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Interior asked to halt grazing rights to protect wild horses

NCBA states better solution is current partnership between BLM and ranchers to preserve rangelands and horses.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

April 13, 2021

3 Min Read
wild horse USDA.jpg
USDA photo by Lance Cheung

A coalition of more than 70 equine protection, animal welfare and environmental groups, as well as numerous wild-horse and ecotourism businesses, called on newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to halt livestock grazing and revoke grazing permits on the Bureau of Land Management’s Herd Management Area lands in an open letter to the secretary.

The letter dated April 9 says the organizations believe that current livestock allocations for forage grazing required for each animal unit per month are “severely biased against horse populations and other protected and native species on horse-occupied Bureau of Land Management HMAs.”

The letter notes they also believe that this “bias has generated a severe excess in adverse livestock-grazing-associated impact within BLM HMAs that is inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act.”

The letter called for an immediate elimination of all cattle/sheep grazing on all horse-occupied BLM Herd Management Area lands.

The letter also asks the interior secretary for the “preparation of a robust, broad-based scientific assessment of the baseline ecological conditions that have been adversely impacted by livestock grazing (and associated infrastructure) to serve as the basis for determination of sustainable wild horse numbers and use, and for determining HMA restoration/recovery/sustainability actions.”

“Secretary Haaland should immediately freeze grazing permits, stop the mass helicopter roundups and direct the BLM to base decisions on science over political circumstance,” says Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action and a member of the board of Equine Collaborative International.

“BLM recently found innumerable land health violations on the Wilson Creek livestock grazing allotment in Nevada and also admitted that it could not distinguish adverse livestock impacts from wild horse impacts,” says Katie Fite, public lands director of Wildlands Defense. “Yet BLM still issued new decisions that enable more livestock grazing in the future, while at the same time it continued with the removal of nearly 1,100 horses from the associated Eagle HMA Complex horse populations."   

The letter concludes, “Addressing livestock-induced ecological problems within BLM Herd Management Areas would potentially restore the ability of these lands to sequester carbon, help climate stabilization efforts, and also address biodiversity issues. If successfully implemented (and augmented further through permanent protection), such an initiative may qualify wild horse HMAs for inclusion in the 30x30 effort.”

“It’s time for the Bureau of Land Management to uphold their mandate to preserve and protect wild horses and burros on America’s public lands," says Allondra Stevens, founder of Horses For Life Foundation. “The era of the agency prioritizing livestock grazing must come to a hard stop. Under the looming demands of climate change, removing livestock on HMA’s will help restore the health of ecosystems and allow for our wild equids and other wildlife to safely thrive throughout the Western states.”

However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association contends the current cooperation between BLM and livestock producers have benefited horse populations and ecosystem health.

“After decades of horse populations spiraling out of control, ranchers and well-meaning conservation groups developed an historic solution that recognized the need to reduce on-range populations to prevent rangeland degradation, protect wildlife and safeguard all multiple uses. This agreement, in cooperation with BLM, is bringing us closer to a time when horses can once again be part of a thriving ecosystem, rather than destroying it,” says NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and Public Lands Council Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover.

“Despite some extreme fringe groups’ complete departure from science and fact, the facts are clear to us and to the BLM. The path toward healthy horses, healthy rangelands, and healthy wildlife is championed by those who have been stewards of the land for generations — ranchers,” Glover concludes.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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