was also under reported and penalties were not being issued as outlined under law.
A permit to graze domestic livestock on public lands is set in parameters of the number of animals and the time they can go out on range, as well as the time they come off.
Trespass is when those parameters are not adhered to by turning out too many, putting them on too early and/or taking them off late.
Many people have this romantic notion that public lands livestock is this “cowboy” moving cows all day on horseback, it’s not. The vast majority is “dump and recover.” The animals are dumped in a location at the beginning of the permit time, checked on a few times and then pushed into a corral and loaded to be sent to slaughter plants using the old horseback technique, aircraft and/or ATV.
Trespass livestock also create more imbalance in the perception of range use. If 500 cows stay out an extra month, or 2-6 months, this idea that we have even an accurate look at forage allocation becomes an absurdity. (comparative info)
Why is this such a problem?
Many of the problems on public land can be traced back to resentment of federal authority. Yes, it is that simple.
During western expansion, and the gold and silver rushes, livestock was needed to feed expanding local populations. Gold fueled the Civil War and subsidy programs were born to encourage livestock operations to feed miners. The transcontinental rail created a way to get product to eastern states and increased demand in transplanted European cultures that saw eating meat as a status symbol.
However, competition became fierce. There were wars between cattle and sheep ranchers. Homesteaders were killed. Local politicians and Sheriffs were literally bought by the livestock industry.
On June 28, 1934, dust from the worst storms in the nation’s history settled on Washington DC, the “Dust Bowl.” In 1934 the Taylor Grazing Act was passed to stop bloodshed, but it barely touched on the devastation happening in our western states, from domestic livestock. The landscape was permanently altered from the pristine beauty seen by Lewis and Clark. The 1934 Act regulated the public range around a system of grazing leases, after 50 years of a free for all; the permit system was born and ties to land owners that held the political clout (a ranch tied to tens of thousand of acres of public land permits can be as small as a couple hundred acres).
“Don’t tell me what to do with my land!” is still heard today from public land permittees, even though the permit is a revokable privilege to make a profit off a public resource. The most well-known was the stand-off in Bunkerville as desert tortoise habitat was destroyed and a decade of trespass, with no federal action against it, amassed over 1 million dollars in grazing fees and battered the landscape into oblivion. An online petition was started with photos of starving cattle on bashed public lands. The cows are still out there. (The environmentalists fighting for the desert tortoise were threatened. Ron Mrowka had to change his address.)
Bunkerville is not the only incident where trespass has gone unaddressed and the landscape suffers. Many lowlands are bashed beyond redemption all over the West.
Federal land managers do not go out and do an assessment of the range before turnout, create a permit and then go out to see if livestock comes off at the right time each year. Permits are simply renewed every year under the direction of powerful political lobbies in Congress. In some cases the BLM has not done a range assessment in 15 years or more. When they do an assessment over 70% fail any semblance of range health. (You can view a map here by High Country News)
When you do try to do something about it? Bunkerville was the most well-known example; but other examples are the Argenta allotments where a huge protest was staged called the “Grass March” and the BLM employee that had the audacity to restrict livestock had his job threatened by the state office. Wild horses had their own run in with trespass ranchers and a drama storm surrounding a management plan at Fish Creek. (even members of WHE got our lives threatened).
Last month the BLM fired a 21 year employee working in the Ely district of Nevada, Craig Hoover. Even under political pressure he continued to report issues with permittees including trespass. Nothing was done about the livestock trespass but Hoover lost his job. He is in Appeal on his firing with assistance from PEER. (for wild horse advocates these reports include areas we have wild horses that are a current target of the “Stewart Alliance” and included in the “photo array” blaming horses for degradation.)
The downward spiral of public lands due to overgrazing has been written about in numerous tomes, texts, reports to Presidents and Congress. Yet at the field level federal land managers are either too afraid, lazy or in bed with, the powerful political machine that is public lands ranching.
Public land grazing (this is not private property) produces less than 3% of meat utilized in industry and lost the tax payer over a billion in subsidies and support programs in a decade. This is an historic use, not one that benefits the nation economically. As an example, one casino in Vegas employees more people than the entire livestock industry in Nevada. Under law this is a permitted privilege, not a right. They have the right to apply for a permit, but not a right to have it granted unless conditions are met. Through politics many of those parameters have disappeared and BLM issues permit renewals even if standards are not met, or they (BLM) never did an assessment in the first place. (an interactive rangeland health map from High Country News)
Environmentalists, and environmental concerns, are scapegoated.
- The Greater Sage Grouse did not cause itself to be on the verge of needing to be listed on the Endangered Species Act.
- Wild horses did not cause problems as they are forced into an even more fragmented habitat by rapidly expanding mining and livestock fencing projects, they are trying to survive it.
With the Greater Sage Grouse we have identified critical habitat, and a massive effort to document behaviors and impacts to breeding was begun. Millions have been spent creating “habitat protection plans” to save the grouse. Those plans have turned into “how do we manipulated the data and the funding to create cow chow” in the politics that rule public lands. However, the attempt is made, the data exists and it can be used as a place to fight for protection.
Wild horses have an entire Act of Congress to protect them and their “range.” However, if you even use the words “critical habitat” when referencing a wild horse federal land managers look like they are on the verge of a stroke. Field offices do population counts, about once a year, and base everything off an arbitrarily set number (AML is not set on “what the land can sustain,” but on “what the permittee agreed to in 1975.” Asserting that the number Congress found “fast disappearing” in 1975, as todays stocking level, is insanity. Any other species would have had a recovery number set of at least 4 times a population “fast disappearing.”)
The “wild horse program” does not do anything to inhibit impact from industry to critical waters or forage. In fact, almost everything critical (to the survival of the wild horse) has been impacted in one way or another. A spring the horses use? put in a pipeline for livestock, stop natural flow and then blame the horse for wanting to drink after the permittee turns off the trough.
Right now wild horse habitat is shrinking fast. We never identified what AML actually was based on any scientific equation in 1975, what that land could sustain, prior to giving away acre, after acre, after acre, to private industry.
Addressing trespass livestock, an illegal use of public resource, also carries the price-tag of getting your life threatened. Many federal managers actually rely on enviros to do the complaining. Then they blame the enviro when the permittee gets mad. Yes, federal managers can get threatened. Often they “pass that buck” right onto the non-profit world.
That’s not what their oaths say. Part of their job is to “protect” the public “good.” Taking your paycheck and benefits, but relying on those without such luxuries to do your jobs? That is cowardice. It’s a problem.
In order to fix any of this it would need to begin with an actual data set on when, how and where wild horses actually utilize the range.
Then we would need to begin to determine how to protect that habitat.
The wild horse is the only animal in our nation defined legally by where it stands, not what it is biologically. We do absolutely nothing to define and protect the land it stands on. Is it any wonder this program is awash in chaos, contradictions, fabrications, outrage and constant crisis?
It is kept in crisis. The root of that crisis lies in protected the range it (wild horses) needs to survive from industry for profit. Crisis is much easier for powerful political bullies to exploit. Changing that crisis on the range would take a government not afraid to follow the law.
If we do not begin there we have failed the public trust and the wild horse.
It all begins with the federal government actually doing their job, gathering real data, creating equity, and enforcing the law.
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Help us stay in the fight.
YOU can take an important action to help wild horses.
We MUST get an investigation into the corruption behind the current budget requests set to decimate your wild herds, with no scientific justification, to satisfy corporate interests that all aim to profit.
The Deputy Director Game; How BLM is trying to avoid scrutiny while your public resources are given away https://wildhorseeducation.org/2019/05/18/the-blm-deputy-game-avoid-scrutiny-play-games-with-the-law/
The well funded propaganda attack is in full swing. https://wildhorseeducation.org/2019/05/27/wave-two-of-the-attack-on-the-wild-horse-and-burro-act-coming-this-week/
Categories: Wild Horse Education