Wild Horse Education

Will Momentum For Reform Carry Wild Horses and Burros?

Wild horses and pronghorn search for water after backdoor deals turn off historically available sources during drought.

Migratory Birds, Sage Grouse, National Monuments, and Wild Horses (and burros) were all on the same “hit list” of a movement that has been given many names: Grass March, Public Lands Extremism, Sage Brush Rebellion, etc. This “hit list” was intended to remove anything that was in the way of rapid expansion of private profit interests on public lands (livestock, mining, oil and gas and any employee that tried to protect even one tiny area of public lands from tuning into a dust bowl)

Over the last couple of months the news has carried stories showing many of these protections reinstated or plans to decimate a public resource overturned. Oil and gas lease sales on public lands have been suspended. Grazing permits where the permittee has broken the law have been rescinded (like the Hammonds that spurred the Mahluer occupation).

Today, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was restored.

What does all of this have to do with wild horses and burros? We need to steer the administration toward recognizing wild horses and burros are part of public lands. We have an opportunity to push real reform.

You can take fast action here. However, we urge you find your legislators and call. Start building a relationship with your lawmakers, become conversant on the issues and help move long overdue reform (if you have the time, your voice needed).

This article is written (rapidly) to help you understand why we are asking you to take the actions we ask of you, and to explain why we are busy engaging certain avenues.

Many of you are asking questions.

We know that if we simply said “we are working to stop the Adoption Incentive Program that is increasing the number of wild horses going to slaughter” or “our litigation against against the spay plan is making progress,” you would support those actions. Both of those statements in the previous sentence are true. 

Spaying, Adoption Incentive Program, the massive increase in unjustified removals, the rapid loss of critical habitat, etc. are all tied in to the same movement. We take individual actions, like litigating the spay plan or a mine expansion, and we take broad action.

One: Understand The Connection

Understanding the connection is important. When we have an administration that is co-opted by industry, wild horses get hit. When we have an environmental minded administration, wild horses get overlooked in favor of big environmental concerns. Wild horses get relegated to the concerns of an “animal welfare, domestic animal” organization agenda and the fact that they are a public lands resource that needs protection, literally, gets lost.

Wild horses (and burros) are part of public lands. The lack of actual management planning to preserve and protect them and their habitat lies at the foundation of a program that has turned into a fiscal blackhole with no responsibility to the broad public interest, just placating local politics.

The conflict between those that exploit public resources for profit and those trying to preserve wild places in the US goes back over 100 years.

In recent years the most well know term is the Sage Brush Rebellion” that rose into view in the 1970’s and 80’s. The push that became openly vocal in 2014 was referenced, by many on the backside, as the third rise of the  Sage Brush Rebellion. However, in 2014 they used many different names, with some even creating non-profit front groups with official sounding names, as the rise of the internet brought some cover. (You can see Forty Years of the Sage Brush Rebellion at High Country News HERE. The list is not inclusive of all events, but you will get a clear idea.)

In 2014, on the heels of the armed “Bunkerville” standoff involving the impoundment of the trespass livestock of Cliven Bundy, a “petition” was carried by one of the factions to DC that called themselves “The Grass March” .

  • Empower states to remove abusive federal employees (note: they mean those with the audacity to protect public land from abusive practices or anyone they don’t like)
  • Remove sage grouse from consideration as an endangered species (note: because that could restrict them from using your public range as their private property)
  • Reinstate all roads closed by U.S. Forest Service
  • Remove excess wild horses from the rangelands and reinstate open sales
  • Remove the raven from the Migratory Bird Treaty (note: because they want to kill them)
  • Halt the attempt by federal agents to gain control over Nevada Water
  • Transfer public land to state control (note: so their buddies can give them everything they want)

If you read the above petition you can see that removals (and open sales to slaughter) are one of the key points of this movement. Resentment over the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, that created federal jurisdiction and ended “mustanging,” has been active since the day the Act passed (to learn more about the Act and mustanging, you can visit our special exhibit that marks the 50th Anniversary of the Act HERE).

At the root of public lands issues in the West lies a deep resentment, political pressure and even serious personal safety issues. All of these factors heavily influence how land managers make decisions; either being part of the “buddy club,” or in fear of it. It needs to stop.  (You can lean more about, perhaps, the most critical area that needs reform: public lands extremism HERE)

Grass March, State Assemblies, etc. It is all about resentment over regulations that try to protect the environment and stop them from doing whatever they want. “Do not tell me what to do!”

Two: How That Movement Hit Wild Horses Today

Large scale removals, slamming populations down to scientifically unjustified levels (AML), blaming wild horses for damage done by domestic livestock, cutting off waters without open public process, the Adoption Incentive Program (basically subsidized slaughter sales), sterilization, removing public records from online portals and failures to answer FOIA requests and on and on, have all been a part of the push to remove wild horses from the range as fast as possible with as little oversight and public participation as possible. Livestock and mining are being approved in territory that was intended to sustain our wild horses has been happening at a mind numbing pace.

It is important to remember that everything on the list above is not due to a change in law, but simply by the directives of those heading land management agencies.

Wild Horses and National Monuments were both on the “hit list” of those that have personal connection (including financial investments) with former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the revolving door of Deputy Directors of the BLM (John Ruhs, Brian Steed, William Perry Pendley). 

The Directives of these men gutted, not only protections for sage grouse and National Monuments, but for wild horses as well. If we are going to undo the wrongs? it is not just migratory birds, sage grouse, National Monuments, etc. The list includes wild horses.

Example: Why did BLM keep pushing spaying? Spaying has not had a protocol cleared scientifically or been reviewed and included in the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP). The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) advised against it. So why has BLM spent so much money creating plan after plan that faces litigation after litigation, a big expense to the tax-payer? Because the directives from these men told BLM to do it… and to do it in a way that will avoid any NEPA process (analysis, public comment, etc) for at least a decade. 

update: the spay (ovariectomy via colpotompy) planned for the Confusion HMA, where WHE has active litigation, has been cancelled. However, sterilization is not off the table and the deficits in planning have not been addressed. (more HERE) 

These Directives, and the factors behind them, need to be stopped and exposed. We are making progress.

Progress: which direction will it pivot?

  1. Specific EAs: Plans to Sterilize, Unjustified Roundups and Approve More Profit Driven Uses Destroying Critical Habitat

In January WHE made a request that planning documents that were crafted under Directives of William Perry Pendley be suspended and reviewed. We tied the request to an Executive Order that was largely being interpreted to involve extractive industry (more on our request HERE).

Concurrently, the White House released the Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. On March 3rd Secretarial Order 3397 was signed to restore scientific integrity to decision making and review all activities associated with a 2018 order that hamstrung scientific review.

Several of the Environmental Assessments (EAs) we noted are now under review. Some of them involve sterilization, including the spay plan” in Utah where WHE has active legal action (update). However, the plan in Utah is not the only plan that includes spaying and other forms of sterilization pushed by an internal directive from Pendley, not science or analysis of the herd itself.

2. In the BIG picture

When it comes to scientific review of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, as an advocacy we must go after the BLM Report to Congress of 2020. That report is a data void wish list that simply prioritizes what a well-funded lobby crafted called “Ten Years to AML.” The lobbyists were all after funding subsidies that enriched their clients and based their entire document on severely flawed science, law and common sense.

The Wild Horse and Burro Program is perhaps the least science based and accountable of all of the programs run by the BLM. The root lies in the fact that the program has been used as either a political football or entirely neglected.

Actual management planning has been largely non-existent for 50 years, even though it is required by law. This open planning process is the first step to achieving the intention of the 1971 Act and to include the public in public lands management and not simply the loudest bully in the county.

As you talk to your legislators, comment on active EAs for roundups and craft your letters to incoming leadership in the agency, use the directives on scientific integrity signed March 3. Remember the NAS Review of 2013 and that BLM has never done a review of the document and created a list of actions they are taking to rectify the deficits of the program.

Use the NAS review to shoot down the BLM Report from 2020 and push for scientific integrity in the Wild Horse and Burro program (a “must read” HERE).

We are really busy deep in the weeds. There are areas where we need the strengthening of laws that can stop federal land management missions from being repeatedly co-opted by politics. We will write about these changes and have an action item for you soon.

However, we must undo the directives that were rammed through first. There is a wave of recognition of the damages done to our public lands and resources through backdoor deals and fast directives. We need to make sure our wild horses do not get left off the list this time. 

We urge you to continue to take action in the push to help gain reform. Wild horses and burros are a public resource and deserve, finally, to be protected as such. 

Fast Action HERE. 

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Categories: Wild Horse Education