When speaking to reporters, we’re often asked why the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not embrace the use of the scientifically recommended fertility control vaccine, PZP, as a management tool for our wild herds.
It’s a vexing question that we struggle to answer. A calcified government bureaucracy reluctant to change? An agency hell bent on treating these wild animals not as wild animals, but like livestock – rounding them up and “harvesting” them every few years?
While each answer has a ring of truth, neither is fully satisfying. But, once we started to “follow the money,” the answer became clear:
Every horse born on the range, rounded up and removed is making livestock operators A LOT of money. It’s a federal gravy train that’s putting millions in the pockets of cattlemen to round up wild horses with helicopters and store them by the thousands in feedlots. Preventing births on the range via birth control would interrupt the flow of profits to a network of livestock companies that makes millions annually rounding up and warehousing mustangs.
Here’s who’s profiting from this broken system.
Rounding up horses with helicopters for the federal government is a lucrative business. At $500-$800 per head, it’s turned a number of Utah and Nevada cattlemen into multi-millionaires. Here’s the line up of BLM’s current helicopter wranglers:
Although it doesn’t involve expensive aircraft, bait trapping wild horses for the federal government is also lucrative:
Short-Term Holding Contractors
After the roundups, BLM contract wranglers truck wild horses by the semi-load to short-term holding facilities, where taxpayers pay over $5 per horse per day to house and feed these animals. (Of course, when they were free, the horses didn’t cost the taxpayer a dime). Conditions at these short-term holding facilities are notoriously harsh – crowded feedlot pens that offer little to no shelter from extreme summer heat or winter winds, snow and cold.
While the BLM has about a dozen of its own short-term holding corrals, it also uses a handful of private short-term corrals where nearly half of the 9,700 wild horses in short-term holding pens (as of Jan. 2018) are housed.
Here’s whose making money on the short-term holding contracts:
In 2017, it cost BLM $1 million more to house roughly 10,000 horses in short term holding than it did to house 34,000 horses in long-term holding pastures, which charge an average of $1.87 per horse per day – far less than the $5 per horse per day in short term pens. Yet, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in 2016 that BLM was not maximizing long-term holding space, and instead, storing horses in expensive short-term holding pens for far longer than necessary. The OIG report noted that 15 of the then 27 long-term pastures have “vacancies” of 35 horses or more and that the agency could save $3.7 million by moving nearly 3,000 animals into the cheaper pastures.
Recent FOIA requests by AWHC for records on the acquisition and disposition of horses at the BLM’s privately-owned holding facilities (Indian Lakes, Bruneau, and Axtell) reveal that horses are staying in these feedlot pens for years. For example, horses captured in the Silver King, Adobe Town and Salt Wells roundups in 2010 are still warehoused at the Bruneau Off-Range Corrals, and there are even some horses who show their capture dates from 2003-2005.
While a few horses or burros are eventually adopted, sold for $25 with limitations, or transferred to private long-term pastures, others are long-term residents – foaling, languishing, and dying in overcrowded pens, forever deprived of the freedom they once knew and deserve.
“Support Activities for Animal Production”
All of the contracts for roundup and storing horses are awarded under the category “support activities for animal production,” which provides accurate insight into why this whole system persists. America’s wild horses are being removed from public lands every year by the thousands to maximize land available for livestock grazing.
And here the livestock industry is profiting as well.
The going rate for grazing on private land in the West is over $22.60 per animal per month. But for the small number of ranchers who hold permits to graze livestock on public lands, the grazing fees are a fraction of that cost. In fact, this year, the federal grazing fee was reduced to $1.41 per animal per month. That’s a steep discount, thanks to the taxpayer subsidies that prop up this federal entitlement program. (Estimates indicate that the overall cost to taxpayers for the federal grazing program could be as much as $500 million annually.)
Thus, the BLM wild horse roundup program is benefitting the livestock industry on all sides– from the ranchers who graze more subsidized cattle on the public lands when wild horses are removed, to the contractors who make millions rounding up wild horses and burros, to the cattle companies that store horses in feedlot holding pens for millions annually. a
Shifting the Profit Center to Slaughter?
For the second year in a row, the BLM’s budget request to Congress includes an ask for “unlimited” sale authority, which would allow the agency to sell captured mustangs to individuals who intend to sell them for slaughter. This is currently prohibited by annual appropriations language.
Should Congress grant the BLM’s request for authority to sell captured wild horses and burros for slaughter, the profit center for the network of livestock companies earning their keep from the BLM wild horse roundup program will simply shift. Instead of making millions storing horses, contractors will profit by hauling off mustangs from holding facilities to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada.
Since slaughter as a management solution still requires that horses be perpetually rounded up, the whole gravy train will continue. But the approach would put the U.S. government will be firmly in the middle of the horse slaughter business. Congress must ask itself if that’s where we really want to be, when 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter. The Senate rejected this proposition last year, when it maintained prohibitions on killing and slaughtering wild horses, calling instead on the BLM to come up with “humane and politically viable” management solutions.
So far, though, the BLM remains intransigent.
So why doesn’t the BLM use birth control? If you follow the money, the answer is clear.
What You Can Do