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Public Lands Grazing For The Wild Horse Advocate (& a legal action update)

Reveille HMA where AML for wild horses is 82-138. The livestock permit that overlaps the HMA is a year round grazing permit that ranges from 1000-1800.

Update 5/14/21: The Appeal of multiple grazing allotments, that cover vast territory in the Eagle/Silver King/Choke Cherry HMAs, is still active. The BLM had crafted 1 EA to cover all of the permits in that vast area. The court has separated them into distinct cases at this time. Two of the permits have been Stayed pending resolution of the case and the denial of the Stay on the other allotments is in Appeal. This is a massive case with multiple Interveners that have joined in representing the permittees. A scheduling conference was held this week and Discovery has just begun. Any resolution on this case is not expected for several months.

Video, Eagle Roundup

Domestic livestock grazing occurs on approximately 270 million acres of public land in the 11 western states at a direct cost to the taxpayer of  more than $100 million annually in direct subsidies. Indirect subsides have been estimated to be at least 3 times direct costs.

Even though most public lands are located in the arid and semi-arid intermountain west (they are too dry to produce abundant forage) about 3% of American cattle producers continue use the public lands and perpetuate the system held up by the taxpayer.

For historical and political reasons, maintaining livestock ranchers and their herds has always been a top priority for the BLM and the Forest Service. The BLM alone administers nearly 18,000 permits held by ranchers who graze their livestock on more than 21,000 allotments.

It has been said that the predator killing program of Wildlife Services was designed purely to satisfy the needs of industry, primarily the livestock industry. The same can be said about the “remove and stockpile” programs for wild horses and burros.

Domestic livestock grazing is the single most destructive use of public lands. More than a century of grazing has led to the replacement of native grasses by invasive weeds, massive soil erosion, water pollution, degradation of streams, and continues to push numerous threatened and endangered species closer to extinction. Grazing has also disrupted natural grassland fire cycles in many areas of the west leading to more destructive and intense fires.

It is important to remember that wild horses and burros are a public resource under law, not a permitted use. Under the law, grazing on public lands is not a right, but rather a privilege that may, and should, be revoked by the government where grazing is not in the public interest, but it is not. 

Wild horse population reduced to less than 550, on 1.5 million acre Owyhee Complex project area, after the Martin fire. BLM removed wild horses as they reseeded livestock grazing allotments.

Many wild horse and burro advocates are rightfully upset that wild horses are limited to 26.9 million acres, only about 12% of public lands, and inside the areas are allocated an average of about 16% of available forage. The original 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act defined the range as “the land a herd needs to survive” and that small percent of US public lands were to be managed “principally, but not exclusively” for wild horses. (fast “AUM to AML” comparative statistics between wild horses and livestock, 2019)

Wild horse advocates repeatedly rail against unfounded accusations that wild horses and burros have caused the damage done by domestic livestock. As more fences go up, streams and other water sources are diverted into pipelines or destroyed by livestock, gates are closed, and wild horses have access to fewer and fewer resources within their designated territory, the “blame the horse” gets perpetuated further.

If you are interested in a specific herd of wild horses and burros you can use “Google,” find that herd, find the district that manages the herd and ask to be put on the mailing list for any EAs, including livestock, that will impact that herd.

BLM has to craft an EA for livestock, pinyon clearing, etc. You can comment directly on those documents just as you comment on a “wild horse EA.” 

Cows watch as wild horses are loaded to leave the range forever

If you are interested in viewing the layers of rules and laws that govern livestock grazing on US public land you can visit:https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2019-title43-vol2/xml/CFR-2019-title43-vol2-part4100.xml

What can you do? 

You can urge your legislators to pass bills that amend the federal grazing regulations to allow the grazing fee for public lands to represent a fair market value exchange for the use of public lands. Rising the grazing fees, from $1.35 a month for a cow/calf pair to fair market value, will help to stop the fleecing of taxpayers for an industry whose production does not warrant the massive subsidies.

You can also urge your legislators to pass bills that will allow the permanent buy-out of grazing leases to retire them for other purposes. Currently, a grazing allotment lease must be exercised. In other words, even if a permittee no longer desired to run livestock on the permit, the option would be offered to another livestock producer.

When you comment on a “wild horse roundup EA,” any comment referencing livestock, or range degradation caused by livestock, will be considered not appropriate in that part of process. Those comments would be appropriate in a Land Use Plan or a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP). However, BLM has skipped the HMAP for the vast majority of our herds. (you can take action to help get planning HERE)

However, you can also comment directly on livestock projects and permit renewals where rangeland health standards and impacts to the public resource are supposed to matter. Those decisions can be protested, appealed and litigated, as well.

You can call the district that manages your favorite HMA and ask to be put on the mailing list for all projects that overlap an HMA including livestock and mining. A fast Google search of the HMA will give you the district that manages it.

Wild horses waiting for livestock to leave a water source. They have been waiting a long time for their turn.

An Example, Eagle and Silver King and the “Wilson Creek” Grazing EA:

You can see the decision record for changes to livestock grazing permits that overlap the Eagle Complex and the Silver King HMA HERE.  If you look at the determination process you will see one Final EA that generated another ten decision documents, collectively called “Wilson Creek.”

One of the most well-known incidents involving “clearing wild horses out” of a grazing allotment in the Wilson Creek EA is the mare that was run as she aborted (HERE). This may help you place the location of the horses and the livestock covered in this EA. 

The process began in 2018. The decision was Appealed (Wild Horse Education and WildLands Defense filed a joint Appeal. The decision was pulled, reissued and pulled again. In December 2020, a little over a month before the massive roundup of wild horses in the area began, the decision was finalized and released, again.

As the Eagle and the Silver King roundups were underway, WildLands Defense and Wild Horse Education filed legal action, again. (you can see more HERE)

Silver King wild horses as the sunsets in the “Wilson Creek” grazing EA area

As you can already see the process is relentless and convoluted. The essence of the decision that BLM keeps moving forward creates fences, water improvements, kills trees and allows the permittee to “blade roads” as well as increasing the number of cows and sheep.

The legal process is also a long one. Many people thing you file one claim stating something is “wrong” and then courts do some type of research. That is not how the legal process works. The burden of proof of a “wrong,” that will cause damage that can not be undone, lies on the person(s) bringing a claim. Multiple briefs are filed, along with exhibits, as the parties present arguments in various stages of a case.

Our cases against abuse at roundups brought a halt (TRO) to a roundup based on the evidence we presented of immediate harm as the rest of the case was argued. This type of immediate action by the court happens when something is occurring at the time of the case.

If the action is planned in the future, if the court feels the action wont happen as the case is active, such immediate relief is not awarded. This makes following cases difficult for the public as a filing is not often met with an immediate action by the courts and it can take a long time.

What is important to remember is that the “comment” you make on a draft EA is the first step of this process. A comment period is to state a grievance with the process itself and/or to provide information that the EA failed to analyze. If these are not rectified, then some type of legal protest, Appeal or filing in federal court, becomes the next step. A comment period is not a voting period, but a place to set a stage to rectify a deficit through the NEPA process itself and then, if the issue is not resolved, the courts.

The “comment period” applies to all actions planned by the BLM in an HMA, not just wild horse removals. You can also comment on the things that lead to removals of wild horses like livestock grazing and mining.

Until we can push the BLM to create up-to-date and transparent Herd Management Area Plans (HMAP), one of the places you can make your comments that BLM disallows on “gather plans” is directly on the planning documents for industry. Example: Many of you comment on roundup EAs about the overuse of the range by livestock and that wild horses are not given a fair share under the law or through an actual science based allocation. You can address that in the permit EA.

Wild horses in the “Wilson Creek” grazing EA area

Sage grouse, mountain lion, wolves, raptors, endangered fish, frogs, wild horses and more, all live on our public lands. All of our living wild treasures need a living range to survive. Each species that calls the range “home” suffers as industry is repeatedly prioritized over anything that resembles a healthy landscape.

The fight goes on.

We hope this article helps you understand more about the process of livestock management from the perspective of wild horse advocacy.


Article with a fast “click and send” option: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/02/03/the-report-2022-funding-debate-and-a-request-for-hearing/

The BLM Report is where “Path Forward,” the lobby document, sits. We now have a chance to use a directive to return to science to get the old plan ditched and one based on science put in place: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/03/02/lets-talk-nas-reviewblm-report/

Deep reform, will it carry wild horses? https://wildhorseeducation.org/2021/03/08/will-momentum-for-reform-carry-wild-horses/


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Categories: Lead, Legal