Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Open Letter to President Obama

Animal Law

I did vote for you. I was intrigued by your call for "change". You signaled a dramatic new course, one of openness and inclusion.  Certainly I applauded your choice of Joe Biden as vice president, a staunch animal welfare advocate.
The promises
During the 2008 campaign you said, "Federal policy towards animals should respect the dignity of animals and their rightful place as cohabitants of our environment. We should strive to protect animals and their habitats and prevent animal cruelty, exploitation and neglect.... I have consistently been a champion of animal-friendly legislation and policy and would continue to be so once elected." You announced that you had co-sponsored legislation to stop the sale for slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros. During the election you signed on as co-sponsor to the bill to ban horse slaughter for human consumption.  When asked specifically during the campaign, "Will you support legislation institute a permanent ban on horse slaughter and exports of horses for human consumption", you gave an unqualified "Yes". (HSLF questionnaire)
Today, in January, 2010, you are presiding over one of the deadliest, most cruel and unnecessary government roundups of wild horses ever documented by BLM.
As of this writing, more than 2 dozen horses have been killed by helicopters used by your administration to run them off their legally protected herd areas and corral them in long term holding pens. The hooves of two little foals have literally torn off as they ran for their lives from the BLM. BLM's Richard Sanford DVM reported on one, "Multiple hoof sloughs were noted and the foal was euthanized for humane reasons. The cause of these hoof abscesses/sloughs was most likely hoof trauma from the gather operations."

Several mares have also aborted spontaneously or miscarried. This after being forced to run miles from a helicopter and trapped in a corral, terrified, traumatized and forever separated from their herds, their families. A long time BLM official whom you promoted to the job of Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning in the BLM, Edwin Roberson, claims the spontaneous abortions are "the result of the poor condition of many of the older mares and ... directly related to lack of forage on the range." Except that they weren't miscarrying on the range and didn't do so until after they were forced to run hundreds of miles, extremely afraid, and lost their families and freedom forever. Your administration would have us believe that the mares all miscarried in the past few days because of years of eating the forage on the range and it had nothing to do with the severe trauma of the roundup they had just endured?
The nearly 2,000 horses that have now been removed from their herd areas are contained in an open, dirt arena, basically a feedlot, with no windbreaks or other protection from the weather. Visit Saving America's Horses - A Nation Betrayed, for more information on this deadly roundup.


Wow, your words about respecting animals as co-inhabitants and protecting them in their habitat really ring hollow, don't they? Not to mention I do not see that your administration has lifted a finger, let alone "championed", for "animal-friendly legislation and policy" as promised.   
Thousands of citizens have gathered at dozens of ongoing protests of BLM's policy of extermination towards our wild horses and burros.  Tens and even hundreds of thousands more have written and called your administration and Congress, asking you for a moratorium on wild horses and burro roundups, an evaluation and change in policy, like the one you promised. But you seem to have dug in, your attitude reminiscent of President Richard Nixon, refusing even to acknowledge the outcry, let alone the cruelty.

Taxpayer money - the budgets
Calico is only the latest of the roundups of wild horses that have actually accelerated during your administration.  In FY 2008, the cost of rounding up and holding these animals was approximately 81.3% of the $36,201,000 budget for the total wild horse and burro program. The BLM wild horse adoption program consumed another 13% of the total budget, leaving a meager 5.8% for monitoring and managing herd areas, census, and compliance inspections. (BLM report - 2010 Budget Justification)
The 2009 budget was $40,613,000 with the increase used for more roundups and holding costs. (BLM report - 2010 Budget Justification)
Then you proposed for FY 2010 a substantial increase in the budget for the wild horses and burros program for a total of $67,486,000 with the entire additional $26, 873,000 to be used for rounding up 12,000 horses and holding what will be a total of about 40,000 horses in pens. (BLM report - 2010 Budget Justification)
Now for FY 2011 you have requested an additional $12 million apparently to defray the costs of holding wild horses and burros in corrals and long term holding facilities.
How do you explain to laid off workers, unemployed fathers and mothers, struggling businesses, and taxpayers shouldering substantial government debt in this worst of economic times, why you want to continue, even step up, round ups of nearly all of the wild horses and burros and put them in costly holding facilities?
What's next - deer, elk, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons? 
You appointed Ken Salazar to be the Dept. of Interior Secretary. Sec'y. Salazar supports horse slaughter; he is an avid supporter of taxpayer subsidies of livestock grazing on public lands which BLM has given priority. It has been said that grazing livestock on public lands is a "$132 million loss to the American taxpayer each year and independent economists have estimated the true cost at between $500 million and $1 billion dollars a year."  Another burden for the taxpayers.
Sec'y. Salazar also supports oil and gas development so this appointment probably made Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) happy.  He conspired with then Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) in 2004 to legalize slaughter of wild horses and burros and has through special laws and otherwise, facilitated removals of large numbers of these animals from lands in Nevada his contributors want for development, oil and gas drilling and production, mining, recreation and the like.  The cattle and even sheep would be allowed to stay and their numbers increased. Whatever is profitable at the expense of the American people's public lands.
Horse slaughter
Needless to say, since your election, you've not said a word about supporting legislation to ban horse slaughter. I guess if you were planning to keep that promise, you would not have appointed Ken Salazar or Bob Abbey. Your BLM Director, Bob Abbey, is a long time BLM employee who as director of the Nevada BLM office signed off on numerous wild horse and burro roundups and sales for slaughter.
Mr. President, the issue is not one of balancing interests, the wild horses and burros, the ranchers, energy development. The issues are integrity, compliance with our laws, and humane treatment of animals. 


Sec'y. Salazar has disseminated the outline of a plan, really a culmination of Bush era BLM meetings, that will basically mean moving wild horses and burros to pastures, even feedlots in the Midwest and East, from herd areas and ranges in the west where they are supposed to be "free roaming", managed at the "minimal feasible level" and protected from "capture", "harassment" and "death".
Not only is such a plan contrary to the promise of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 USC §1331 et seq., Nena Winand, DVM, has advised such a move makes no sense because taking horses from their native habitat to pastures in the Midwest or East with different nutrients is likely to cause them to suffer metabolic syndrome.  This is one reason why there is an effort to protect "animals and their habitat", recognize "their rightful place as co-habitants" of the earth. (Do you remember that you said that?)
But this, like the explanations for the miscarrying mares, is typical of the lack of science underlying BLM's management of the wild horses and burros. Secy Salazar has asserted as his premise for this plan that exploding numbers of wild horses are responsible for the degradation of the range and must be removed. He adds that this is for the horses and burros' own good because they are also starving. Secy Salazar has asserted this over and over as if repeating it will make it true.
President Obama, your administration has used newspapers and its own websites to try to convince the American people of this. One blogger would remind that it is illegal to use appropriated funds to hire publicity experts. 5 U.S.C. 3107 "Appropriations law "publicity and propaganda" clauses restrict the use of funds for puffery of an agency, purely partisan communications, and covert propaganda."  BLM fails to include "Letters in Opposition" to the agency's action, and also does not in its "News Releases and Editorials" any news reports or editorials critical of the agency's actions. 
The truth
In 1990 the GAO found the range was in the best condition it had been in during the past century. The GAO found any degradation was the result of livestock grazing and suggested removal of cattle, not wild horses and burros. The removal of wild horses at that time was something done largely to appease ranchers.
Since 2001, however, over 74,000 wild horses and burros have removed from the range, and now one year after you took office and stepped up the Bush era removals, there are almost more wild horses in holding facilities than roaming free. As of October, 2009, BLM was holding 32,000 animals in holding facilities. More now since the roundup of the Calico horses that began in late December, 2009. 
Even though two federal judges have warned BLM that driving horses from their historic herd areas and ranges into long term holding facilities as a means of managing them, may not be legal even if they are deemed "excess", your Secy Salazar and your BLM director, Mr. Abbey, have pushed ahead to remove more than 12,000 wild horses and burros this year alone.


The truth is there are fewer free roaming wild horses now than in 1974.  Wild horses make up only .5% of grazing animals on public lands; they are outnumbered by cattle at least 200 to 1. The BLM manages more than 256 million acres of public lands. Cattle grazing is allowed on 160 million acres, while wild horses are restricted to 26.6 million acres of land that is shared with cattle.
Take as an example the BLM's zeroing out or eliminating 12 herds in Lincoln and Nye Counties in Nevada in September, 2009. BLM estimated there were 1,357.43 acres per wild horse in one herd area, about 350 horses; and 3,377.38 acres per horse in another herd area, about 270 horses. The BLM zeroed out all of these herd areas, known as the Seaman including Golden Gate, and White River Herd Areas and the Caliente Herd Area. Not one wild horse will be allowed to live anywhere in these herd areas despite that in 1971 they were designated for the wild horses and burros.
In the Calico Mt. Complex, site of the current roundup of 90% of the estimated 3,100 horses living there, there are approximately 175 acres for each horse. 
Hardly an overpopulation of wild horses and burros. But that's not all. BLM's population numbers simply don't add up.
In 2007 BLM said there were 700 horses there and in 2008, there were said to be so few horses that BLM decided not to monitor them further. BLM then authorized what amounted to a 300% increase in cattle in one allotment of this area. Just a few months later in 2008 BLM decided the numbers of horses in this area had exploded and were degrading the range. In 2009 BLM employees responsible for monitoring the wild horses and burros in this area testified they were "surprised" to hear about an exploding population of wild horses in the Calico herd management areas, that they believed the range could adequately support the number of wild horses. The idea seems to be to exaggerate the number of wild horses to justify removal of more and more of them until there are no more?
BLM would like everyone to believe the agency is just really bad at counting wild horses. According to Cindy MacDonald at American Herds, BLM is also claiming "hundreds and hundreds of wild horses moved outside the [herd management areas] when the choppers arrived in 2004-2005 - but after the choppers left, the mustangs snuck back inside", thus accounting for the population increases.   


It is highly questionable that these horses, however many there are, should have been declared "excess", meaning BLM determines there are too many for the range to support and they must then be removed under the WFRHBA. BLM specialists tasked with monitoring wild horses in this area didn't seem to think as of the spring, 2009, there was any reason to remove wild horses; these specialists actually testified that the range could support the numbers of wild horses. 
Also, the environmental assessment for the Calico removal was a sham. Anyone could see very dated studies of the range condition were used. And, your administration would have the public believe that wild horses too few to bother monitoring as of 2008 somehow destroyed the range but thousands of cattle and oil and gas development had nothing to do with it?  For more....
Just like for the Pryor Mountain, Caliente and Seamen/White River roundups in 2009 where BLM claimed without any current assessment or real proof that the range was degraded because of the horses and never mentioned the tens or even hundreds of thousands of cattle and even sheep also occupying those areas that trample the land and foul the water. 
In all of those cases, wildlife ecologists and other witnesses offered substantial proof there was no real evidence of degradation of the range and a dwindling number of horses, not an overpopulation.  Regardless, rounding up wildlife and putting them in holding facilities is hardly an ecologically sound method of conservation or preservation.
What about the law?
And what of the law, the requirement that the BLM "shall maintain a current inventory of wild free-roaming horses and burros... to... make determinations as to whether and where an overpopulation exists and whether action should be taken to remove excess animals; determine appropriate management levels [AMLs] of wild free-roaming horses and burros on these areas of the public lands"   §1333(b)? 
Does it matter at all that the BLM's wildly fluctuating census, obviously made up, and unsubstantiated or outdated claims of "range degradation" violate the law?


By the way, Mr. President, we have seen no evidence of starving horses.  Instead, we have seen  horses killed, injured and terrified by helicopters BLM uses to run them down and corral them, their families destroyed, their anguish, suffering and fear.
How do you and your DOI and BLM simply ignore the mandate against inhumane treatment of wild horses under the WFRHBA? Why have you not stopped your administration's disregard of the law, called for the Justice Dept. to investigate and prosecute criminal violations of WFRHBA?   
BLM has also basically thumbed its bureaucratic nose at the National Environmental Policy Act, The BLM is required by National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., to prepare Environmental Assessments or EAs or, if indicated, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for any proposed changes to public lands that may have a significant environmental impact.  The law directs the agency to identify environmental concerns, consider alternatives including no action at all and take a "hard look" at the problem and minimize significant environmental impact. A significant environmental impact includes actions that are likely to be highly controversial or have uncertain effects on the quality of our lives and that affect cultural and historical resources. 40 C.F.R. §1508.27(b).
These evaluations as well as land use plans are full of words but have little substance when it comes to stating why wild horses must be removed from their homes. They are all cookie cutter, cut and paste, blaming the wild horses and burros for unspecified "range degradation" without mention of thousands of livestock or other wild animals that share these areas.
BLM's plan for non-excess horses and presumably for healthy unadoptable excess horses is what Ginger Kathrens, founder of Cloud Foundation, has decried as "managing the wild horses to extinction".  Secy Salazar's plan, again, not the "change" we were promised, calls for aggressive sterilization and creation of herds that are all geldings or all mares or not in sufficient gender ratios or numbers to maintain genetic viability. Those left after these Frankenstein-like machinations will be placed in those Midwest or East Coast pastures. Forget pastures. The BLM team thought feedlots would be sufficient.


How is that maintaining free roaming behavior as required by WFRHBA? Even BLM agrees herd behavior would be "out the window". 
It is evident that BLM's preference for the horses it has captured is to kill them or send them to slaughter. Is that really the long term plan for these horses? During the Calico roundup, for example, no one seems to be keeping track of the horses, many have not been freeze branded as required by law. The BLM is strictly controlling access by the public, treating us as if we are terrorists instead of citizens trying to protect our animals and uphold the laws we passed to protect them.
During its Bush era discussions BLM considered ways to keep the public away from round ups and the killing and sales of healthy horses and burros and planned to brand protests as "eco-terrorism".  This was all to be done in secret. Unless you step up and stop this rogue agency, Mr. President, it looks like BLM's plan may succeed.
BLM eroded the protections WFRHBA is supposed to provide for the wild horses and burros long before you took office, Mr. President. That is why the change we are looking for is not more of the same, but a moratorium on these outrageous abuses, an investigation, a new direction.
BLM, for example, has long ignored the limitations on the "multiple use" concept under the WFRHBA and Federal Lands Policy Management Act.  BLM issued a regulation that effectively rewrites WFRHBA to say the "objectives of these regulations are management of wild horses and burros as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands under the principle of multiple use". 43 CFR § 4700.0-2 Yet, the WFRHBA says only that wild horses and burros "are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands". 16 U.S.C. §1331.
WFRHBA mandates "[a]ll management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level". 16 U.S.C. §1333 BLM's regulation says "[m]anagement shall be at the minimum level necessary to attain the objectives identified in approved land use plans and herd management area plans." 43 CFR 4710.4. Two very different laws.
FLPMA makes clear that the protections under WFRHBA take precedence. FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. § 1732 (a) Yet, despite this, BLM has issued a regulation that provides "[w]ild horses and burros shall be considered comparably with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans." 43 C.F.R. §4700.0-6(b).
Indeed, BLM has not managed herd areas as required by WFRHBA only to "maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands" and "protect the natural ecological balance of all wildlife species which inhabit such lands, particularly endangered wildlife species", or to "protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation". BLM has also ignored the law requiring ranges to be "devoted principally" to use by wild horses/burros. Instead, BLM has used a "multiple use" approach under which the wild horses are generally treated as nuisances to be removed from their own herd areas and ranges.


The BLM has authorized itself to divide herd areas into "herd management areas", something not authorized by WFRHBA. 43 CFR 4710.3-1. In this way, with no statutory authority at all, BLM has limited wild horses and burros' access to thousands of acres that were historically their herd areas. This is done without thought about the horses' seasonal migration patterns or available resources. The BLM then removes wild horses and burros from the artificially created "herd management areas" on the basis there is insufficient forage, water or habitat! BLM also targets them for removal if they cross the artificial boundaries into their original herd areas.  The creation of herd management areas has resulted in the loss of more than 20 million acres of historical herd areas. For more.....
What you can do, Mr. President
Mr. President, you can stop the roundups, the cruelty, and you can do it now. Put a moratorium on the roundups, order the Justice Dept to investigate BLM's wild horse and burro program and work with Congress and the public to determine the best course for conserving these animals in their habitat and at the same time meeting the country's energy needs.
What we can do
1. There have been a number of protests of BLM's actions in rounding up and removing these horses, and more are scheduled to take place. Join one of the protests now scheduled or plan your own!
2. Animal Law Coalition along with The Cloud Foundation and Equine Welfare Alliance have called on the public to continue to call on the Obama administration and Congress to put a moratorium on the Calico and all BLM wild horse and burro roundups until Congress can decide the best course of action for these animals.
Send a letter (please be polite) to President Obama in the web form found at Urge President Obama to put a moratorium on the Calico and all BLM roundups of the wild horses and burros until Congress can decide the best course of action for these animals.
Follow your email with a phone call to the White House (both numbers) to appeal to the President to halt the BLM's cruel Calico and other wild horse roundups.
Phone: 202-456-1111 or 202-456-9000; Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Forward this message to five friends and family and ask that they take a couple of minutes to help the horses - every public comment and phone call counts. You can help us increase the number of active wild horse advocates.
Please write or call your U.S. representative and senators and urge them to join in this effort to put in place a moratorium to stop the gathers, the roundups and removals pending Congressional action on the future management of the wild horses and burros.  Also, ask your representative and senators to hold a hearing on the course of the wild horses and burros program.
Urge your representative and senators to vote for de-funding of the roundups for FY 2011.

Information contributed by Equine Welfare Alliance

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