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Would we want our children or grandchildren to see how America's horses are treated by our public agencies?

Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates'



Willis Lamm
November 18, 2009

I live on the wild horse range so I can see the various sides to the wild horse issue. Man has undeniably altered the landscape and as a result our ranges have to be managed. However management of our public lands and the animals that inhabit them has to be practical and intelligent.

The Department of Interior's strategies with respect to managing viable horse and burro herds on western public rangelands has been neither practical or intelligent. The Department of Interior has given the Bureau of Land Management (BLM,) the agency tasked with carrying out these management schemes, a mission containing impossible restraints and dubious priorities.

The strategic errors besetting wild horses also adversely impact other wildlife and run up huge public expenses. Here is one example. In Nevada, state and federal agencies are spending huges amounts of money struggling to restore the health of mule deer herds only to see their efforts thwarted by cattle damage. Horses are being displaced by European domestic livestock, resulting in unfathomable holding costs for those horses removed from the range while allowing situations to continue where native wildlife are being impacted by livestock overpopulations, producing even more public costs.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (a former cattleman) recently proposed an overhaul of the wild horse program, recommending an expensive new plan that would remove horses from the west and relocate them in the Midwest. Salazar came out of the gate fudging the numbers used to justify his proposal. The plan was basically nonsensical as it failed to address the underlying issues and ignored more practical and less expensive alternatives. The history of the Department of Interior includes sleights of hand involving facts and figures, misplaced emphasis regarding land use priorities, and program strategies that produce incredible long term costs. So is there any reason for the American Public to really trust the Department of Interior or the BLM?

Congress is not blameless either when it comes to the creation of the present boondoggle. The most glaring example involves the infamous "Burns Stealth Rider" that was slipped into an omnibus spending bill by Senator Conrad Burns. The Burns Stealth Rider forced the already stretched thin Bureau of Land Management to manage an entirely new boondoggle called "Sale Authority." Sale Authority took away personnel, money and resources that BLM needed to shore up problems with its adoption program. Reportedly the Burns Stelth Rider could not have passed through unnoticed without behind the scenes help from Senator Harry Reid [Citations: Washington Post, Unobserver]

The stealth rider was seriously flawed, however Congress has still failed to take any substantive remedial action. The voters, however, sent Senator Burns packing along with California Republican Congressman Richard Pombo. Pombo chaired the House Natural Resources Committee and prevented legislation from getting through his committee that would have undone the Burns Stealth Rider's damaging language.

The costs to the taxpayers for these mistakes are outrageous. Instead of agencies and politicians taking responsibility for their own mistakes and charting a new course for the management of wild horses, they point fingers at each other and quarrel over arranging deck chairs while the ship takes on more water. Once again the public is becoming fed up.

Public reaction has started. Recently over 7,000 public comments were received by the BLM over their proposal to roundup some 2,500 horses from the Calico Mountains Complex. In the first 24 hours the roundup moratorium request document received over 100 animal groups, celebrities and even politicians as signatories calling for a moratorium, and the list continues to grow. There is a growing sense that if Congress doesn't take notice, Senator Reid and perhaps a couple of other stalwarts in Congress may be the next victims of a voter backlash.

I can understand the Republicans licking their chops as the Democratic majority and the President (the Secretary of Interior's boss) fail to come to grips with this not-so-complicated issue. What is more difficult to understand is the Democrats' failure to get any traction towards developing fresh solutions, and by failing to doing so, turning off a significant portion of their support base.

It's time to confront the elephant in the room. A moratorium on roundups should force some serious discussions about sensible and humane wild horse management options and flush out some new ideas. We simply can't continue "business as usual," and apparently nothing short of putting the brakes on the whole wild horse removal operation is going to bring about the attention required to actually fix the problem.

View the Moratorium Petition.

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