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Natural Resources

Public Lands Council tackles national issues during meeting

Written by Saige Albert

Cody – During their 2015 Annual Meeting, held Sept. 9-12 in Cody, the Public Lands Council (PLC) looked toward the challenges facing federal lands across the West, including the challenges with wild horses.

As the first topic in their Sept. 10 meeting, PLC President Brenda Richards said, “We are looking to develop some action items that we can sink our teeth into and start working out.”

Wild Horse Committee Chair and PLC Vice President Dave Eliason continued, “We need to be proactive and get moving in the right direction on wild horses. Lawsuits seem to struggle, and the wild horse program continues to get worse.”

Positive outlook

Though limited, Eliason noted that there is some positive movement on wild horses, including spay and neuter programs and involvement in the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.

“Right now, 14 to 17 herd management areas (HMAs) in Oregon will have spay and neuter programs implemented,” Eliason said. “That is good news.”

He also added that three positions on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board are currently open for nomination. Those positions are for members representing humane advocacy groups, wildlife management organizations and livestock management organizations.

“The American Quarter Horse Association has come our really strongly against excess wild horses, as well,” he continued.

“We need to continue to talk to people and tell them that excess wild horses are degrading our natural resources, and wildlife are suffering,” he continued. “We need to make contact with those folks.”

Action items

Eliason also noted that it is important for PLC to take positive action to develop their position on wild horses, including increasing research efforts and exploring new options.

“We need to approach universities for research focusing on the damage cause by unmanaged, overstocked wild horse populations and the costs of the programs,” he continued. “We also need to continue to make contact with partners.”

Another effort that Eliason explained that is seeing some positive results is the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition (NHBRMC).

Working together

Callie Hendrickson of NHBRMC explained that the Coalition was formed in 2012 to bring 14 organizations together to work on the wild horse issue.

“By bringing together not only the ag organizations but also the conservation and wildlife communities, we hope to make more of an impact,” Hendrickson commented, noting that

“Our core value and focus is the rangelands,” she continued. “We can’t agree on all the issues, but we can agree that we need to keep numbers in check and focus on rangelands.”

Hendrickson explained that NHBRMC is working to focus on the local level and what is happening locally to increase awareness.

She also noted that they are working to develop a series of five television commercials to inform the public on the issue. The five commericials will detail horse health, wildlife, range health, taxpayer dollars and western heritage.

Wild horse meetings

Hendrickson also noted the she has been involved in the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, and recently, she has been frustrated by the lack of action seen.

“Everyone says, ‘We are working together and things are moving in the right direction,’ which is what we want to hear,” she said. “They also talk about managing healthy horses on healthy ranges, but we have to hold their feet to the fire.”

She continued, “When we ask what they are doing, we don’t get an answer from BLM. It is really frustrating. We have to put pressure on BLM to make sure we have work being done.”

The Wyoming State Grazing Board’s Dick Loper added that western states need to continue working together and within their states to determine what is happening locally.

“We need to aggressively pursue building a national coalition of people that can work with on the healthy of the land and wildlife habitat,” Loper said. “We need everyone’s help.”

Legal standing

While action is being pursued from a policy and public information standpoint, work is also being done in the court system.

Caroline Lobdell, executive director of the Western Resources Legal Center, noted that ongoing cases continue to tackle the issue of wild horses in California, Nevada and Utah, and each case is at a different point, though they are progressing.

Lobdell also noted that Western Resources Legal Center prepared a white paper titled, “Challenges Related to Federal Management Under the Wild Horses and Burros Act,” that looks at the challenges associated with BLM range management under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHBA) of 1971 and if PLC has standing to bring those challenges through the legal system.

In short, the white paper noted that two main challenges are available under WHBA for grazing permittees.

“First, permittees can argue that BLM’s failure to remove excess wild horses as required by WHBA and its implementing regulations constitutes non-discretionary agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed in violation of Section 706(1) of the Administration Procedures Act,” Lobdell said. “This is based on the idea that wild horse gather management is a non-discretionary duty.”

Lobdell continued, “The second is that a failure to act under WHBA is arbitrary and capricious. This is more difficult.”

While they have not finalized a strategy, she mentioned that this is step one for taking future action.

Future challenges

Hendrickson notes, “We have a growing issue of horses that aren’t covered under the act.”

Those horses on Forest Service and Parks Service land, or horses that have just been left, are not covered by the Wild Horse and Burro Act. In addition, horses that are abandoned are not covered under the Act, but Hendrickson mentioned that advocacy groups are readily sweeping them in with the wild horses.

Others at the meeting noted that the court of public opinion will continue to be important. It was widely agreed on that a social media campaign would be advantageous and beneficial in spreading the word about concerns with wild horses.

“We have to do something. We just can’t talk about it,” concluded Eliason. 

Richards added, “We have to stay focused on this issue.”

Look for more information on PLC’s meeting, including discussions about sage grouse, in upcoming editions of the Roundup.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..