Friday, December 23, 2011

USDA Has Disproportionate Influence on BLM Wild Horse Board

Horseback Magazine

December 23, 2011
By Steven Long
Photo by Laura Leigh
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The United States Department of Agriculture has an unusually stout influence over appointments to the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board of the federal Bureau of Land Management. The giant cabinet department that serves the needs of farmers and ranchers has veto power to appointments to the panel that oversees equine wildlife management on BLM lands.
“It’s in the board’s charter but is not in a statute,” said Tom Gorey, BLM chief Washington Spokesman. The charter was updated in July, 2010.
While the board’s responsibility is not to set policy, but to advise, the Wild Horse and Burro panel has served as a rubber stamp for BLM “gather” policy that has resulted in the capture, killing, and holding of tens of thousands of wild animals in giant pastures at taxpayer expense. The policy has cost so much in   that the federal agency depletes its entire $60 million wild horse budget each year. Often, as soon as horses are removed they are replaced by cattle.
Last year hundreds of horses died in the “gathers” including one in Nevada during the dead of winter. Typically, the horses are stampeded by helicopter into a trap. One foal ran so hard during a chase it lost its hooves and died. The agency is the subject of several lawsuits in different jurisdictions over alleged inhumane treatment of the animals, and denial of access to press and public access its captures. Recently allegations have surfaced that BLM vets routinely castrate stallions without the benefit of anesthesia.
Asked how the USDA, and by extension the ranching industry, got veto power over a wildlife board in the first place, Gory responded saying, “The charter was renewed (and possibly revised) during the late 1990s when Pat Shea of Utah was BLM Director. The reason USDA is involved is that the Forest Service manages a small number (2,000 or so) of wild horses and burros, in accordance with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.”
Wild horse advocates claim that more than a million cattle graze on BLM lands, much of which is covered under the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Acto of 1971, the “Wild Horse Annie Law.” Stockmen lease BLM land at the below market price of $1.35 per cow and calf per month. Yet Gorey was unable to provide Horseback the exact number of animals grazing under lease.
“We manage cattle in accordance with the provisions of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978.” He told Horseback Magazine. “We don’t count head of cattle but do keep track of forage used. In Fiscal Year 2010, livestock consumed 8.2 million forage units, known as animal unit months. Since most grazing is seasonal, the way to estimate the number of livestock grazing on BLM land year-round is to divide 8.2 million by 12 (months). For more info, see our grazing page on in our “What We Do” section.”
Three board members terms expire January 8, 2012. They include Robyn Lohnes, a controversial appointee who operates the Washington based American Horse Protection Association, Dr. Boyd Spratling, a Nevada vet from the extremely rural town of Deeth, and Janet Jankura of Richfield, Ohio.

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