Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mythmaking on both sides of wild horse issue

Salt Lake Tribune

By Willis Lamm
Updated: 01/15/2010 02:04:38 PM MST
While clearly some of the more extreme elements in the wild horse advocacy camp have expressed some far-fetched allegations regarding the Bureau of Land Management, BLM Director Bob Abbey has responded with a few myths of his own ("Many myths in wild horse management debate," Opinion, Jan. 10).
The BLM, in fact, has sold horses to individuals who in turn sold them for slaughter ("BLM says it has 'no legal recourse' to stop wild horse slaughter," Billings Gazette). The BLM's amassing greater numbers of horses in "long-term holding" only makes such sales more likely in the future.
There may be some truth to the claim that BLM has removed horses to make room for cattle. BLM is often not in compliance with respect to completing required scoping and environmental assessments when grazing leases and permits are renewed and cattle are allotted subject to "retroactive review," according to BLM Sierra Front and the NW Great Basin Resource Advisory Council. When range conditions decline horses are often blamed.
There may be some truth to the claim that the BLM has illegally taken some acreage away from horse herds. Clearly, available acreage has declined significantly.
Recently a federal judge ruled that the BLM exceeded its authority in its plans to remove all the horses from the West Douglas, Colo., herd management area, effectively removing that acreage from horse use. "Exceeding authority" pretty much equals "illegal."
The claim that the BLM is managing wild horse herds to extinction is, ironically, a provable fact. Every herd management area that has been "zeroed out" (in which BLM has removed 100 percent of the horses present) is a location where a distinctive horse population (herd) is now extinct and not replaceable with horses of the herd's original genetic profile.
Perhaps "equine ethnic cleansing" may be a more contemporary term.
Ironically Abbey concludes his presentation with BLM's most notable myth, that only 17,300 wild horses ranged on public lands in 1971. (The reader is to conclude that range horse populations have increased since '71.) That "out of thin air" estimate was debunked decades ago when a subsequent "hard count" found 42,000 wild horses. There were more horses found just in Nevada than Abbey claimed for the entire country.
The profound problem we currently face is that there will be no practical and sustainable resolution to the present wild horse "crisis" until the spin and counterspin subside and the discussion gets down to hard facts and probabilities. Meanwhile, what everyone should be able to agree on is that BLM's present course is not sustainable. Given its history, BLM is not likely to produce viable solutions on its own.
Willis Lamm is communications officer for the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates .

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