BLM strengthens wild horse policies

Feb 8, 2013

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued new policy directives at the beginning of February that emphasize “compassion and concern” and increases “public transparency” for wild horses on federal lands. The changes come on the heels of a number of media stories sharing alleged abuse and potential flaws in the system.

“These changes are part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the humane treatment of animals that are gathered from our public rangelands,” acting BLM Director Mike Pool said. “In addition, increasing public transparency is a cornerstone of this Administration’s approach to our work.

These new policies represent significant and substantial improvements, and we anticipate additional steps in the future to continue to strengthen this program.”

According to a BLM press release, the new policies will guide wild horse and burro gathers and related activities. These gathers are conducted on federally managed western rangelands where herd management areas are overpopulated.

Specifically, the policies announced will:

• Help ensure the humane treatment of animals during gathers;

• Establish protocols for the management of gathers that strengthen communications and teamwork;

• Provide for safe and transparent access for the public and media; and

• Increase timely and accurate internal and external communications during gathers.

The new policies build upon a policy announced earlier this year aimed at preventing wild horses and burros from being sold or sent to slaughter. This policy sets new conditions and restrictions on wild horse and burro sales, including that no more than four wild horses and/or wild burros may be bought by an individual or group within a six-month period without prior approval of the BLM’s assistant director for renewable resources and planning, who oversees the program.

All of these policies are part of a broader review that BLM is undertaking of its Wild Horse and Burro Program. Ongoing actions include expanding a variety of tools aimed at reducing herd growth, which will ultimately reduce the need to gather animals from the range. The agency also consults closely with the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, a group made up of members of the public from diverse backgrounds.

“At the end of the day, we need to find better ways to manage for healthier animals and healthier rangelands so that we can keep these symbols of the American West on our nation’s public lands,” Pool said.

Skeptics of the program say it is not enough. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWH- PC), a national coalition of more than 50 organizations, criticized the policies calling them “a step backward” for the humane treatment of wild horses and the transparency of BLM helicopter roundup operations.

“This new policy is just window dressing. It’s an attempt by BLM to address criticism, but will do nothing to change the practices on the ground at the roundups,” said Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC communications director, who has attended numerous BLM roundups.

The new policy specifies that BLM should handle horses “consistent with domestic livestock handling practices.”

AWHPC believes otherwise. “Although domestic horse handling practices are a step above the livestock industry, wild horses are neither domestic horses nor livestock. They are wild animals, and as such, must be humanely managed as a wildlife species on the range where they belong,” said Neda DeMayo, AWHPC founder and CEO of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary. “The BLM’s dogged and unscientific insistence on treating wild horses as livestock has led to brutal handling practices and the unsustainable cycle of roundups, removals and stockpiling horses in holding facilities. There are alternatives to the roundups, and this is where our resources should be focused.’ Despite wild horse advocates’ concerns, the management of the animals has become a red-tape nightmare. According to BLM, as many as 47,000 horses and burros are being cared for in holding pens. The estimated 37,000 animals remaining on federal lands will almost double in number in the coming four to five years. Drought continues to create additional management problems for the 179 herds remaining.

BLM encourages anyone who has observed inhumane treatment or the sale to a slaughterhouse of a federally protected wild horse or burro, or who has factual information about such an incident, to contact the bureau at wildhorse@ or 866-4MUS- TANGS (866-468-7826) with your name, contact information, and specific information about what you saw or know about.

The new policies can be accessed at http://on.doi. gov/2013BLMPolicy.

In addition, BLM and Burro Advisory Board will meet in March in Oklahoma City to discuss issues relating to the management, protection and control of wild horses and burros. The day-and-a-half meeting will take place on Monday, March 4, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday, March 5, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., local time, at the Sheraton Oklahoma City Hotel, 1 North Broadway Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK 73102. The hotel phone number for reservations is 405/235-2780.

The agenda of the meeting can be found in the Feb. 5, 2013, Federal Register (at pkg/FR-2013-02-05/ pdf/2013-02381.pdf).

The public may address the advisory board on Monday, March 4, at 3:30 p.m., local time. Individuals who want to make a statement at the Monday meeting should register in person with BLM by 2 p.m., local time, on that same day at the meeting site. Depending on the number of speakers, the board may limit the length of presentations, set at three minutes for previous meetings.

Speakers should submit a written copy of their statement to BLM at the addresses below or bring a copy to the meeting. There may be a Webcam present during the entire meeting and individual comments may be recorded. Those who would like to comment but are unable to attend may submit a written statement to: Bureau of Land Management, National Wild Horse and Burro Program, WO- 260, Attention: Ramona DeLorme, 1340 Financial Boulevard, Reno, NV 89502-7147. Comments may also be emailed to BLM at — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor