Kuhn: Ranchers are calling the shots on wild horse roundups

Wyoming Tribune Eagle,

October 28, 2021

Who gave ranchers the right to call the shots on what happens to our horses on our land?

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, apparently.

Acting on junk science and in support of special interests, the BLM is writing checks like crazy from taxpayers’ bank accounts, paying upward of $171 million for the roundup and removal of mustangs from southern Wyoming’s Checkerboard region.

This is the largest roundup in U.S. history, and will destroy nearly half of Wyoming’s wild horse population. It will leave 3.4 million acres of land – the vast majority of which is public land owned by all Americans – virtually devoid of these iconic animals. It also will harm the local economy of the region, which counts on the wild horses as an important tourism attraction.

The reason for the roundup is ostensibly the overpopulation and overgrazing of wild horses in this 3.4 million-acre region, which includes a mix of public and private land.

But if you survey the animal life living on this range, you’ll find that cattle and sheep far outnumber the horses.

In the Checkerboard, public land parcels are managed by the BLM, while those remaining are owned or leased by the powerful Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA).

The RSGA’s members hold permits to graze their private livestock on the public lands for vastly below-market, taxpayer-subsidized grazing fees. Despite owning less than a fifth of the land within the region, the RSGA has worked for years to eradicate wild horses from most of the Checkerboard region, and the BLM is helping to make their wishes come true, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

This isn’t what most Americans want or support, or what Congress intended when it voted unanimously 50 years ago to protect and preserve America’s wild horses

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act declared wild horses “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” that “contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” And it warned, “these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.”

To remedy the situation, the act was passed to protect wild horses and burros from “capture, branding, harassment and death.”

But the BLM, instructed to manage our horses and burros, has spent decades persecuting wild mustangs, and is rounding them up en masse even as we speak.

The agency has imposed extinction-level population limits on wild horse and burro herds, then tried to sell them to the public as “appropriate.” But in 2013, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the population limits are “not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change.”

In fact, the BLM allows just 3,795 wild horses to live in all of Wyoming. Compare that to well over 100,000 cattle and even more sheep authorized to graze the public lands in the state, and you get a picture of the agency’s bias.

In fact, there is little to no evidence to show that BLM management priorities protect wild horses and burros as Congress intended. On the contrary, the calculations used to establish population limits and the need for roundups are based on the priorities of ranching and other commercial interests that use our public lands.

Perhaps, finally, with new leadership in the BLM, this long-troubled agency can be made to change course and fulfill its responsibility to our wild horses and the vast majority of Americans who want to see them protected and preserved on the range.

Whether change comes, and if it comes soon enough to save Wyoming’s horses, remains to be seen.

Originally posted by Wyoming Tribune Eagle