Wild horses remain under threat; Secretary of the Interior Haaland unconcerned
A Wildlife Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM The Fund for Horses
June 2021

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated the Biden Administration’s policy on managing America’s wild horses and burros will be as follows: “We’re in agreement with the plan of the previous Administration.”

Wild Horses

According to the Public Lands Council, “Today, approximately 22,000 ranchers own nearly 120 million acres of private land and hold grazing permits on more than 250 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Nearly 40% of western cattle herd and about 50% of the nation’s sheep herd spend time on public lands.”

The Council adds:

“Public land ranchers invest their time, their own money and their energy maintaining the federal lands they graze upon.” Oh really? Show us how and where they do that.

“The BLM administers nearly 18,000 permits and leases held by ranchers who graze their livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, on more than 21,000 allotments.”

Tragic Imbalance

Consider cattle rancher numbers as opposed to the numbers of wild horses left — if it is even as much as they say. It was estimated that the on-range wild horse population in early 2021 was around 90,000. That same number was reported as long ago as October 2019. There have been roundups since then. So, what is going on?

In the meantime, the BLM wants to reduce the number of wild horses on public lands to an even unconscionably lower number than the supposed 90,000. In “An Analysis of achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program,” published around this time last year” (pdf, 33pp, 5/19/20), the BLM predict they will essentially manage America’s wild horse population until there are as few as 45,000.

Enter Haaland

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. By Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images 2019
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated the Biden Administration’s policy on managing the America’s wild horses and burro of wild horses will be as follows: “We’re in agreement with the plan of the previous Administration.”

What? How very unconcerned she is.

In the meantime, Nevada Farm Bureau President Bevan Lister said birth control alone will not get the herds to a manageable level fast enough because resources are limited on rangelands.

“We support any and every means possible to bring the wild horse and burro populations into appropriate management level,” said Lister. “We’re seeing range degradation at a rate that has never been seen before.”

Lister just made a prize clown of himself.

Yes, we are sure you are seeing range degradation like never before Mr. Lister — but not by the wild horses or burros — but by you and those of your ilk and your destructive cattle. It is a fact that wild horses, by their very nature and habits, replenish the lands they live on, whereas your cattle strip the land down to nothing but barren, depleted land. This is extremely serious for more than just our wild horses.

Mustangs not the only wildlife endangered

Britannica.com, in Public Lands Ranching: The Scourge of Wildlife, writes:

Overgrazing is not the only way in which ranching harms wildlife. Many practices related to or in support of ranching have also decimated wildlife populations on grazed federal lands. Among these, none has been more obvious than the relentless and widespread hunting of the competitors and predators of livestock.

Wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions were exterminated long ago in many areas of the American west through the combined efforts of ranchers, farmers, and special government agents charged with “animal damage control” (such agents are now organized in a section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as “Wildlife Services”).

Prairie dogs, a competitor of livestock, were reduced in population to less than 1 percent of their estimated pre-19th century numbers. Because prairie dogs share dependencies with approximately 200 other wildlife species of the prairie ecosystem, their decimation led to drastic declines in the populations of these other animals.

Fences thwart the migration of native ungulates (hooved animals), which can lead to death during times of environmental stress, such as droughts and blizzards. Fences also impale birds. Landscapes worn out by decades of overgrazing are often reseeded with nonnative grasses that differ significantly in stature and taste from the native grasses they replace, thus providing no benefit to niche-dependent wildlife. And, prior to reseeding, weeds will have been killed with herbicides, which often poison stream invertebrates and accumulate in the bodies of the fish that consume them.

Ranching requires roads, the construction of which kills plants and animals directly. The existence of roads opens up wilderness areas to human activities, such as hunting, wood cutting, and driving off-road vehicles, all of which harm—or have the potential to harm—wildlife. Roads also provide pathways for the spread of weeds, further contributing to the degradation of overgrazed landscapes.

How extensive is the carnage that ranching inflicts on wildlife? One reasonable measure is the number of affected species that are either (1) federally listed as threatened or endangered, (2) candidates for federal listing, or (3) the subject of petitions for federal listing. By that criterion, ranching’s victims number 151 species in all: 26 species of mammals, 25 species of birds, 66 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of mollusks, and 5 species of insects.

In addition, at least 167 other species are harmed by ranching through the degradation of their habitats, though they are not so severely imperiled that they currently warrant federal protection.

Our chief concern is the wild horse and burro population because that is what we do. However, as threatened they are, there is plenty at stake for the other native species that inhabit our public lands.

Other issues the above report reveal are:

  • Overgrazing by cattle can extirpate native vegetation, thus allowing invasion by weeds that are useless as cover and forage for mammalian species.
  • Long-term cattle grazing can alter the structure of upland forests, replacing widely spaced, large trees with densely packed smaller trees.
  • Cattle also spread unhealthy pathogens in their waste.
  • Cattle excrete nitrogen-rich waste into streams. The nitrogen fertilizes algae, the excessive growth of which depletes stream water of oxygen that amphibians require to survive.
  • When cattle consume streamside forbs and grasses, flowing water erodes the banks and straightens the channel. A straight channel allows water to flow more swiftly and erode even more soil.

It appears to us that Haaland is simply not interested in our wild horses and burros, like previous Interior chiefs before her. Maybe she feels she has bigger fish to fry, so to speak, such as this one.

“On June 1, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland suspended activity at oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing some of the damage implemented by the previous administration,” reports OutsideOnline.com.

We had pinned our hopes on Haaland. If she can see that the above needs doing — and we heartily salute her for it — how can she look the other way and do nothing for our wild horses?

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