June 12, 2017
To the Interior Subcommittee Members:
Ken Calvert, California
Chairman Mike Simpson, Idaho
Tom Cole, Oklahoma
David Joyce, Ohio
Chris Stewart, Utah
Vice Chair Mark Amodei, Nevada
Evan Jenkins, West Virginia
Betty McCollum, Minnesota
Ranking Member Chellie Pingree, Maine
Derek Kilmer, Washington
Marcy Kaptur, Ohio
Unified Voices of the Eagle (UVOTE), a coalition of organizations working together to protect the environment, would like to submit the following statement on the President’s FY 2018 Interior and Agriculture Appropriations Budget Proposals.
Our concerns include the proposed language regarding the Wild Horse and Burro Program, which designates a $10 million reduction. Despite exorbitant past budgets, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) not only remains far from reaching its fiscal goals, but for decades has failed to humanely manage wild herds both on their legally designated public lands and in off-range holding, as 16 U.S. Code Chapter 30 – WILD HORSES AND BURROS: PROTECTION, MANAGEMENT, AND CONTROL requires. This proposal would not make the BLM more accountable or more efficient but would mean a death sentence for thousands of America’s federally protected wild horses and burros.
We also adamantly oppose any funding being authorized to reopen equine slaughter, funding for USDA meat inspectors, or funding to transport horses to slaughter. The United States government must be held accountable for knowingly providing and facilitating pathways for questionable food products to enter the global food chain. Horses in this country (including wild horses) are NOT raised for food. Domestic and gathered wild horses are routinely given many substances that the FDA clearly states are not for use in animals that are for human consumption. Funding activities that support horses being slaughtered for human consumption would be a crime against humanity, and could bring serious consequences in our relations with other countries, including important allies in foreign affairs. Wild horses are untested and exposed to innumerable environmental toxins, including radiation, toxic wastes, water pollution and prions, which have been proven to linger in soils, be taken up by green plants, and transferred through ingestion to mammals through repeated exposures. Wild horses are also known carriers of toxoplasmosis and trichinosis which can be transmitted to humans who consume them. Inadequate study or knowledge does not excuse deliberate release of what in other countries is called “bush meat” into the human food chain. Bush meat, you may know, is the source of many human epidemics, including the Ebola and AIDS viruses. These organisms often do no harm to their natural hosts but will transfer across species, with unknown risks.
Though America’s wild horses and burros remain an integral part of our country’s early heritage and culture, and are important to our Indigenous Peoples, the 2018 budget proposal seeks to allow BLM lethal latitude in management of the wild horses and burros. This proposed budget opens the door for these iconic animals—protected in response to citizen demands to end their indiscriminate slaughter in the 1960’s—to be sent to slaughter to remedy the BLM’s persistent and calculated mismanagement of wild horses for decades now.
Charged with properly managing these public lands, the BLM’s grazing program is a far more logical and equitable source of budget cutting, as this program regularly costs taxpayers more than $150 million on an annual basis, not including peripheral costs of predator controls, infrastructure matching funds, and environmental degradation and remediation. With more than 2 million livestock roaming over their ranges, it is preposterous to claim that the small herds of wild horses dispersed over ten western states are an issue to anyone but private, for-profit interests seeking to extract further gains from millions of unwilling taxpayers. Further, among the few (and diminishing) legal areas where wild horses and burros are allowed by law to exist, they are forced by this management regime to share the resources they need with private, for profit grazing livestock. Consider that the entire Wild Horse and Burro budget was less than the subsidies paid to ranchers, in New Mexico alone, in a single year.
The grazing program was originally implemented to “rein in” the wholesale destruction of America’s rangelands during the Open Range era of livestock profiteering. It was created to entice homesteaders and ranchers to forego destroying our “commons” and to ensure they could survive and prosper on their home properties. It is not and never was to engender property rights, nor was it intended to support huge corporations that use millions of acres of public lands (at approximately one tenth of market value) to make profits. As the Taylor Grazing Act is just 83 years old this year, it is only one generation in existence and does not hold the weight it is often assumed to carry. Nor is it immutable.
It is undeniable the BLM, while publicly declaring an intent of managing wild horses and burros in a way that ensures a thriving herd, or preserves unique genetics in distinct areas, is quietly and intentionally enabling extinction of wild equine herds, while favoring grazing leases for cattle and sheep on legal wild horse and burro homelands. The BLM’s own genetic viability manager, Dr. Gus Cothran, indicates viability minimums at around 150 animals; the IUCN puts this number for any species at around 10 times that. Under the BLMs supposedly professional management these biological imperatives are widely ignored. Some examples: Utah has 17 of 19 HMAs below viability; California 19 of 21; Arizona 5 of 7; Colorado 2 of 4; Nevada 60 of 85; Idaho 5 of 6; Montana 1 of 1; New Mexico 2 of 2; and Wyoming 7 of 14. The predictable anomalies due to inbreeding are then further unfairly used to diminish the value of these innocent animals who are subjected to every human whim without a voice at the table of their own.
In full understanding and agreement that the current management regime, whose central focus is off-range long-term horse boarding, is unsustainable, we suggest:
- REPATRIATION: The 41% of land taken from the original Congressionally authorized Wild Horse & Burro preserves be returned to the program. They are by law not allowed to exist elsewhere but the BLM has consistently reduced both acreages and total herds (by around half), effectively emptying them of wild horses and burros forever. Repatriation of gelded horses would present no reproduction concerns, they would simply and slowly die out naturally in the wild, and at negligible cost to taxpayers.
- ON RANGE CONTRACEPTION: The BLM has consistently and questionably avoided any meaningful use of on-range contraception, which has been proven successful in managing wild horse herds in the eastern U.S. for decades (among other areas). BLM currently darts less than 1% of the wild horses with PZP, a safe form of birth control. To effectively attain desired population control that percentage needs to be approximately 25%. A fertility control vaccine will not be successful if not used in the appropriate number. The vaccine used today costs around $25/dose, is given only to reproductive age females via dart, and can be administered by volunteers. Considering that one dose is a near perfect equivalent of only five days upkeep for horses confined off-range, not pursuing this logical and sound fiscal management approach is indefensible. Even with repeated doses this approach remains more cost-effective than current practices, and clearly better conforms to the best interests of the widest American public. Further, it costs far less than the enormous costs of helicopter roundups and related labor, transportation and shipping, not to mention these almost always produce equine fatalities and/or mortal injuries, so are a significant waste of taxpayer funds altogether.
- LAND CONSOLIDATION: Support appropriate land trades where there are checkerboard areas of public and private land which are causing a conflict between herds and private land owners. These are legal problems caused by people, not by the animals.
- RETIRE OR RESCIND PERMITS: Grazing permits were and remain not rights, but privileges, and the BLM has always had full authority to rescind, revoke, or retire permits but has rarely shown the courage to do so. Especially in the few legal wild horse and burro areas, grazing permits could be rescinded and permittees perhaps offered a one-time buyout to prevent friction and produce win/win situations. Since these privileged few compete unfairly in the free market by access to grazing at around only 10% of the open market rates, anyone interested in free markets and private property rights should find this currently unfair advantage onerous and rightly dissolved.
- Grazing Cap: A cap be put in place on the number of acres that one individual, or an individual corporation can use to graze livestock. It is not fiscally sound to let corporations (some with over 2 million acres) obtain a grazing permit at merely one tenth of market value. Therefore, if there is not a cap put in place the permit fees should be raised to market value.
- Enforcement: BLM needs to have better funding for enforcement of these lands, and the stand-offs between the Federal government and armed protestors like the Bundy’s. This has proven that even if our federal agencies want to do a better job of managing for the health of the ranges and wildlife the ranching industry is not going to allow them to do their jobs.
Wild horse management must be on the range because BLM has proven the case that roundups and removals do not work and are wasting the taxpayer monies. And there must be a cessation of the serious overgrazing happening by the intensive numbers of livestock on these lands.
We are grateful for the opportunity to voice our concerns and solutions and we insist our government listen to and safeguard the best interests of the majority of our 325 million citizens, and not simply enable and amplify known abuses of our system and our resources to support only a privileged few. Part of what has always made America great is our shared commons, our public lands and resources, which were wisely protected in response to rampant profiteering. Our wild horses and burros can provide a better long-term profit to our citizens in the form of ecotourism for all the generations which follow us, but only if we are as wise today as some of our most admired ancestors.
Please recognize and respond appropriately to prevent this proposed commodification and subsequent risk of wholesale loss and slaughter of America’s cherished wild equines, whose ancestral home is here, on this continent. We, the people, expect nothing less from you.
Submitted on this the 12th day of June, 2017
By the Unified Voices of the Eagle Coalition
Representing organizations with a total membership of over 1.5 million.