(June 21, 2021) The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s leading environmental organizations focusing on issues ranging from climate change to sustainable energy, and now the organization has endorsed the protection of wild horses and burros. This past May, the Board of Directors adopted a new Wild Horse and Burro Policy that reversed and replaced the forty-year-old position.
The Sierra Club’s previous position statement on wild horses and burros looked like this:
Feral horses and burros should be eliminated from key wildlife habitat, including the desert bighorn habitat of the American Southwest, and from designated natural areas. In other situations, their numbers should be carefully regulated to minimize conflict with wildlife, livestock and other range values. Adopted by the Board Board of Directors, November 21-22, 1981
However, as of May 2021, the Sierra Club officially voted to change its position on wild horse and burro protection:
Wild Horse and Burro Policy
- The Sierra Club recognizes that in 1971 Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.
- On federal lands where wild horses and burros are present and allowed, wild horses and burros should be managed so that other wildlife and ecosystem values are fully protected. Range and riparian areas should be restored and maintained in an excellent ecological condition. Managers should reestablish the conditions necessary to support native wildlife and protect native ecosystems.
- Wild horse and burro management should be based on current science. The scientific process should be supported by scientists independent of agencies, without conflicts of interest, and subject to a transparent peer review that includes the complete range of significant expertise.
- In Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Areas and Territories, and any other federal public lands designated for wild horse and burro use, livestock should be eliminated to avoid overgrazing and degradation of wildlife habitat, riparian areas and water quality.
- Where wild horses are permitted but have been removed to accommodate livestock grazing, this should be reversed while still meeting the requirement that wild horse and burro populations and livestock in these designated areas be managed to promote a recovery of native flora, native fauna and native ecosystems, including sensitive biological soil crusts. Federal management should assure that the most sensitive ecological factors are not damaged. Native predator populations should be allowed to thrive to play their role in preying on both native wildlife and introduced animals.
- Federal agencies should also promptly use their discretion and authority, where necessary and after environmental analysis (NEPA), public input, and compliance with applicable environmental laws, to reduce or eliminate livestock, and reduce burro or wild horse grazing in Herd Management Areas or Territories where such grazing is causing damage to native ecosystems, including biological soil crusts, native flora, native fauna, riparian areas, wetlands area, water quality, and cultural sites.
- The Sierra Club supports voluntary livestock grazing permit retirement as one way to reduce livestock overgrazing and competition with wildlife.
- On Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands in the western US, livestock substantially outnumber wild horses and burros, and livestock grazing occurs across large areas of federal lands where no wild horses and burros are permitted. This livestock grazing often causes significant impacts to native habitats and wildlife. In recognition of this, reducing livestock grazing levels is an important priority across federal lands overall to protect and restore the natural ecosystems to support the native wildlife resources. Management on federal lands may include totally eliminating livestock where the land and habitat cannot accommodate grazing by these animals. This policy supplements and does not replace existing Sierra Club policy addressing Grazing on Public Lands.
- The Sierra Club supports the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to manage their lands in order to preserve ecological integrity, and cultural and historical authenticity. Further, the Sierra Club supports National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service actions to remove unauthorized wild horses and burros by humane means, where they are deemed undesirable by environmental review and management direction.
- All activities concerning wild horse or burro management including population reductions and fertility control should be conducted in a manner that ensures humane animal treatment. To protect wild horses and burros from injury and stress, the use of motorized vehicles (land/air) for roundups should be avoided whenever possible.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 22, 2021
AWHC applauds the Sierra Club for this important change in policy and is excited to work with the organization to protect wild horses and burros on public lands in the future. Securing a large environmental organization’s support for wild horse and burro protection on public lands will make a huge impact because the support raises wild horse and burro issues in the larger picture of rangeland management. Having the support of diverse stakeholder groups can only help advocates truly better our public lands ecosystems and environment as a whole. Now, with this policy it’s become clear environmental advocates agree that the future of sustainable public land ecology includes viable wild horse and burro populations.