Wild Horse Education

The “New Rule” (Comments due 7/5)


Many of you have seen all the “hubbub” in the news about the proposed new rule for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered lands. You can read the proposed new rule HERE.

Sample comments and how to submit at the bottom of this article.

EDITED 6/16: BLM has extended the comment period by 15 days. The new deadline is July 5. 

A stand-out quote by author Athan Manuel appeared in publications in multiple western states (focused on the acreage in each state): “For most of its history, however, BLM has focused not on conservation, but on grazing and resource extraction. If national parks are our crown jewels of conservation, BLM lands have been treated as our raw materials.” (NV Current and CO News Online)

We could not agree more with that quote. (Note: National Park land covers 85 million acres and is NOT covered under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burros Act and BLM manages 247.3 acres with only 26.9 million acres allowing wild horses and/or burros). 

More wild horses and burros are managed by BLM than by all other jurisdictions combined. The fact that BLM is basically the industrialized capital of public lands (so to speak) creates a reality where wild horses and burros are trying to survive on the land most impacted by habitat fragmentation and profiteer degradation. Keeping numbers of wild horses and burros artificially low, spending tens of millions in taxpayer funding each year on roundups, stockpiling and spending tens of millions more to find ways to keep those population numbers low, is all done to maintain the industry stranglehold on public lands. Wild horses and burros are removed as their habitat is used up by industry. 

Wild horses and burros are caught between livestock and mining, literally, in this photo from the Owyhee roundup.

The new rule basically provides clarification of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) “multiple use” mandate. Even though conservation and esthetic values are noted in FLPMA, the “sustained yield” portion of FLPMA (the industry use part) has been interpreted in practice (and often by the courts, particularly land use courts) to weigh more heavily on agency obligation. The new rule includes language to place conservation obligations closer to equal footing. Conservation “leasing” is outlined (primarily as a tool apparently for mitigating damages from extractive industry and energy projects) and Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designations are specifically (further) defined and expanded.

The only voices that seem to be rabidly against the new rule stem from the ranching community (lobby groups). In statements made to Congress there are claims that the new rule adds a new use under FLPMA; technically conservation and rangeland health are the “esthetic values” already noted in FLPMA but it seems the idea of conservation gaining anything remotely equal to profit driven use is abhorrent to livestock. It also seems that they are “off-kilter” because they were not given a drivers seat… when livestock always has a drivers seat on public lands and does not even like a co-pilot that is not a cohort.

On May 24 there was an Oversight Hearing on the “new rule.”

“The agency proposes to do all this without having advanced discussions or consultation with the State of Nevada, our local governments, and Nevada stakeholders and in failing to conduct analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).” That statement was included in written testimony from Public Lands Council, NV Dept of Agriculture Director, Eureka County Commissioner, etc. JJ Goicoechea. JJ also claims that the new rule will jeopardize food security (even though public lands ranching produces less than 3% of meat in the U.S. and probably wont be impacted much in practice by the new rule.)

In the case of the new rule, during testimony, JJ seemed outraged BLM did not use the standard “consult with the county and Dept. of Ag before even contemplating NEPA” approach. Notably this is a strong contradiction to his support in 2020 of a proposed new rule that would gut the NEPA process. The NEPA rule, finalized by former President Trump, set new hard deadlines of between one and two years to complete environmental studies (limiting data and public input) and allow agencies to develop categories of activities that do not even require an environmental assessment at all. JJ liked that rule that gut NEPA. He does not like this new one that clarifies conservation. (You can read his testimony to Congress HERE on the current proposal to update FLPMA)

Horses on BLM administered land outside the Little Owyhee HMA in Nevada running the fenceline to get to water located just outside the HMA.

There has been an avalanche of news stories about the rule we first informed you of back in April. At first reading the new rule looked very much like aspects of the old “Sage Grouse 2.0” of the Obama administration. The plan set up a mitigation strategy that basically allowed something like a massive mine to do some reseeding or other “mitigation measure” to somehow claim it off-set the damage they cause to a specific range.  The bulk of the new rule seems geared toward creating a more defined (but extremely similar) type of strategy through something they are labelling “conservation leases.”

There is a big danger for wild horses and burros in the new rule. Historically when BLM creates plans for industrial expansion wild horses are number 1 on the list to remove and when they make any plan to protect an area, wild horses are also number 1 on the list to remove. “Wild horse and burro management” has translated into reduce numbers as low as possible for industry, as well as in any purported conservation planning; wild horses get hit by both ends of the stick.

Wild horses and burros (due to a failure in FLPMA, the multiple use document) have existed between a rock and a hard place and it is long overdue that their place in law as a protected heritage species be recognized.

For wild horse and burro advocates there is an opportunity to correct a terrible deficit in FLPMA. Even though FLPMA was passed 5 years after the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, it (the original Act) fails to mention wild horses or burros once. Lighthouses and old burned out homesteads are noted as conservation values, but the only beating hearts directly managed by BLM are not mentioned as a public resource … not once. Most of the issues we face trying to protect wild horses (free on the range) do not fall on a failure of the 71 Act, it falls on FLPMA. 

At the top of the EPlanning page there is a blue box where you can comment HERE. 

Suggested written comment:

A major oversight in FLPMA is that BLM is not only mandated to manage public resources that are renewable (grasses, wind, solar) and non-renewable (minerals, oil and gas, etc.) and protect historic sites, but they are also mandated to manage and protect living beings under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. FLPMA of 1976 was not supposed to derogate other provisions of law, yet failed to mention wild horses and burros at all when the provision of law to protect them passed Congress unanimously in 1971.

This proposed new rule, once again, omits this important and popular public resource by definition.  Wild horses and burros are the only living being directly managed by BLM and the oversight of their mention, in favor of discussions surrounding resources that require a permitting process for profit, is glaring. However, this new rule can rectify the omission. 

In Section 6101.4—Definitions, please add: “Wild horses and burros represent a public resource and conservation value. Wild horses and burros are a public resource, not a for profit permitted use, and must be protected as such. Wild horses and burros (and the habitat necessary for their survival) shall not be infringed upon by provisions of this rule and wild horses and burros shall be considered a conservation value.”

By naming “wild horses and burros” in the document the serious omission in FLPMA can be rectified and help clarify BLM obligations to a cherished American public resource. 

This simple comment can be submitted or it can be used to help you to begin to craft your own more extensive comments.

Deadline for comments is June 20.  EDITED 6/16: BLM has extended the comment period by 15 days. The new deadline is July 5. 

You can view the slide presentation from BLMs virtual meeting HERE.

BLM will be holding one last in-person meeting in Reno June 1 and one final virtual presentation on June 5. You can sign up to participate in the final virtual meeting at the bottom of the sidebar on the BLM site HERE.

At the top of the EPlanning page there is a blue box where you can comment HERE. 

Help keep us in the fight. Through June 16th contributions will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000. to help fund our roundup team. Thank you for supporting our important work.



Categories: Wild Horse Education