State of the Wild Horses/Burros (2022)

The winter roundups of January and February will be announced by BLM soon. There are only few herds that have not been hit by the “2020 plan.” The BLM 2020 plan (incorporates Path Forward, originally called “Ten Years to AML”) has been running at full steam. This plan calls for: mass removals to get to and maintain the (current asserted) Appropriate Management Level (AML) and to increase the use of fertility control.

As the next wave of this pandemic hits record highs, the next round of the accelerated removal plan will be announced.

State of Wild Horses/Burros: WHE founder, L.Leigh

This might be a “long-read” to many of you. We urge you to read this piece if you are trying to understand why the reality of our wild horses and burros seemed to slide backward so fast after some small progress was begun. The way to move forward in 2022 is to begin to understand how the BLM 2020 plan was made, break it, rebuild. 

The “2020 plan” is not a planning document. The plan represents what big industry will accept and agreed to in the office of Chris Stewart (R-UT) back in 2016. Through a lot of questionable politics this document made a way into the official food chain; even including Brian Steed (who served as Chief of Staff for Stewart and helped broker Path Forward) being promoted to Deputy Director, with the authority of the Director of BLM, to carry the plan up the BLM leadership ladder as Stewart delivered it to Congress. William Perry Pendley replaced Steed and incorporated Path Forward into the BLM 2020 plan presented to Congress; presented over 9 months past the due date set by Congress allowing almost no time for debate.

In 2021, the newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior, Debra Haaland, committed to continue the agenda in 2022. At a meeting with House Representatives she spoke with Chris Stewart (R-UT)  grabbed in the video below from the budget request meeting for the 2022 bill.

In 2021, the new administration continued the exact wild horse and burro policy as the old: the status quo to use “wild horses” to appease corporate interests. This is not a statement of rhetoric, the paperwork bears out the statement. Not one change has been made to actually reform the program. No matter how many times that word is used in public relations, not one substantive management planning change has been made.

Once or twice each decade the BLM contracts out the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to fulfill a requirement of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act for consultation between the Secretary of Interior and “science.” The last report from the NAS was in 2013. The report essentially stated, with a handful of minor exceptions due to changes in technology, exactly what the report has stated since the first one in 1982: the program lacks actual scientific data to base decision making on (AML, boundary lines, etc.). The report went so far as to literally state that they could not determine where a manager made a decision based on data or just made it up (created assertions) to suit the decision he was signing. That report cost the taxpayer over $1.5 million after all was done. (It should always be noted that BLM held the NAS to only 13 points that they were allowed to review and provided the NAS all the information.)

Will we see another NAS review commissioned before the last one is truly acted on? Could commissioning a new NAS review (at least) shift media and public conversation into facts, data-points and historical context? We are nearing that once-a-decade mark when the agency would commission another review and then all but shelve it to collect dust.

Taken from the BLM leadership page you can find HERE.

Tracy Stone-Manning is the first confirmed Director of the BLM in 5 years. Her confirmation was contentious with many representing big corporate interests concerned about her environmental industry historical background. She recently gave an interview to Outside Magazine with no mention of wild horses and burros. Stone-Manning serves under Secretary Haaland.

Both Haaland (DOI) and Stone-Manning (BLM), as well as Randy Moore (USFS), will be critical figure heads in the Greater Sage Grouse planning review. This review will be the pivot point for much of the planning and actions west wide for at least the next decade; much like the 2015 process set off a plethora of corporate deals like the “Path Forward” as the scramble to maintain a power base fueled the livestock and mining industries fearing encroachment to their bottom lines from the bird. (more HERE)

Stone-Manning was co-author on this op-ed (about the man that exerted the power of the office she now holds) that states in part: The court also ruled that actions, plans, rules, and policies approved by Pendley are now “invalid” and must be “set aside” since Pendley did not have the legal authority to make those decisions.

Ironically, under her leadership, BLM is accelerating the plan Pendley helped create to forward the interests of those on his 17-page recusal list! The recent roundup in Wyoming has direct ties, as well as many of the other roundups you have seen, to clients and cases Pendley had as an attorney before taking his seat at BLM. (We expect her actions to reflect political hand-holding, not reform. We hope we are wrong.)

We sent her a packet asking her that exact question and outlining how she could actually begin real reform.

We have yet to hear from Stone-Manning. Debra Haaland put her meeting on hold with us after meeting with Chris Stewart and his list of collaborators.

However, during the first sage grouse meeting I attended last month I heard BLM Deputy Director Nada Culver assure members of the Public Lands Council (and their multiple off-shoot groups that all have the same people involved) that the acceleration of the “2020 plan” for wild horses was a priority for the agency and would continue to be a priority as sage grouse planning begins. (The only caveat was that the acceleration is limited by holding space.)

I attended the sage grouse meetings in 2015/16 and saw these alliances solidify as wild horses were used as a place of agreement in a room of little agreement. It created that “feel good moment” that is a real priority for land managers, instead of actual science-based discussion. In 2016, if you were not willing to play “let’s make a deal,” you were out the door fast. I have already seen exactly the same people and deal making dominate the room heading into 2022.

Most of the roundups I witnessed last year were clear “Path Forward” examples: slam population levels down and increase fertility control (PZP, GonaCon, IUD, etc.). Most of them also concluded with BLM approving (or proposing) new schemes to get out more cows and widen roads for expanding mines on ranges they claimed could not sustain a single wild horse over the (no-data) AML.

Not one single roundup had an active/updated/thorough Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP.) In fact, all of the ones you saw from July forward had no HMAP from any decade (except one). Note: BLM could do a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP, an actual management plan for each HMA in a complex or the complex as a whole. BLM has shirked both options gutting your voice out of actual management planning.)

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In 2022, there are many issues involving multiple layers of practices that all stem from the failure on-range and the acceleration of those failures without any attempt to address actual on-range management baselines:

  1. Abuse on and off the range: We need an extensive Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) review that includes the public. This review should follow an open policy revision process that includes public comment.
  2. Transparency is getting worse. a) The BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program has gotten worse at being transparent to the public about their actions. Things like simple statistics on facility mortality rates are no longer online. In 2017, the BLM redid the website and pulled critical documents out of the public sphere requiring Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to be filed. The agency has also gotten very selective on the ones they will actually answer, requiring litigation to gain basic information.  b) Access at roundups is being determined more often by contractor staff and each year gets worse. c) BLM continues to approve facilities that are off-limits to public view to fulfill the acceleration of removals under the 2020 plan.
  3. Slaughter: The Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) has been an abysmal failure costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and simply creating a fast-track to the kill-pen. Sale-Authority continues to funnel wild horses out the backdoor, often for less than $25. each and immediate transfer of title, while BLM fails to provide any oversight or publish records.

Those are just 3 of the other issues besides the ground-zero flaws in actual on-range management.

Where do you start when you recognize the politics, decades of games, intense deficits in data, etc. ?

You break it all down and tackle one layer at a time with as much information as you can stand on. You can do the best you can, even when confronted by very well-funded layers of corporate bubblewrap. Sometimes, simply speaking the truth unwaveringly is an accomplishment you (or someone else) can base their actions on and advocacy grows in the right direction. 

Before you can ask for something, you need to know who and how to ask. A good place to begin is to obtain a basic understanding of the 3 branches of government open to public engagement. (HERE)

An example of an action that would go through Congress would be “Legislative Change.” We hear that term tossed around on social media in a way that is often misleading and expect that dialogue to get louder. What exactly is that and why would it be needed? Essentially, these types of changes would create a legal framework that would mandate an activity (the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is legislation). If the mandate fails (they usually do) it creates the framework for litigation. So an effective legislative change would begin with an evaluation of an issue under law where existing language is inadequate, or missing, to achieve the intended outcome. You should also consider what language could create a framework for a successful outcome in court.

Mud baths in summer

What do we want?

We all want wild horses and burros to be given a fair share of the resources that can sustain thriving and genetically viable herds. We want those herds to live on a landscape that is not an industrial park, but a wild place. We want wild horses and burros that are in holding to be cared for and provided oversight that actually protects them from going to slaughter. We want abuse to stop. (We do not understand why anyone would be against the fight to stop abuse at roundups and in holding, even if they did not want a wild horse on the range. The intense obstruction to stopping abuse is something we can not explain.)

This piece has become longer than intended. There is so much more to say in the days ahead.

A big “thank-you” to all for helping us make it through 2021, together.

In 2022, we have a lot of work to accomplish as a collective advocacy on the uneven and obstructed field of public lands management to protect our wild horses and burros from so many dangers.

We are reviewing, regrouping, prioritizing and determining the most effective ways to reach critical objectives. New pages are being formatted to help you break things down and take action. We have updated the old actions page as a starting place for 2022.

We will be announcing new events very soon. Many of the new events will be focused around very specific action items to help you understand the specific issue and how to help create that specific change.

Thank you for being an active force for our wild horses and burros.

We will start adding to the upcoming event schedule through our newsletter next week. You can subscribe to our newsletter by clicking HERE.




Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education

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