2018 National BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting October 9-11

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2018 National BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting

October 9-11

Salt Lake City, Utah

 Link to Agenda:


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Kristin Ball, Assistant Director for Resources and Planning – Opening Remarks/Roles and Responsibilities of the Advisory Board

After an explanation of the role and responsibilities of the Advisory Board, Ms. Ball introduced the three newly appointed members who will serve a three-year term:

Ms. Celeste Carlisle – Wild horse and Burro Advocacy

Dr. Thomas Lenz – Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Barry Perryman – Public Interest with special knowledge about protection of wild horses and burros, management of wildlife, animal husbandry or natural resource management

Advisory Board Members: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/wildhorse_whbadvisoryboardcontacts_10082018.pdf

Brian Steed, Deputy Director for Policy and Programs, BLM – BLM’s Approach for Meeting Challenges in the WHB Program

Mr. Steed focused on the consequences of overpopulation of wild horses: degradation of habitat and competition with wildlife; decline in the health of wild horses and burros, destruction of private property, and public safety.

To achieve the BLM’s on-range vision (Healthy Horses and Rangelands = Healthy Communities), he noted that roundups and removals will need to continue to be “an important management tool” along with fertility control, including permanent sterilization. Increasing adoptions and sales as well as private/public partnerships will be needed to achieve the BLM’s off-range vision (Placement of animals into good homes = Animals Removed from the Range).

Bruce Rittenhouse, Acting Division Chief, WH&B Program, BLM  – WH&B Program Overview

Mr. Rittenhouse presented the following FY 2018 data on the BLM’s WH&B Program:

  • 177 Herd Management Areas in 10 western states;
  • 26.9 million acres of public rangelands;
  • 27,000 horses and burros = Appropriate Management Level;
  • As of March 2018, 82,000 on the range - one-half population in Nevada;
  • 48,028 currently in in holding;
  • 11,444  in corrals;
  • 36,584 in pastures;
  • 4,647 adopted/sold in 2018; and
  • 11,264 removed from the range in FY2018 (but neglected to mention that only 119 mares were treated with fertility control)

According to Mr. Rittenhouse, because of low adoptions/sales rates coupled with increasing herd numbers on the range and escalating holding costs, the program is at a “crossroads” – meaning that the agency is dealing with overpopulation, degradation of public lands, more emergency gathers because of declining health of animals, and greater impacts to private property and public safety.

In line with Mr. Steed, Mr. Rittenhouse said that BLM’s efforts to address the problems, will continue to include roundups and removals of “excess animals,” temporary fertility control (while adding sterilization), increasing adoptions and sales, expanding partnerships, and working towards further legislative authorities.

Hope Woodward, Rangeland Program Manager, WH&B Program/USFS – U.S. Forest Service Program Overview and Status

Ms. Woodward presented the following information on the USFS’s WH&B program:

  • 8,700 wild horses and burros live in 34 active Territories on 2.1 million acres located in 19 national forests in 8 western states.
  • 2018 FY Budget: $824,000 ~ $550,000 going to the BLM to care for about 700 horses and burros gathered prior to FY2015.
  • AML for all Territories is ~ 2,000 horses and 296 burros. The average over AML is almost 400%.
  • AML review needed for 25 Territories.
  • 7 out of 34 Territories have NEPA decision regarding management planning. Of those Territories, 2 have on-range fertility control, 3 have short-term off-range facilities, 3 are conducting gathers, 3 have gentling/training contracts, and 4 have sales/adoption programs.

Regarding the current roundup and removal of 1,000 horses on the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, she stated that it’s unlikely the Forest Service will find homes for all the horse.  Therefore, some will be available for sale, which is controversial and the least preferable option.

Over the next four years, Ms. Woodward explained, the Forest Service will continue to remove horses to reach its AML of 201-402 horses on 258,000 acres of federally-administered land.

Alan Shepard, On-Range Branch Chief, WH&B Program, BLM – Overview of Report to Congress/ Support of Option One

Mr. Shepherd gave an overview presentation on the BLM Report to Congress which laid out four primary options for Congress to consider for implementation in the agency’s management of wild horse populations across the West.  Emphasizing the importance of this report given that emergency roundups have increased in need to respond to “imperiled animals, ” he stated that the agency believes fertility control could be a valuable tool once the AML is achieved, but not before.

The entire report is bad news for our federally-protected wild horses and burros. Particularly troubling is the Advisory Board’s show of support for Option one, the most controversial of the four options. Option one recommends that the agency will be able to achieve AML within eight years and remove 156,000 horses within a ten-year period. The BLM proposed to sterilize over 38,000 wild mares via a barbaric surgical procedure and some fertility control. If that was not bad enough, Option one calls for 24,000 wild horses being euthanized and over 110,000 sales without restriction, meaning that the horses will likely be headed for slaughter.

Other important parts of the report include the agency’s request for amended legal authorities related to wild horse and burro management. First, the BLM asks Congress for the ability to sell wild horses without restriction, effectively guaranteeing that they would be headed to slaughter. Second, amendments to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mostly focused on providing the agency with further sales authority, but also asking Congress to allow the BLM to manage wild horses as non-reproducing herds, which would provide a green light for BLM’s mass sterilization plan. Third, the BLM asks that Congress allow for management activities to be considered as Categorical Exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act, meaning that the agency would no longer have to conduct Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements in preparation for their actions. This would allow BLM to escape requirements for analysis, public disclosure and public input for management actions relating to wild horses and burros.

Holle’ Waddell, Off-Range Branch Chief, WH&B Program, BLM – Adoption Incentive Program

To encourage more adoptions and reduce holding costs, the BLM will offer a $1,000 adoption incentive.  Adopters will receive two $500 payments – one at the time of adoption and one when they receive title to the horse or burro one year after adoption. The program is scheduled to begin this fall.

Dr. Paul Griffin, Research Coordinator, WH&B Program, BLM – Status of Population Growth Suppression Research

Dr. Griffin reported that the BLM is funding eight Population Growth Suppression Projects that involve mare menopause, PZP capsules, a new PZP vaccine, PZP in burros, spaying, gelding, and IUDs.

Responding to questions about the costs of using PZP vs. spaying, he explained that while the native PZP vaccination was only $30, capturing one mare as well as her band members in the process was an additional $3,000 or so. In contrast, the cost of ovariectomy via colpotomy was $300 to $600.” However, Dr. Griffin neglected to mention that capturing a mare for spaying would incur the same costs for capturing one mare for PZP.  

Some discussion also revolved around the spaying of mares and the proposed Warm Springs research. Ms. Kathrens emphasized that the National Academy of Science (NAS) report stated that spaying was “inadvisable in field conditions.” However, many argued that the Burns Corrals, where the surgery would take place, was not “in the field” completing missing the point that the corrals was not a sterile environment, such as a veterinary clinic where any spaying of domestic mares is performed.

New Board member Dr. Tom Lenz, an equine veterinarian, also lent his support of ovariectomy via colpotomy, stating that it was a well-established procedure completing missing the point that the spaying of domestic mares was totally different than the spaying of wild mares.  

Besides ignoring the NAS’s finding that spaying was not appropriate “and inadvisable for field application” due to risk of bleeding and infection, most Board members appeared not to have read the protocol for the Warm Springs study or educated themselves about the ovariectomy via colpotomy procedure. Few were aware that it’s a major surgery performed mostly for medical conditions, that it’s considered a dangerous and antiquated procedure by most veterinarians, and that wild mares won’t receive the necessary, critical follow-up care that is required when domestic mares undergo the procedure.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Panel Discussion: Healthy Horses and Rangelands in a Multiple Use Setting: How do we get there?

The common theme among these presenters was reaching  the national AML of 26,700 wild horses and burros – or near AML. Three of the presentations focused on the overpopulation of wild horses and the damage they’re inflicting on the rangeland with little mention of the millions of private livestock grazing on public land and no discussion of their impacts.

Dr. Steve Petersen, Rangeland Landscape Ecology and GIS, BYU – “Ecological Influences of Free-roaming Horses on Rangelands”

Dr. Petersen discussed the principles of rangeland ecology and herbivory and ecosystem sustainability with an emphasis on animal density and carry capacity as the most important principle in rangeland management and presented studies of wild horse effects on and interaction with other wildlife at riparian areas.  Missing was research on the impacts of cattle on water and wildlife or the 2017 Government Accountability Office report that stated the need for studies differentiating  the impacts of wild horses, livestock, and wildlife.

Alan Bass, Senior Rangeland Specialist, BLM Utah – “Bureau of Land Management Grazing Administration”

Mr. Bass reviewed the history of and relevant federal acts/regulations regarding grazing on western rangelands and reported on BLM administration of livestock grazing. He presented the following 2017 BLM Grazing Statistics:

  • 17,886 permits/leases;
  • 12.3 million active Animal Unit Months (AUMs): 8.8 million billed AUMs and 3.5 million nonuse AUMs; and
  • 1.96 million suspended AUMs.

While acknowledging the BLM’s responsibility to maintain healthy sustainable rangeland ecosystems, he largely empathized the agency’s role in maintaining public grazing and “the western livestock industry.”  Absent was any acknowledgement of the damage caused by the millions of private livestock grazing on federal-designated wild horse habitat or the costs of the highly subsidized public lands grazing program to American taxpayers.

Redge Johnson, County Liaison, Utah Public Lands Policy, Office of the Governor – “Healthy Rangelands for Healthy Ecosystems, Herds and Economies”

Arguing that the BLM’s current management is failing both wild horses and rangelands, Mr. Johnson stated that Utah supports the BLM’s multiple use mandate of public lands.  After presenting more evidence of damage caused by wild horses to forage and water, he recommended reaching the national AML within three years through fertility control and adoption of younger horses as well as Implementation of  “proven grazing principles.”

Nancy Perry, Vice President of Government Relations, ASPCA – “Finding A Way Forward for Wild Horses and Burros: Opportunities and Obligations”

Ms. Perry discussed the common goals for rangeland and horses – ecosystem health, humane treatment, fiscal responsibility and long-term vision.

Emphasizing the need for a timely and holistic implementation, she presented the following proposal summary for the management of wild horses and burros that was developed by the ASPCA, HSUS, Return to Freedom, and American Mustang Foundation and presented to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

  • Gathers and Removals: Prioritize densely populated; HMAs where rangeland and wildlife are impacted;
  • Fertility Control: Treat gathered horses with fertility control prior to being returned to the range;
  • Relocation: Relocate horses from range and current holding facilities to large cost-effective pasture facilities funded through public-private partnerships; and
  • Adoptions: Promote adoptions to reduce captive populations and costs.

When Ms. Katherns inquired if the program supported reaching the established AML of 26,700, Ms. Perry responded that it’s working toward it, but “that the precise number is not important,” adding that getting close to it is. “If we got to 35,000, there would be a different conversation,” she stated. However, the groups’ proposal to Zinke explicitly endorsed the BLM’s AML and called for the BLM to implement a plan to remove 50,000 wild horses from the range, while simultaneously using fertility control to stabilize remaining wild herds. The proposal was not accepted by Interior Secretary Zinke, but the groups’ endorsement of AML -- which the NAS itself concluded was “not based on science” and “not transparent to the public” -- has repeatedly been used by the BLM against advocacy efforts to protect wild horses from mass roundup and slaughter. (See AWHC’s response to this plan here.)

Public Comments

During the public comments period, both Brieanah Schwartz and Mary Koncel of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) delivered a petition signed by 250,000 people, demanding suspension of roundups because they are inhumane and traumatic for the  horses and expensive and unsustainable for American taxpayers. “The sad truth is that these iconic American mustangs are being run off our public lands to make room [for] commercial livestock grazing that is subsidized by our tax dollars,” the petition stated, “even though it provides less than 2 percent of America’s beef supply.”

While some comments focused on the overpopulation of wild horses and burros and their impacts on livestock grazing, the ranching community, and other wildlife, the majority expressed concerns about the BLM’s current and proposed mismanagement of wild horses and burros and exploitation of public lands, including unequal allocation of resources to livestock vs. wild herds, welfare ranching at the American taxpayers, effects of mining and oil/gas extraction on rangelands, and inhumane proposals for spaying of mares, killing, and slaughter via sales.

Advisory Board Recommendations to the BLM and Vote

  1. Encourage BLM to roundup horses in HMA’s that are over AML and that are reliant on supplemental water. Once the HMA is at AML, stop hauling water except under extreme circumstances. PASS (unanimous)
  2. Continue to support and increase funding and use of programs like the Mustang Heritage Foundation Trainer Incentive Program to places horses and burros in good homes. PASS (unanimous)
  3. Encourage volunteer and partnership opportunities for fertility control and adoption including inmate training programs or 4H and youth programs, local advocacy groups, public off range pastures, and organizations like the Mustang Heritage Foundation. PASS (unanimous)
  4. Support the existing Great Lakes Marketing Research Report submitted to the BLM and support and implement the list of feasible recommendations from the marketing report. PASS (unanimous)
  5. Reach out to military and veteran orgs for help with adoption and volunteer fertility control application. PASS (unanimous)
  6. Board accepts Option 1 and the required changes to the regulation and the Act from the report to Congress as the preferred path forward to reach AML. 5-2 MOTION CARRIES (Ms. Carlisle and Ms. Kathrens opposed)
  7. The Board recognizes the value of and supports ongoing research and funding for implementation of humane permanent sterilization as one of many viable tools in our quest to achieve a thriving ecological balance by achieving and maintaining AMLs. (Gelding, Spaying, IUDs). 5-2 MOTION CARRIES (Ms. Carlisle and Ms. Kathrens opposed)
  8. The Board encourages the BLM to collaborate with interested equine advocacy groups to decrease current unadoptable horse and burro inventories. PASSES (unanimous)
  9. BLM first focus resources to get down to AML in the next 3-5 years by using removals as can be accomplished and accommodated by off range holding. 1-2-4 MOTION CARRIES (Mr. Masters abstained, Ms. Carlisle and Ms. Kathrens opposed)
  10. On those HMAs and HAs exceeding AML initiate emergency roundups where boundaries overlap primary habitat of sensitive, threatened and endangered species and initiate evaluations to establish carrying capacity. PASSES (unanimous)
  11. Implement safe, reversible fertility control vaccines as part of the management control to mares captured and returned to the range. PASSES
  12. Develop and make available to all BLM field offices the existing national database to track all treated mares. 6-1 PASSES (Mr. Yardley opposed)
  13. We as a Board, prefer non-lethal management options for population control purposes when possible. MOTION CARRIES (Mr. Yardley, Ms. Kathrens, and Dr. Lenz opposed)

Next Meeting

No definite date was set for the next Advisory Board meeting although members wanted to schedule it before March 31, 2019 and in Washington, DC.