Bernhardt’s parting shot to wild horses

(January 17, 2021) Outgoing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and his illegally serving Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director William Perry Pendley will go down in history as the worst stewards of our nation’s public lands. The past four years have seen an unrelenting assault on the environment as Bernhardt and Pendley sought to overturn key environmental laws and deregulate the activities of the oil, gas, mining and livestock industries on the public resources they exploit. 

America’s wild horses and burros have not been spared in this assault.  Pendley famously called wild horses an “existential threat” to public lands, an absurd claim that laid the groundwork for his plan to round up 90,000 wild horses and burros over the next five years. The plan will decimate wild herds and cost taxpayers nearly one billion in just its initial phase. 

Now in a parting shot to wild horses and burros, Bernhardt and Pendley have appointed Beaver County, Utah Commissioner Tammy Pearson to represent the public interest on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. In addition to being a voice for the public on this board that weighs in on policy matters from roundups to adoption to slaughter, qualification for the public interest seat includes “special knowledge about equine behavior,”

Pearson is a flagrantly corrupt choice for this position.  A 40-year public lands rancher whose allotments are in wild horse Herd Management Areas in Utah, Pearson has lobbied and testified for wild horse roundups and in favor of horse slaughter. 

Her  “special knowledge about equine behavior” is a view of these animals as ecological scourges. She discounts the strong opinion of the American public against the slaughter of wild and domestic horses as “romanticizing” an animal that the “whole rest of the world” considers a “protein source.”  In her 2017 testimony before the Utah legislature, she blamed horses for all the damage in the areas where her cattle graze and claimed that wild horses there were suffering from overpopulation and starvation. Yet she could offer no evidence to support her claims of wild horse starvation on the lands where she lives and her cattle share with horses. Instead, she pointed to a photo from two years prior of the Cold Creek roundup, 200 miles to the West and one of the few actual documented instances of horses starving due lack of forage. 

As a member of the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, Pearson joined in a lawsuit against the BLM seeking the roundup and removal of most of the wild horses in the Sulphur Herd Management Area.

As a self-described 40-year public lands rancher who holds permits to graze livestock in wild horse habitat areas, Pearson has a clear conflict of interest in serving on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. Her appointment by the outgoing Administration to represent the public interest on this board is not surprising given the level of corruption during Bernhardt’s tenure at the Interior Department, but it is a slap in the face to the 80 percent of Americans who want wild horses and burros protected on our public lands. 

AWHC intends to vigorously oppose this unscrupulous appointment in the months to come. At the same time, we will encourage the Biden Administration to reverse the destructive course charted by Bernhardt and Pendley for America’s wild horses and burros and the public lands they call home.