TCF Director Ginger Kathrens Responds to Senate Appropriations Decision
Many of you read our email yesterday and responded, sharing your confusion and heartache over what a new “plan” means in real terms for our wild horses in the West. When I witnessed my first roundups in 1994 and saw horses dying as a result, I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse. Sadly I was wrong. The path “backward” has the potential to lead us into a tragedy for our wild horse herds. Your voices will be critical. We must all speak up on behalf of our wild horse families still living in precious freedom.
While we can assume that HSUS and ASPCA think they’re doing the right thing, they simply don’t have the decades of experience working alongside BLM that TCF and other wild horse-specific advocacy groups have. There has always been an unfortunate disconnect between DC-based animal advocates involved in wild horse issues and wild horse advocates with on-the-range experiences to draw on. There’s an “inside the beltway” perception that this “wild horse issue” can be resolved simply by throwing a pile of money at it, but that never translates well for our wild horses.
While the organizations involved tout this plan as a victory, they’re leaving out key information. What they aren’t publicizing is that they’ve conceded the fight for fair allocation of forage to the livestock lobby by accepting an “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) concocted by the BLM, a number the National Academies of Science deemed “unscientific” in their 2013 review of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program:
"How Appropriate Management Levels are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change." Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program: A Way Forward, National Academy of Sciences. 2013. (Emphasis added.)
Why is this outrageous? The arbitrary AML of 26,710 is roughly the same number of wild horses that existed in 1971 when Congress declared they were “fast disappearing from the American West.” It’s a number that prompted Congress to act swiftly and unanimously to protect them, lest they disappear forever. 26,710 is too low a number to sustain genetic viability, putting most herds at risk of health issues, inbreeding and eventual extinction.
We understand agreeing to AML was a concession that ASPCA and HSUS made in order to bring the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other livestock interests to the table. But to us, it’s a wholesale betrayal of what true wild horse advocacy means.
When this “Path Forward” first came to our attention, we worked for weeks behind the scenes, imploring HSUS and ASPCA to modify the plan. Here are some of the things we said must be added:
Oversight and accountability for BLM in carrying out the “directive” to implement humane, reversible fertility control methods.
Mandatory annual Herd Area status reports by BLM to Congress.
Funds specifically allocated to PZP/humane fertility control that could not be diverted elsewhere.
Prohibition on inhumane sterilization experiments such as Ovariectomy via Colpotomy.
Recalculation of AML based on peer-reviewed science, not guesstimates and arbitrarily selected numbers.
Fair distribution of forage.
Rangeland health studies that look at the impact of livestock as well as all other users of the land, something that is curiously left out of current environmental assessments.
An end to traumatic and expensive helicopter roundups.
Protection for natural predators rather than mass slaughter to protect privately owned livestock.
If removals absolutely must take place, funds allocated by Congress to care for those animals for the rest of their natural lives, unless adopted. Our wild horses and burros must not be sent to horrific deaths in foreign slaughterhouses.
We were assured that all of our suggestions had been incorporated. Then communication simply ceased. While we continue to hope that these non-negotiables were added to the plan, we fear the worst. The Path Forward calls for the roundup of 15-20,000 wild horses every year for the next 3 years alone…another fact these groups aren’t promoting to the public. Where are these animals to go, when BLM holding facilities are already over capacity, costing all of us millions upon millions of dollars each year?
Perhaps now we see where Return to Freedom and the “American Mustang Foundation”, a group created by lobbyists specifically for the purpose of benefiting from this deal, come in to play. The Path Forward states that “wild horses and burros removed from the range must be relocated into less expensive holding facilities, and where possible, public-private partnerships with land-owners and non-profits must be implemented.” We support public-private partnerships. That’s exactly how some of the greatest advocacy work happens. But we also believe in transparency. Why would these groups buy into a plan to catastrophically reduce our wild horse and burro populations unless they have something to gain? By the time we “follow the money” many of our wild herds will be decimated.
The Cloud Foundation, for our part, will continue to advocate for our wild horses and burros and their right to live in freedom on our public lands. The fight is not over yet. The House and Senate bills differ, so they’ll go through the Conference Committee for resolution and agreed upon language. Then it will go back through both Senate and House Appropriations Committees for a final vote. We have strong champions in the House for our wild horses and burros. Your calls, your emails, and your letters matter. Keep up the fight. Let your voices be heard!
For the wild ones,