Eyewitness Report on BLM Advisory Board Meeting Oklahoma City, March 4-5, 2013

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Oklahoma City, March 4-5, 2013

By Suzanne Roy

The BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met in Oklahoma City earlier this month for its first meeting of 2013. This board that is stacked with representatives of the livestock and big game hunting industries, which have consistently lobbied for the roundup and removal of wild horses from public lands:

  • The public representative is a cattlewoman and outspoken advocate of horse slaughter who, prior to her appointment, was a vocal proponent of horse slaughter.
  • Paul Durbin represents “wildlife management” on the board. He is a big gam hunter affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. When introduced at the Oklahoma City meeting, Durbin was confused about whether he represented livestock or wildlife on the board.
  • Boyd Spratling is the veterinary medicine representative. He is the past president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. Spratling also sits on the Nevada Board of Agriculture, and last year  recommended locating a horse slaughter plant on tribal lands in Nevada in order to evade state and federal regulations – an interesting position for a member of a national federal advisory board to hold!
  • Gary Zakotnik is the livestock representative on the board. He hold permits to graze livestock on BLM lands at taxpayer-subsidized rates.
  • Jim Stephenson represents “natural resource management.” He is a big game hunter who manages the wild horse population on the Yakama Reservation in Washington State. The Yakama want to open a horse slaughter plant on tribal lands to “manage” their wild horse population.

Of the minority of members that DO NOT represent the livestock industry, only Tim Harvey, the humane advocacy representative, raises questions about BLM wild horse policy. Harvey has advocated for the BLM to evaluate zeroed out Herd Areas for reintroduction of captured horses from BLM holding facilities; focus more resources on managing wild horses on the range; and investigate allegations that captured horses have been sold for slaughter or inhumanely treated. Disappointingly though, Harvey joined Boyd Spratling in recommending that the BLM consider the surgical spaying of wild mares in the field.

Dr. Robert Bray, the representative for wild horse and burro research, has not been present at the last two Advisory Board meetings.

Wild Horses in Oklahoma

The March 4 meeting began with Jesse Juen, director of the BLM’s New Mexico Region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas.

Mr. Juen provided an overview of BLM operations in the four-state area:

Adoptions

  • 600 per year (2009 – present)
  • Compliance visits to 98% of animals adopted
  • Texas and Oklahoma are the primary states for adoption

Long Term Pastures

  • 22,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas
  • 30,000 horses held in these two states
  • USDA/APHIS and BLM inspect

Short Term Holding Facilities:

  • Pauls Valley – 12 pastures, 400 acres, 590 horses. Cost for holding: $5/horse/day.
  • Hutchison Correctional Facility – Adopted out 56 trained horses in 2012. Supplies horses for U.S. Border Patrol (48 since 2011)

Division Chief’s  Report

BLM Division Chief Joan Guilfoyle gave her report, which included the following highlights:

  • BLM is proceeding with its evaluation of using surgical sterilization of mares as “an additional tool needed to reduce population.” BLM believes that the evaluation process should begin with research to determine which procedure would be most effective and safe.
  • BLM acknowledges the Advisory Board’s recommendation that ecosanctuaries for captured horses not be located in Herd Management Areas (HMAs) where existing wild horse populations live. BLM will address this issue with the new Secretary of the Interior, but meanwhile is proceeding with the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed sanctuary in eastern Nevada, which includes both private and public lands that are located in existing HMAs.
  • Due to limited budget and running out of holding space, the BLM’s focus for the remainder of the year will be caring for the horses in holding, conducting roundups in areas where animal or range health is in immediate danger, and research on fertility control drugs.
  • BLM is “serious about enforcing” its new guidelines for the conduct of roundups, including media and public management. Guillfoyle touted the citing of a media crew at the last roundup for reckless vehicle operation and interfering with BLM operations.
  • BLM is facing a “big problem” with long-term holding due to the lack of quality applications. BLM is moving forward with one long term holding facility for 700 geldings in Montana, despite complaints and appeals from neighbors and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Guilfoyle addressed the ongoing controversy of the BLM’s sale of 1,700 wild horses to known kill buyer, Tom Davis,  stating that the Office of Inspector General is still investigating. She referenced the new BLM policy that requires approval by the Assistant Director of BLM for the sale of more than four horses to one person within six months. Board member Tim Harvey asked what specific criteria have been established for the Assistant Director’s approval. Guilfoyle replied only that “more information is required” for sales of more than four horses in a six month period.

Guilfoyle claimed that “BLM condemns the sale of any wild horses and burros to anyone who wants to do them harm. That is our policy.”  She later stated that BLM “Is not in any way advocating slaughter. We condemn, we prosecute, and we have taken all the safeguards we can to keep [captured wild horses] out of the hands of people who will do them harm." Any allegations to the contrary are as “false as the fur on my jacket.” Slaughter “is not our policy and it never will be,” Guilfoyle claimed. 

Guilfoyle, who often appears highly defensive, addressed several current controversies over BLM’s treated and management of wild horses. Guilfoyle claimed that:

  • The removal of a small and locally-cherished wild horse family near Carson City Nevada. Guilfoyle claimed that the capture was undertaken by BLM due to “written complaints in the past couple of months." Opposition to the horses’ removal came from “outside parties” instead of local citizens, she said. When confronted about these misstatements by this author, Guilfoyle dug a deeper hole by claiming that the Mayor and City Council of Carson City had written to the BLM to request removal of the horses. Guilfoyle’s demonstrably false statements have further upset the local community, which is already reeling from the BLM’s refusal to work with them to keep the horses – who have been part of the community for decades—free and safe on the range.
  • BLM is looking at its policy of reporting deaths at holding facilities in the wake of Animals’ Angels revelation regarding nearly 600 unreported deaths at the BLM’s Palomino Valley and Indian Lakes holding facilities in Nevada. BLM presently does not report the deaths of “unmarked” animals. This means that BLM is not reporting the deaths of horses under the age of three months, or captured horses who die before being freeze-branded by the agency. Guilfoyle stated that the BLM is considering changing this policy.
  • The BLM's decision to hold the Advisory Board Meeting in Oklahoma City was unrelated to the state legislature's recent approval of legislation to legalize horse slaughter. In Oklahoma alone, 22,000 captured wild horses are held in government facilities, and BLM watchdogs fear that legalization of horse slaughter in the state could jeopardize these horses, as well as countless domestic equines.

Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program

Dr. Kathy Holcomb of U.C. Davis and Dean Bolstad of BLM gave presentations on BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, which is in development and will apply to every aspect of the agency’s wild horse and burro operations. The agency is starting with the most controversial aspect of the program – the roundups – and has developed 30 pages of Standard Operating Procedures. The SOPs were sent to UC Davis for review, and returned with revisions. The SOPs will be finalized by BLM and then go back to UC Davis for review by outside experts before being implemented. Bolstad said that BLM hopes to implement the new standards in the new “gather” contracts, which will be in place for July, when BLM roundup operations resume (after a four-month hiatus for foaling season).

Population Growth Suppression

Much discussion took place regarding the need for adequate population growth suppression tools. BLM maintains that an annual or bi-annual fertility control vaccine is not feasible to manage wild horses in 179 HMAs encompassing 30 million acres of land. BLM wild horse and burro research specialist Dr. Jeff Manning reported on pen trials of PZP-22 and SpayVac, both designed to be longer-acting fertility control vaccines. Dr. Manning reported that in year two of the pen studies, the efficacy for both drugs was disappointing, with no statistical difference between the group of treated mares and the control group of untreated mares. These results are confounding and conflict with published research for PZP 22, which showed that the vaccine was 94% effective in year 1 and 86% effective in year 2.

Although the results Dr. Manning reported are difficult to explain in light of other existing research, expect BLM to use them as justification for resorting to more draconian and dangerous measures, including surgical sterilization of horses. After Dr. Manning’s report, the pro-slaughter advisory board member Callie Hendrickson said, “We’ve got a crisis on our hands. We don’t have time to experiment for 10 years. I’m so glad you are recommending [surgical sterilization].”

Rancher Gary Zakotnik said of surgical sterilization, “I’ve thought this was a tool we should be using for a long time. I don’t want to say I won, but…”

Wild horses and sage grouse

Dr. Manning also gave a report on wild horses and sage grouse. In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a finding that the sage grouse warranted listing as an endangered species. The FWS said that, at the time, it was precluded from listing the sage grouse due to higher-priority species.

The potential that sage grouse could be listed as endangered has sent shudders of fear through the livestock industry, as it could spell the end (or at least an extreme curtailment) of cattle and sheep grazing on public lands in the West. Ever since, cattlemen have been trying to shift focus away from the devastating environmental impacts of livestock grazing by scapegoating wild horses for impacts to sage grouse. However, since livestock outnumber wild horses by at least 50-1 on BLM land, the impacts of livestock on this endangered desert bird are far more concerning. 

Dr. Manning reported that 75 of 179 wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) overlap sage grouse habitat.

According to Manning, the FWS has identified habitat loss caused by the following factors as top threats to sage grouse: 

  • energy developent
  • transmission right of ways
  • fire
  • invasive species, and
  • commercial development.

Livestock grazing was not included specifically because the agency did not look at the impacts of livestock grazing on sage grouse. 

Advisory board members Hendrickson and Spratling reiterated their belief that it was important to prevent the listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species. They claimed that BLM’s failure to keep wild horse populations in sage grouse habitat at Allowable Management Level would contribute to the FWS' decision to list the species.

To her credit, BLM division chief Joan Guilfoyle responded “there is a perception that wild horses have a big effect on sage grouse. We want to deal with reality not perception.”

Public Turns Out for Wild Horses

Photo Credit to News 9 Oklahoma

During the public comment period, wild horse advocates turned out in force to demand reform of the BLM wild horse program and oppose the slaughter of wild horses. Earlier in the day, 150 advocates – the vast majority of them from Oklahoma – gathered outside the BLM meeting at a press conference and rally organized by Respect 4 Horses, the Wild Horse Freedom Federation and The Cloud Foundation.

AWHPC delivered a hard-hitting comments that called for a five-point plan to reform the wild horse and burro program:

  1. Stop the roundups: Manage wild horses on the range. The number of horses removed should NEVER exceed adoption demand.
  2. Utilize birth control: It costs far less and avoids the bloodshed of the current roundup-remove-and-stockpile approach. And it works, if properly implemented. Please do not throw out this approach on the basis of one confounding, unpublished pen trial. The only published research on two-year PZP vaccine shows 94 % efficacy in the first year and 86% efficacy in the second year. That’s published data.
  3. Repeal the Burns Amendment that allows the BLM to sell horses for as little as $10 a piece and invites the slaughter of these national icons.
  4. Give wild horses a fairer share of resources in designated Herd Management Areas. Modest adjustments to livestock grazing could easily accommodate the current wild horse population in the West.
  5. Ease holding crisis by repatriating captured horses to zeroed out Herd Areas. Many of these areas have viable habitat and should be utilized.

Advisory Board Recommendation

The meeting concluded with the Advisory Board making the following recommendations to the BLM:

1. Quickly initiate the process to review and implement ovariectomies (surgical sterilization on mares) on the range.

2. Do not locate ecosanctuaries in Herd Management Areas. 

3. Move forward with identifying Herd Areas for reintroduction of non-reproducing herds from holding facilities.

4. Make the following improvements to the adoption program:

a) Increase/establish storefronts in eastern states to be operated by the Mustang Heritage Foundation using TIP trainers.

b) Use skills and marketing model of Mustang Heritage Foundation to adopt out more horses.

c) Review re-opening specific adoption centers  (Meadowwood, Piney Wood)

d) Use private haulers for short trips for adoption events.

e) Utilize virtual adoption programs where donors could support horses while they wait for adoption. 

5. Establish a resources working group to look at resource problems related to horses. This group will be comprised of the pro-livestock members: Boyd Spratling, Gary Zakotnik, Paul Durbin, Jim Stephenson and Calle Hendrickson.

 

Media Coverage of the BLM Advisory Board Meeting

Animal rights group calls for horse slaughter ban

Horse Advocates Rally Against Horse Slaughtering Plan In Oklahoma

Feds love wolves, hate wild horses

American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign rallies in Oklahoma City for horse slaughter ban

Raging Wild Horse Controversy Heads to Oklahoma City as Federal Advisory Board Meets & State Prepares to Legalize Horse Slaughter