America’s wild horses are being quietly and intentionally pushed toward extinction by federal authorities which favor livestock grazing leases, advocates allege.
Citizens Against Equine Slaughter and Unified Voices of the Eagle (UVOTE), a coalition of organizations with a total membership of more than 1.5 million people, have outlined their concerns in a submission to lawmakers on 2018 budget proposals for the Department of the Interior.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is charged with managing wild horses and burros on federal rangelands, is part of the department.
The advocates voiced concern over proposals for a $US10 million reduction in spending on the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
“Despite exorbitant past budgets, the BLM not only remains far from reaching its fiscal goals, but for decades has failed to humanely manage wild herds both on their legally designated public lands and in off-range holdings,” the groups said.
The propsed budget cut would not make the BLM more accountable or more efficient but would mean a death sentence for thousands of America’s federally protected wild horses and burros, they asserted.
“We also adamantly oppose any funding being authorized to reopen equine slaughter, funding for US Department of Agriculture meat inspectors, or funding to transport horses to slaughter.”
They said the federal government must be held accountable for knowingly providing and facilitating pathways for questionable food products to enter the global food chain – a reference to concerns around the potential for drug residues in meat.
“The BLM’s grazing program is a far more logical and equitable source of budget cutting, as this program regularly costs taxpayers more than $US150 million on an annual basis, not including peripheral costs of predator controls, infrastructure matching funds, and environmental degradation and remediation.
“With more than 2 million livestock roaming over their ranges, it is preposterous to claim that the small herds of wild horses dispersed over 10 western states are an issue to anyone but private, for-profit interests seeking to extract further gains from millions of unwilling taxpayers.
“Further, among the few (and diminishing) legal areas where wild horses and burros are allowed by law to exist, they are forced by this management regime to share the resources they need with private, for-profit grazing livestock.
“Consider that the entire Wild Horse and Burro budget was less than the subsidies paid to ranchers, in New Mexico alone, in a single year.”
The advocates said the grazing program was originally implemented to “rein in” destruction of America’s rangelands during the open-range era of livestock profiteering.
“It is not and never was to engender property rights, nor was it intended to support huge corporations that use millions of acres of public lands (at approximately one tenth of market value) to make profits.”
They continued: “It is undeniable the BLM, while publicly declaring an intent of managing wild horses and burros in a way that ensures a thriving herd, or preserves unique genetics in distinct areas, is quietly and intentionally enabling extinction of wild equine herds, while favoring grazing leases for cattle and sheep on legal wild horse and burro homelands.”
The evidence showed that horse numbers in some herd management areas were kept below levels to maintain genetic viability.
“The predictable anomalies due to inbreeding are then further unfairly used to diminish the value of these innocent animals who are subjected to every human whim without a voice at the table of their own.”
The groups said they agreed that the current management regime, with a focus on off-range long-term horse boarding, was unsustainable.
They proposed that the 41% of land taken from the original congressionally authorized wild horse and burro preserves be returned to the program.
“They [the horses] are by law not allowed to exist elsewhere but the BLM has consistently reduced both acreages and total herds (by around half), effectively emptying them of wild horses and burros forever.
“Repatriation of gelded horses would present no reproduction concerns, they would simply and slowly die out naturally in the wild, and at negligible cost to taxpayers.”
The advocates also backed on-range contraception. “The BLM has consistently and questionably avoided any meaningful use of on-range contraception, which has been proven successful in managing wild horse herds in the eastern US for decades (among other areas).”
It said the agency currently darted less than 1% of the wild horses with PZP, which they described as a safe form of birth control.
“To effectively attain desired population control that percentage needs to be approximately 25%.
“The vaccine used today costs around $US25/dose, is given only to reproductive age females via dart, and can be administered by volunteers.
“Considering that one dose is a near perfect equivalent of only five days upkeep for horses confined off-range, not pursuing this logical and sound fiscal management approach is indefensible.
“Even with repeated doses this approach remains more cost-effective than current practices, and clearly better conforms to the best interests of the widest American public.
“Further, it costs far less than the enormous costs of helicopter roundups and related labor, transportation and shipping, not to mention these almost always produce equine fatalities and/or mortal injuries, so are a significant waste of taxpayer funds altogether.”
The groups also backed appropriate land trades where there were checkerboard areas of public and private land which are causing a conflict between herds and private land owners. “These are legal problems caused by people, not by the animals.”
Grazing permits should be retired or rescinded, they argued.
“Grazing permits were and remain not rights, but privileges, and the BLM has always had full authority to rescind, revoke, or retire permits but has rarely shown the courage to do so.
“Especially in the few legal wild horse and burro areas, grazing permits could be rescinded and permittees perhaps offered a one-time buyout to prevent friction and produce win/win situations.”
The groups also argued for better funding for enforcement of these lands.
“Wild horse management must be on the range because BLM has proven the case that roundups and removals do not work and are wasting the taxpayer monies. And there must be a cessation of the serious overgrazing happening by the intensive numbers of livestock on these lands.”