Wild Horse Board disapproves BLM’s management strategy
According to those from Wyoming who attended the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. in mid-March, not much, if anything, changed with the management strategy proposed by the BLM earlier this year.
Another thing that didn’t change was the board’s unanimous disapproval of the strategy, which increases emphasis on fertility control in mares, increases money spent on eco-sanctuaries for wild horses and decreases the number of horses gathered off the range.
On March 28, as part of its “fundamental reforms,” the BLM announced the second of its funding opportunities for wild horse “eco-sanctuaries,” which would be established on both public and private lands within Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in the West.
“The eco-sanctuaries would help the BLM feed and care for excess wild horses that have been removed from Western public rangelands. The facilities would be publicly accessible with a potential for ecotourism,” said the agency in its news release.
According to information posted on grants.gov, the closing date for parties to apply to become involved in cooperative agreements for the eco-sanctuaries is May 24. Estimated program funding is $20,000,000, with an award ceiling of $4,000,000 and a floor of $400,000.
Despite spending dollars in those amounts on new initiatives like the eco-sanctuaries, the BLM says it cannot gather horses in Summer 2011 for lack of money.
“Because of budget shortfalls, in their strategy the BLM talks about reducing gathers to 7,600 horses per year, focusing on contraception through PZP and increasing adoptions to keep populations under control,” says Advisory Board member Renee Taylor of Casper, who represents livestock management. “We reminded them that, because of the budget shortfalls, we’re already behind the eight ball and the number of horses is already over Appropriate Management Levels (AML) and is growing by 20 percent each year. They’re already behind on gathering, and PZP, while it works to control fertility, has been used on a limited basis so far. “They need a backup strategy, because their strategy is already doomed to collapse. They didn’t take that very well, but I think they heard us.”
“Right now they’re sticking to the proposal that Salazar laid out, which we certainly have concerns over,” says Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough. “They are interested in reducing the number of gathers they have, and increasing the use of fertility control on mares. However, my comments to the BLM were that strategy seems something that should be in addition to, not in lieu of, current management.”
Fearneyhough says a concerning statement was that the BLM does not intend to gather any horses this summer because of budget problems.
“They said gathers this summer were off the table, but that’s in direct opposition to the consent decree and the court order,” he says.
On how Wyoming would go about enforcing the consent decree, Fearneyhough says the decision to take action is up to the Wyoming Attorney General and the Governor’s office.
“From an ag perspective, we need action very quickly,” he notes.
“They’re hiding behind the continuing resolution, and saying they’re out of money, so they’ve canceled all summer gathers,” says rancher and brand inspector Gary Zakotnik of Eden, who represents livestock management on the board. “I don’t think they’ll change their mind, and that’s very disappointing, and I think they’re in violation of the Wild Horse and Burro Act.”
Of fertility control, Zakotnik says, “As far as I’m concerned, PZP is not effective, and it does not work. It’s similar to synchronizing a bunch of yearling heifers – when the drug wears off, they all come into heat, and you have way more foals than you would have under normal conditions.”
Taylor adds that the wild horse advocates were present to give public testimony, and again they called for removing cattle from the range so the horses have enough space and forage.
“We need to make more public the data that demonstrates that the horse AML is going up, while livestock stocking rates are going down,” she says. “The BLM provided that information a couple years ago, and this time we’ve made a public request for information, so hopefully we can get that out to the public and get past that discussion.”
Of the meeting, Taylor says the board gave the BLM some things to think about regarding the shortcomings of their strategy.
“This administration is so set in its own ways, and it lacks transparency,” she says. “This plan is happening in a vacuum, without board input, and the agency has been chastised for expecting the board to support a strategy when it had nothing to do with the planning.”
Taylor does credit the agency with choosing new board members with balanced, educated opinions. The new members, for whom the Phoenix meeting was their first, are Tim Harvey, speaking for humane advocacy, and Paul Durbin, who represents wildlife. Taylor, along with Northwest College veterinarian Vern Dooley of Powell, who represented wild horse and burro research, and Wayne Burkhardt of Indian Valley, Idaho, who spoke for natural resources management, have finished their terms.
Six months before board terms expire, the BLM sends out a notice in the federal register announcing the positions to come available and what their interests are. Individuals can either enter their own name, or they can be nominated. BLM Wild Horse and Burro program staff then reviews the names and decides which ones might do the best job and sends those names to the staff in Washington, D.C. Following their decision, what names are left are submitted to the director of the Forest Service and the director of the Department of the Interior for review, and they choose who ultimately makes the board.
“If they don’t like who Washington prioritized, they can call them up and say they don’t think these are the right people for the job,” says Taylor. “The whole process is supposed to take six months, but it can take up to two years. They do try to pick people who will work for the benefit of the program, rather than those who are agenda-driven. They work really hard to come up with people who are workers, not advocates.”
The next two positions to become available for nominations are wild horse and burro advocacy and veterinary medicine, while a public-at-large position remains over a year in the future.
“They will have some major changes to the board at the next meeting, and we’re hopeful the BLM at least listened,” says Taylor.
“The BLM is facing budget issues on a national scale, but, as I look at this proposal, what it appears to do is not solve any problem, but rather move the problem further down the road, with more horses on the desert, and a bigger problem to deal with eventually,” says Fearneyhough of the BLM’s management direction.