Preface to grazing article:
Far too often discussions on “the wild horse” devolve into a debate about what happens after capture and adoption (when they enter the realm of domestic law). This has led to a time where the wild ones have been scapegoated for every failure in range management taken by land managers.
Corporate, multi-species, organizations that focus on domestics, contractors looking for control of taxpayer funding for holding facilities and the livestock political lobby have divided the wild horse funding pie up and are pushing hard in Congress to pass a dangerous increase in appropriations (funding). This push essentially gives control of the wild to livestock and control of facility funding to corporate advocacy. Yes, a few orders of PZP, temporary fertility control, and a handful of darting programs that are set up to fail, are included in the package. (please learn more and continue to call your reps in opposition HERE.)
We must rapidly increase our efforts to raise awareness that wild horses are a public lands issue, are not managed by science or ethical practices and are, literally, being traded away in a game of corporate profit lines.
Mining and livestock interests are prioritized over every environmental issue. Those issues run the gamut from sage grouse protections to water availability and quality. When we talk about any other species that lives on public lands (from insects to predator species) the conversation begins with identifying critical habitat and fighting against habitat encroachment. Wen we talk about wild horses we focus on the issue after the wild horse has been blamed for damage done by industry, removed in mass roundups and sits in a holding facility.
On public lands every living thing faces grave threats from industry: mining and livestock.
WHE has joined 70 organizations in a call for mining reform (HERE). We will update you soon.
This article is an introduction to some issues involving the livestock industry that wild horse advocates need to familiarize themselves with, and prepare to fight.
Targeted and Outcome: Politics Based Grazing Schemes (by B.T. Kirle)
Currently, as you read these words, we stand at the confluence of deliberate interference with our wild horses and public lands. Near constant overreaching by BLM at the behest of private interests has resulted in the destruction, desecration, and brutalization of our wild places time and time again, and now we find ourselves looking down the proverbial barrels of new grazing initiatives; primarily outcome grazing and targeted grazing. As advocates we owe it to ourselves to understand what these concepts are.
Environmental sustainability and “ecological balance” can be represented simply. “As the choppers flew to remove wild horses down to a ridiculously low level, the plane was in the air taking out coyotes and the mountain lion trucks were out killing the 3 lions in the area. The wild horses, that only had about a 7% increase in foals each year, were said to have no natural predators and that was one of the reasons they needed to be removed. The wild horses were taken, the coyotes and lions killed, just in time for livestock turnout. That’s BLMs idea of ecological balance.” ~Laura Leigh, founder Wild Horse Education.
Outcome Based Grazing was an initiative that was introduced in 2017, and has remained completely obfuscated since then, kept close to the chest of the Interior Department itself. What we do know is that the plan cites “Outcome-Based Grazing Authorizations,” which it said would “emphasize conservation performance, ecological outcomes and cooperative management of public lands that will also provide greater opportunity for an operator to manage ranching operations that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
It has always been difficult to obtain information from federal agencies. Over the last few years filings of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have risen, so has the number of requests refused and delayed.
In September, the Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit to address this intentional withholding of information from the public. “This is the latest example of the (Trump) administration favoring industrial agriculture over conservation, biodiversity and wildlife,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director of the Western Watersheds Project. The lawsuit attempts to force the government to release information about the initiative to the public, information that would divulge how the initiative directly effects the public lands of Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. We will continue to monitor and report on the events that transpire with this lawsuit, though as of yet there has been no progress.
Targeted Grazing, however, is the misplaced belief that eliminating grasses through increased turnout of private livestock can reduce the spread of wildfire. The reason the BLM is so married to this concept is political, not scientific or environmental. Throughout the public lands in the west, biological soil crusts consisting of moss, algae, lichens, and cyanobacteria cover the soil between native bunch-grasses. These crusts are very fragile and easily broken up by trampling from livestock hooves, dealing a massive blow to the flora and ecosystem of an area. This increased trampling increases the spread of invasive grasses that represent the exact fire fuel this supposed “plan” claims to decrease.
Essentially BLM seeks to misdirect the blame from the cow that causes the spread of invasive grass onto the grass itself, and then asserting the cow can alleviate the problem (it is absurd). This is done to keep the private cattle interests protected, and the money coming in from their governmental supporters (political contributions) and similar interests.
Much of this is also being done out of fear. See article on Extremism on public lands and the first of several hearings planned by the House. HERE.
The BLM Nevada State Office has begun the process of writing an environmental assessment (EA) titled “Targeted Grazing of Annual Grasses in the Great Basin Ecoregions in Nevada.” This EA will fulfill the National Environmental Policy Act requirements associated with implementing Secretarial Order 3372, “Reducing Wildfire Risks through Active Management,” and the Executive Order issued December 21, 2018, titled “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, and Other Federal Land to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.”
“We are taking this action because of the threat annual invasive grasses, specifically cheatgrass, play in altering fire regime conditions that intensify wildland fire frequency, duration and size,” Jon Raby, Nevada State Director, said. “The EA is intended to expedite implementation of projects across much of Nevada while complying with the law.”
A possible translation: “We are working hard to increase livestock on your public lands due to political pressure. It would be illegal for us to simply give them free range to the range. So we are going to do an EA to create a layer of paperwork that will represent an impression that we are complying with existing law. This will make it harder when environmental interests take us to court.”
The stated purpose for this EA will “provide BLM with sufficient information to evaluate applications for targeted grazing treatments that meet project objectives, to manage invasive annual grasses that intensify wildland fire behavior and diminish ecological integrity using a variety of livestock grazing practices.”
The EA for the state of Nevada, the home of more wild horses than other states combined, will be available for public comment in January and February. This will be one of those EAs that will directly impact wild horse HMAs where AML (stocking level) for wild horses is still not scientifically based and skewed dramatically, already, for private livestock (NAS 1982-2013). When this EA becomes available for comment we will update you and provide information to craft effective engagement.
Important to remember:
Currently, the fee is $1.35 an AUM (animal unit month) for the amount of forage a cow and calf can consume in a month. A little over a buck a month, less than a can of dog food. You can see why this cycle perpetuates itself; with little to no oversight against livestock grazing and the constant covering of the government and this administration, the corruptive cycle is allowed to continue much as it has. You can read all about the specifics of grazing fees here: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS21232.pdf
Trespass livestock is rampant in the West. Federal managers are not reporting, enforcing or setting any accountability against the breaking of federal law. https://naturalresources.house.gov/media/press-releases/gao-taxpayers-heavily-subsidizing-ranching-on-public-lands-environmental-damage-unclear-due-to-poor-recordkeeping
Permittees are being allowed to turn off water sources where BLM holds “wildlife” permits for water. This is being done in the name of “resting” areas from livestock grazing and is creating hardship for wild horses and wildlife. The decision making process is being hidden from the public and FOIAs requesting information are being delayed or denied. (more on this soon)
However, there is one thing that has the potential to begin to free our public lands of the livestock yoke; and that is livestock grazing permit retirement. Currently, if a livestock operator felt the land was unsuitable and wanted to retire an allotment, BLM would simply open it to other permittees to graze.
The way permit retirement works is that in exchange for a predetermined amount of funding, the rancher volunteers to give up their public lands grazing privileges on a specific allotment. However, permit retirement is voluntary, and right now the funds for such permit retirement have come from private sources.
Previous attempts to introduce legislation to right this absurd oversight have all been shot down, in large part due to the livestock organizations and their financial pressure on Congress. We will keep you updated on this desperately needed part of livestock grazing reform.
As an advocate for a public land resource, wild horses, we must pay attention to the threats to their safety and survival. The biggest threats are in the form of the mining and livestock industries.
Without the “land they stand” our wild horses, literally, lose their legal identity, their home, family and freedom.
As an advocacy we implore you to continue to speak out against the corporate industry push to increase funding to the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program. The increase in funding does not fix a single law in the program and will run it to collapse.
This push is not aimed at preserving wild horses. This is a corrupt power and money grab, just like you are seeing everywhere on public lands. Removals of 15-20K wild horses each year (for 3-4 years), surgical sterilization of more than half the population left in the wild, turning massive amounts of funding over to a lobby group for holding costs, etc. will decimate populations in the wild and increase the risk of killing tens of thousands of wild horses held captive.
We are already seeing an increase in wild horses appearing in slaughter auctions as BLM claims “adoption” events are successful, offers subsidies to those that take wild horses. In truth, the vast majority of these are wild horses simply sold without protection.
Please learn more and take the time to craft a letter to your Representatives. (our webinar summary)
Categories: Wild Horse Education