A coalition of more than 60 wild horse advocacy groups has condemned federal plans to capture 2400 mustangs in its 2014 roundup schedule, saying the animals are a scapegoat for livestock grazing.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign claims the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) figures belie its claims that wild horses are overpopulating the western rangelands.
“The problem is not wild horse overpopulation,” coalition director Suzanne Roy said, “it is the vast overrunning of our public rangelands by privately-owned livestock.
“The BLM itself admits that the vast majority of forage resources in designated wild horse and burro habitat is allocated not to these federally protected animals, but rather to privately owned livestock.”
The coaltion released a BLM email revealing that 77 percent of forage in designated wild horse and burro herd management areas was allocated to livestock.
Roy argued that the agency’s wild horse and burro appropriate management levels did not represent the carrying capacity of the land for these animals, but rather the number of horses the BLM has decided to allow in herd management areas “after giving most of the forage to livestock”.
At the same time, wild horses and burros were restricted to just 17 percent of BLM land available for livestock grazing, the coalition noted.
“The hyper-focus on mustang numbers is a concerted effort to scapegoat wild horses and distract attention away from the massive level of livestock grazing that is occurring on our public lands at great expense to the environment, wildlife – including wild horses – and taxpayers, who subsidize the below-market grazing fees that ranchers enjoy,” Roy said.
The coalition also criticised the bureau for “ignoring” the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences in a June 2013 report on the wild horse and burro program.
The coalition’s communications director, Deniz Bolbol, said the bureau already held more wild horses in holding facilities than remained free in the wild.
“The agency’s plan to remove thousands more mustangs and burros from the range makes no ecological, scientific or fiscal sense.
“Instead, the government should follow the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences by implementing fertility control and addressing issues relating to equity in resource allocation on the range.”
The NAS concluded in the report that the continuation of current management practices by the bureau would prove expensive and unproductive. It found that current management practices were encouraging high rates of population growth.
Roy commented: “The BLM’s policies are leading to mass destruction of America’s wild horses.”
The group also claimed that some of the bureau’s proposed 2014 roundups were being scheduled to appease ranchers.
“It’s long past time for the Obama Administration to stop kowtowing to ranching interests and start listening to scientists and the American public, both of which strongly believe there is a better way to protect these national icons and preserve them for future generations,” Roy said.