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:
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:
Long Term Pastures
Short Term Holding Facilities:
Division Chief’s Report
BLM Division Chief Joan Guilfoyle gave her report, which included the following highlights:
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:
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:
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:
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