Many of our readers are emailing us with questions about the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. We are receiving questions that cover a very broad range of subjects.
We hope this piece answers some of them for you. The public should feel empowered to speak on any public land resource; wild horses are a public resource under law and you thoughts and desires matter. (Italicized words link to documents or articles for additional information. We will cover additional subjects this week to help you craft letters relevant to your areas of concern.)
The BLM WHB Advisory Board is required under law to exist, but has no authority to reprimand or create policy (under law).
The board crafts a set of recommendations after each meeting, but BLM has no obligation to follow any of them. In the past the BLM essentially ignored the board; simply treated it as an obligation to attend. In recent years the BLM has tried to use board recommendations as a legal authority for proposed actions (like spaying). A recommendation from the board is not something BLM must do (like recommending spaying), if that action is not outlined in a Land Use Plan (LUP) or other underlying NEPA document, it can not be put into action. In other words, board recommendations are like a collective public comment on the program, made by a hand picked group of people, not policy.
Yes, the taxpayer pays all expenses of this board including any travel to meetings or assigned field trips. The appointees do not receive an actual salary.
The board member list often reads like a “who is who” of those associated with movements to limit (or rid) public lands of wild horses. The only “advocate” currently on the board, was an author of the “Ten Years to AML” document in cooperation with livestock.(you can see current members here)
Members are “appointed” by the Secretary of Interior.
The next meeting is scheduled as a “virtual” meeting due to Covid-19. You can sign up to speak. However, we have been informed that only a handful of slots in the first “public comment session” remain open. If you can not sign up to speak, you can send a letter.(More HERE)
From BLM press release dated August 18: Speakers and those who cannot attend the virtual meeting can also submit a written copy of their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks prior to the meeting. Please include “Advisory Board Comment” in the subject line of the e-mail.
If you are submitting written comments the board wants an opportunity to see them prior to the meeting, even though you have not heard what the board has said yet and responsive comments are impossible to craft. We suggest getting in a comment by Sept 10 (Thursday or Friday) and, after you hear what the board actually says, send in an amended comment letter (noting the date of your original submission) if you want to change what you said after hearing the board.
Our members have engaged the board for many years, including presenting in one of the work sessions that the public does not see. We found the board to be generally deficient in “wild horse basics” that include everything from simplistic subjects (what is PZP? in 2016) to public lands law and land use planning. We found them to, generally, be well-versed in the objectives of the livestock industry and soundbites.
However, we have found these meetings to be useful as a tool to get people involved. Crafting a letter to the board is like creating a draft, in your own words, to send to your legislators. As you craft your letters most people will hone in on a piece of the program (or two) and dig to find information to support their position.
The process of going through the motions to address the board will make you a better advocate as you speak to the public and your legislators, even if you never send your letter to the board. The draft would be a good letter to send to your local media or legislator after you finalize your draft.
In every aspect of advocacy the scope of your comments is controlled; limited to an area outlined by that part of process. As an example commenting on an Environmental Assessment (EA) for a roundup that “wild horses need more forage” would be met with: “outside the scope of this EA.” That comment would be appropriate (with supporting data) to a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) that BLM simply does not do in the overwhelmingly vast majority of HMAs. (you can see more in our Senate Action item)
We hear your frustration in your emails. However, comments to the board are a place to make statements on the entire program and not limited to one roundup or proposed action like spaying.
Many of our readers are interested in being as technically correct as they can be. It is a great way to improve your personal advocacy. We are going to show you one way around your “stated frustrations with the limitations” to the board meeting agenda.
The Advisory Board presents an agenda and asks that comments be relevant to that agenda.
Yes, when you read the agenda you can see that public comments are spaced sporadically throughout the meeting. The first public comment session is after the board presents their interpretation of the BLM Report to Congress. There is no comment period after the discussion on fertility control. The next comment period, the following day, is after the board (and BLM) gives you their take on range conditions and humane handling. The last public comment session is after the burro discussion and a glimpse at recommendations for the meeting in general.
You can sign up to speak once, are limited to 3 minutes, and slots filled up fast. If you could only get into slot one, and speak about humane handling, your comments wont include any response to what the board presents and may sound a bit out of context if you are not directly addressing the BLM report to Congress. We understand you concern.
Many of our readers are concerned that their comments will be tossed into an “irrelevant zone,” because it has happened before. Important to always remember: the board is more of an exercise in how to use legal language; the board has no legal authority except the authority to exist. So don’t over stress how you phrase things with the board.
If you want to try to be as precise as possible, you can address your concerns with how you phrase your opening statement on whatever subject you like with: “The BLM Report to Congress, discussed by this board, states….” and then find a paragraph or sentence in the report that touches the subject you want to speak on.
The board will review the report so, technically, any subject in that report is on the agenda.
One of the things not specifically listed on the agenda is the Adoption Incentive Program (AIP).
If you are one of the people really concerned about the increase in mustangs in kill-pens and auctions since the AIP began, it is actually noted by BLM as relevant to this meeting.
BLM actually uses it as public relations hype in the press release for the board meeting:
At the same time, the Bureau has made significant progress to improve wild horse and burro management, including achieving a 15-year record for adoptions and sales into private care in Fiscal Year 2019. Since 1971, BLM has placed more than 255,000 wild horses and burros into private care.
If you want to express your frustration, recommending the AIP be stopped, or make any other recommendation on AIP, you can note the BLM press release highlighting AIP.
You can also go to page 13-16 of the BLM Report to Congress and pick any sentence or paragraph to include in your comment; the report is on the agenda and any subject in the report is relevant to discussion. (Report here)
Example on page 14: It is about $1,500 per animal placed (not including the $1,000 for the AIP).
A comment might include: your displeasure that BLM simply created the AIP to rid the pens so the status quo could be accelerated. The AIP does not solve the identified issues with adoption/sale, it accelerates the flaws. The mandates of Congress include defunding of sales to slaughter (only added to the Act in the 2004 budget debate and strictly prohibited under the original law and defunded since the day it was added) and oversight. As the massive flaws in the program were exposed (as in the nearly 1800 that went to one killbuyer that was a friend of a former Sec of Interior) the BLM did not request more funding for oversight and tracking, instead they created the AIP that is increasing the risks of slaughter and compounding the challenges of actual oversight.
“As an American I do not want to pay for this slaughter subsidy that allows BLM to skirt oversight and responsibility to the public resource.”
If that is your area of concern writing it out for the board helps you better articulate it for your Senator in the next round of the budget debate. Saying that same thing to your Senator? you add the phrase “I ask that you defund the Adoption Incentive Program (AIP)” and then add the paragraph that outlines your reasoning.
Over the coming week we will feature more subjects that you are writing to us about, that you want to craft comments on to the board and legislators, in greater detail.
We will update you on the “water wars” in the West, roundups and specific herds that are in trouble due to decades of neglect, rapid encroachment by private profiteers and politics.
All of the dangers our wild ones face are important. “Wild Horses” is a multi-layered subject that spans from on range preservation of resources, abuse at roundups, to the slaughter pipeline (more in our 101 series) All of it matters.
Our 4-Step Senate Action item is an attempt to stop the games that continue to add to the bill footed by the tax-payer as the entire program collapses. In this action item the last step is the most important.
Please continue to speak for the wild.
Categories: Wild Horse Education