Wild Horse Education

Grandstanding and State Resolutions (Wy)

Wyoming roundup

The Wyoming legislature dropped a resolution that made headlines yesterday.

The resolution issued by the Wyoming State Legislature demands that the U.S. Congress gut the Wild Horse and Burro Act and mandate that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) engage in mass removal of wild horses from public lands and ship the ones captured to be slaughtered for meat. Mass roundups by private parties of wild horses and burros on federal land, with state permission (for the purpose of sales to slaughter), is what the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act put an end to.

This bill has passed, as expected.

These resolutions from state legislatures have no power over federal land. This is chest-beating intended to try to gain support for a larger agenda: state control of federal land. Wild horses have always been an easy target in the political poker game. However, this year the danger has increased as several advocate orgs push to open the Act to amendment. We may be beginning a cycle where the law (the small protections it affords) is in debate. Advocacy needs to play only “hard ball” if this arena is opened. (more on this in a future feature)

Prior to the adoption of the “Path Forward” agreement between livestock, and certain big dollar corporate advocates, these resolutions were an annual occurrence that have fallen by the wayside as their agenda (currently) runs the wild horse and burro program. “Path Forward” basically gave the range away to livestock in exchange for increases in funding for fertility control, increased funding for holding, etc. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Ass’n, Public Lands Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, etc. all put their name on that agreement and since 2019, the document has driven the years of the largest numbers of wild horses and burros removed from the range since the passage of the 1971 Act. The BLM remains committed to this agenda but needs more funding.

So why the grandstanding from Wyoming now? There are two primary historic reasons for dropping these resolutions that focus on the slaughter of wild horses: attention to the “public land takeover movement” or there is something coming, that if given attention on the merits, won’t play well for livestock.

The first is to begin to gain support for the narrative of “state control over federal lands.” For those of you unfamiliar with the issue and the term “Sagebrush Rebellion” there is a long article here that discusses the movement and timeline. Former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (back sitting as a Congressman from Montana) is grandstanding making claims that “ranchers are being pushed off public lands” and the “deep-state” was behind his needing to step down from Interior under massive ethics violations; reading between-the-lines Zinke is saying he is going to go after any Fed employee that spoke truth and try to expand the powers of Congress to fire them.

It is worth reminding everyone that one of the first agenda items for Zinke (when he sat in leadership of the Dept of Interior) was eradicating wild horses and gutting National Monuments. 

Often, rallying the lowest common denominator of the faction (those that want horse slaughter, wolves and ravens killed) is part of a baseline strategy to get this movement rolling again. We have been warning you that the often violent and threatening movement is beginning to rise again.  These resolutions are one more clear sign the rise has begun. 

Red Desert wild horses, Wyoming

The second reason is that Wyoming knows there is going to be a fight over the new Land Use Plan Amendment to decimate the Herd Management Areas (HMA) known as the “Wyoming Checkerboard.”During Protest Resolution conferences (and in underlying documentation) it is clear that the Rock Springs Grazing Ass’n has controlled every decision on the checkerboard and that resolution conferences were only formality. BLM won’t lift a finger to address severe deficits in the administrative decision making process. We have often seen BLM literally cower from the pressure in these types of circumstances. There will be litigation, probably from multiple advocacy orgs. By taking the most extreme position they possibly can, it is apparent that they hope to be able to create enough drama and noise to maintain their position of control… and to avoid actual discussion on the merits of what is happening at the Wyoming Checkerboard.

For those of you that have joined the ranks of wild horse and burro advocacy since 2017 (post-Path Forward) you will see a lot of these resolutions from western states in the coming year. These resolutions will come with anti-BLM messaging aimed at trying to convince you to support them. These resolutions (that will all have killing wild horses at the center) may generate enough drama online that the more complex issues are overlooked and they can get away with maintaining control. It can get very slick; they make up new nonprofit front groups that sound like they are advocating for public lands, but are advocating to take away any federal law that protects anything.

So for newbies, we are entering a time to check and double check anything you see on social media; if the meme reflects your dislike for BLM, check to see who made it before you share or you could be helping the people that want wild things gone and your voice kicked out of the room. 

These state resolutions do not change federal policy. But they do demonstrate the position of those in power in many western states clearly. There has always been an incredible danger when any entity tries to go to the table to create some type of compromise, like Path Forward, with livestock. Big corporate advocacy gave away everything and gained nothing by thinking that these factions would not push outright slaughter of wild horses. Public lands livestock is NOT about feeding the masses or stewardship of the land. Public lands livestock represents 3% of the meat utilized in industry produced by a small faction intent on control of resources (and humans) through any means necessary.

As you see this drama storm begin to rise again in the press, Congress and social media, we hope you take the time to understand the roots and objectives of what you are seeing before you react to it. 

This is a very dangerous year where the Act itself may be on the line because advocacy itself will open the door. More on this soon.

Be careful out there.

A visit to the library archives:

If you want to learn more about the history of the most destructive use of surface public lands (domestic livestock production) there is a great book you can read: The Western Range Revisited, Removing Livestock from Public Land to Conserve Native Biodiversity.  (No, the book is not a new book. But it outlines history of domestic livestock well, including a hard look at the Taylor Grazing Act, for people unfamiliar with the subject.)

Another book you should take some time to look at is Welfare Ranching : The Subsidized Destruction of the American West.” You might be able to grab a used copy from around $20. of this sweeping look at the degradation caused by subsidized private livestock that is worth the time to read.

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Categories: Wild Horse Education