New policy regarding BLM horse sales fuels debate

Jan 11, 2013

All sales of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horses and burros will now be under stricter laws following a BLM announcement on Jan. 4. The new regulations come on the heels of an investigation into the sale of more than 1,700 horses to a Colorado livestock hauler. The inspector

general is investigating what became of the horses sold since 2009 to Tom Davis. Despite the new rules, wild horses are protected under federal law, and selling them for slaughter is illegal under the original laws.

BLM’s new policy was introduced in the form of what’s known as an interim Instruction Memorandum, and covers new conditions and restrictions on wild horse and burro sales. According to a BLM release, the new policy was prompted by BLM’s overall effort to improve its management and care of wild horses and burros that roam western public rangelands.

“Today’s announcement marks another step forward in our agency’s steady improvement in ensuring the health and humane treatment of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range,” said BLM acting Director Mike Pool.

The new policy, which is effective immediately, will remain so until BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program publishes additional guidance on wild horse and burro sales.

The policy stipulates that: • No more than four wild horses and/or wild burros may be bought by an individual or group within a six-month period from the BLM without prior approval of the Bureau’s Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning.

• When buying wild horses and/or wild burros, purchasers must describe where they intend to keep the animals for the first six months following the sale. Without prior approval from the Assistant Director, the BLM will not sell more than four animals destined for a single location in this six-month period.

• Buyers must provide transportation for the purchased animal from the BLM’s short-term holding corrals or other locations to its new home. Specifics regarding acceptable trailers can be obtained from the new interim policy, which is posted at: http://www.blm. gov/wo/st/en/info/regulations/Instruction_Memos_ and_Bulletins/national_ instruction/2013/IM_2013 032.html The BLM will inspect trailers and reserves the right to refuse loading if the trailer does not ensure the safety and humane transport of the animal.

Despite the new rules, wild horse advocates claim it is not enough.

“This new policy is window dressing for an administration that uses every excuse to look away and only started to ask questions after its immoral and potentially unlawful actions were exposed by the media. It is not a serious attempt to stop federally protected wild horses from ending up at Mexican slaughterhouses. The only way to do that is to stop rounding up and removing wild horses from public lands in the west and start answering fundamental questions, such as why the BLM is stockpiling more wild horses than it knows what to do with,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

While advocates want to see more changes in the BLM policy, the debate over the land use between public lands grazing and wild horses continues to escalate.

Wild horse advocates claim that the horses are removed to allow for more livestock grazing, but according to records, livestock grazing on BLM-managed land has declined by more than 30 percent since 1971 (when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act)—from 12.1 million Animal Unit Months (AUMs or forage units) to 8.3 million AUMs in 2011.

In addition, no specific amount of acreage was “set aside” for the exclusive use of wild horses and burros under the 1971 Act. According to BLM’s website, the act directed the organization to determine the areas where horses and burros were found roaming and to manage them “in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.”

Of the 22.2 million acres no longer managed for wild horse and burro use, 6.7 million acres were never under BLM management.

Of the 15.5 million other acres of land under BLM management:

48.6 percent (7,522,100 acres) were intermingled (“checkerboard”) land ownerships or areas where water was not owned or controlled by BLM, which made management infeasible;

13.5 percent (2,091,709 acres) were lands transferred out of BLM’s ownership to other agencies, both federal and state, through legislation or exchange;

10.6 percent (1,645,758 acres) were lands where there were substantial conflicts with other resource values (such as the need to protect habitat for desert tortoise);

9.7 percent (1,512,179 acres) were lands removed from wild horse and burro use through court decisions; urban expansion; highway fencing (causing habitat fragmentation); and land withdrawals;

9.6 percent (1,485,068 acres) were lands where no BLM animals were present at the time of the passage of the 1971 act or places where all animals were claimed as private property. These lands in future land-use plans will be subtracted from the BLM totals as they should never have been designated as lands where herds were found roaming;

and 8 percent (1,240,894 acres) were lands where a critical habitat component (such as winter range) was missing, making the land unsuitable for wild horse and burro use, or areas that had too few animals to allow for effective management.

While the debate continues, along with the Davis investigation, the wild horse population continues to grow. Advocates of the iconic animals support leaving the population alone, and letting nature take its course.

But according to Tom Gorey, BLM Public Affairs, “There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that wild horses will automatically limit their own population. There were an estimated 25,300 wild horses and burros in 1971, and those numbers rose to a peak of more than 60,000 before the BLM was authorized and able to effectively use helicopters for gathers. If left unchecked, Mother Nature would regulate the wild horse and burro population through the classic boom-and-bust cycle, where the population increases dramatically, food becomes scarce, and the population crashes through starvation.”

The current on-the-range population of wild horses and burros (approximately 37,300) is greater than the number found roaming in 1971 (about 25,300), when the original wild horse act was initiated. According to BLM reports, the organization is working to achieve the appropriate management level of 26,500 wild horses and burros on the available western public rangelands, or nearly 11,000 fewer than the current west-wide population. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor