|Foreground: from left, Eliza, Gabrielle (Eliza’s daughter), Jim;|
background: Starlin, Diego (miniature donkeys)
by Carol Knight Watson
The Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, Public Law 92-195, passed in 1971, finally gave these enduring animals at least a chance for the freedom to live in their own way without constant threats to their lives by humans. Along with the provision for destroying a wild burro or horse as an act of mercy, the law, unhappily, also allows for their destruction when it is necessary to preserve and maintain the habitat in a suitable condition for continued use. The main provision and the intent of the act, however, is to protect the mustangs and wild burros who inhabit our public lands from any unauthorized capture, branding, harassment, or death.
Since that time, there have been members of Congress who have spent what appears to be exorbitant amounts of time in contriving amendments aimed at corrupting the intent of the act. And, the two agencies charged with protecting the wild burros and horses, the U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), have failed to act in the best interest of the animals. They have operated in a manner that promotes mainly the interests of the livestock industry. The Wild Horse and Burro Program has been managed for political considerations rather than on sound ecological policy.
Amendments, in almost every case, have diminished the intent of the Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act; and, if you are a mustang or wild burro, they could cost you your life or your freedom. These amendments were initiated by the livestock industry and its lobby, and it is the enemy of the mustang and wild burro. The power and willingness of the livestock industry to pursue any means toward their end led to the amendment that has been the most reprehensible and the largest setback to protecting the wild horses and burros. In collusion with a number of special interest groups, particularly the livestock industry, Senator Conrad Burns of Montana secretly inserted a rider into the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was deadly to the wild burros and horses. It lifted the prohibition on the sale of wild horses and burros for commercial purposes:
Sec. 142. Sale of Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros
(a) In General. Section 3 of Public Law 92-195 (16 U.S.C. 1333) is amended.
(e) Sale of Excess Animals. (1) In General. Any excess animal or the remains of any excess animal shall be sold if (A) the excess animal is more than ten years of age, or (B) the excess animal has been offered for adoption at least three times. (2) Method of Sale. An excess animal that meets either of the criteria in paragraph (1) shall be made available for sale without limitation, including through auction to the highest bidder, at local sale yards or other convenient livestock selling facilities, until such time as (A) all excess animals offered for sale are sold; or (B) the appropriate management level, as determined by the Secretary, is attained in all areas occupied by wild free-roaming horses and burros.
This amendment was added without discussion or agreement of the public or the rest of Congress. Taking advantage of his position as chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Burns slipped the amendment into the 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Bill Conference Committee Report without the knowledge of Congress and without the opportunity to debate or strip it off by vote, since committee reports cannot be amended. The Bush Administration and, apparently, Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Senate minority whip, were fully aware of the measure and allowed it to be added despite the fact it violates Senate Standing Rule XVI, although the latter denies this claim. When it was signed into law on December 16, 2004, about 8,400 wild horses and burros immediately became eligible for sale. When the public found out, they were outraged, and demanded an explanation. Senator Burns stated, “I think what we should do is put some language in this thing that allows the BLM to sell excess wild horses. I’d prefer to sell ‛em to whomever. Maybe some of them will end up going to slaughter.”
Now, a hopeful change in direction on the part of the Bureau of Land Management: On February 24, 2011, Director of the Bureau of Land Management Bob Abbey announced that following an extensive public process, the agency is accelerating fundamental reforms to how it manages wild horses and burros on public lands. The proposed strategy includes reducing the number of wild horses removed from the range for at least the next two years; reaffirming the central role that the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) on-going review of the program will have on science-based management decisions; increasing adoptions; significantly expanding the use of fertility control to maintain herd levels; and improving its care and handling procedures to enhance the humane treatment of the animals.
In addition to these proposed reforms, an act of mercy, as well as a large tax dollar savings, would be for the BLM to return the approximately 41,500 mustangs and wild burros now being held in holding facilities to their original herd management areas.
“We’ve taken a top to bottom look at the Wild Horse and Burro Program and have come to a straightforward conclusion: We need to move ahead with reforms that build on what is working and move away from what is not,” Director Abbey said. “To achieve our goal of improving the health of the herds and America’s public lands, we need to enlist the help of partners, improve transparency and responsiveness in the program, and reaffirm science as the foundation for management decisions. It will take time to implement these reforms, but as a first step we are aiming to increase adoptions and broaden the use of fertility control. And while we do this, we are reducing removals while NAS helps us ensure that our management is guided by the best available science.”
These reforms respond to the input of more than 9,000 members of the public who commented on last year’s Wild Horse and Burro Program Strategy Development Document through public meetings and written statements.
A specific proposal is for the BLM to conduct thorough reviews and add appropriate controls to the agency’s contracts and policies to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices. This will apply to both gathering contracts and short and long-term holding facility contracts.
Another proposed reform calls for increased engagement of the public by enhancing public outreach, recruiting local volunteers to assist in monitoring the health of the rangelands where animals roam, and encourages partnerships to increase herd-related ecotourism.
Nothing in this proposed new strategy addresses the real crux of the matter: The BLM allows the destruction of public lands by millions of privately owned livestock while continually blaming a few thousand wild horses and burros for the damage. And remember, ranchers pay next to nothing for the privilege of running their cattle on public lands.
Our government tends to tell us much that is at the least fallacious (probably attempting to tell us what it thinks we will tolerate without becoming too rebellious). So, we will see soon enough how much of this is merely propaganda or if there is an intent to implement the provisions of the act for the protection of wild, free-roaming horses and burros.
In the latest information from the BLM, dated March 25, as part of their planned fundamental reforms to the Wild Horse and Burro Program, the agency announced a solicitation for proposals for wild horse ecosanctuaries, to be established on combined public and private lands located within Herd Areas in the West. The ecosanctuaries would help the BLM feed and care for excess wild horses that have been removed from western public rangelands. The facilities would be publicly accessible with a potential for ecotourism. A list of questions and answers is available at this link: http://blm.gov/cs5c. The official funding opportunity can be found at www.grants.gov. The deadline to apply is May 24, 2011, at 4:30 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time.
Now that the grass is growing, the donkeys at Amberwood Sanctuary are enjoying eating out in the pastures rather than eating hay in the barns. But that means they’re not around as much when I’m doing my barn chores, so I miss their company.
Talk to you next time...
Talk to you next time...