THE SECRETARY’S WILD HORSE AND BURRO INITIATIVE:
A PLAN FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Willis Lamm, Communications Officer
June 4, 2010
Draft - Posted for peer review
A report has been recently been issued by the firm, Kearns and West, that relates to BLM's wild horse and burro program and Secretary Salazar's proposed "initiative." Kearns and West was contracted by the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, an independent agency. J. Michael Harty interviewed various "stakeholders" and BLM personnel, and he produced the report.
This report can be reviewed in its entirety on the BLM Web Site.
From our observations Mr. Harty showed reasonable diligence in trying to prepare a complete and objective report within the parameters that he was given. However advocates have noticed a few errors in Mr. Harty's findings. Given that legislators and government officials tend to presume that such reports are factually correct, and given that this report was not provided to the stakeholders prior to publication so that errors could be identified and corrected, many mainstream advocates feel urgency that these errors be identified and rebutted as part of the Conflict Resolution process.
Accordingly, it is our intention to record these concerns and by doing so we are not attempting in any way to reflect poorly on the efforts of Mr. Harty.
OMISSIONS AND ELEMENTS OF THE REPORT
Page 12, "Working List of External Stakeholders"
NOT FACTUALLY OR NOT CONTEXTUALLY CORRECT
Absent from this list were tourism related enterprises for which wild horse related tourism has an economic impact. This error is significant considering that prior to the commencement of Mr. Harty's investigation and preparation of his report, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, the Wild Horse Preservation League and Horsepower had embarked on a horse related ecotourism campaign entitled, "Wild Horse Adventure of Nevada." Mr. Harty interviewed one of the principal parties in this campaign. The activities of the Bureau of Land Management directly impact this campaign and the rural ecotourism enterprises that this campaign is designed to stimulate. It is most inopportune that this entire class of stakeholders was overlooked in Mr. Harty's report.
Page 14, "Sale for slaughter"
Mr. Harty revised history with respect to his discussion on sale for slaughter of horses under the management of BLM. This is an issue that turns on a trick of the tongue.
Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros are protected from sale for slaughter by 16 USC 1331, et seq., however legally horses and burros sold through "Sale Authority" are no longer identified as wild free-roaming animals and are categorically excluded from protections under the Act. There are several documented cases of horses sold by BLM ending up at slaughterhouses and it is a matter of public record that as of today, Section 3(e) remains the overarching legal statute. It states:
"(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 unsuccessfully 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
"(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.
"(3) Disposition of Funds. - Funds generated from the sale of excess
animals under this subsection shall be -
"(A) credited as an offsetting collection to the Management of Lands
and Resources appropriation for the Bureau of Land Management; and
"(B) used for the costs relating to the adoption of wild free-roaming
horses and burros, including the costs of marketing such adoption.
"(4) Effect of Sale. - Any excess animal sold under this provision
shall no longer be considered to be a free-roaming horse or burro for
purposes of this Act."
It may be the Secretary's current policy that BLM is not knowingly selling formerly protected horses for purposes of slaughter, however such policies are temporary, subject to change, and there still exist avenues for slaughter that are too numerous to enumerate in this rebuttal. Ironically it is because such avenues do exist that Sale Authority has not been more successful.
Note: According to BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Sale Statistics - FY 2010 web site, a total of 461 animals were sold as of this posting in FY-2010.
Page 15, "Self-regulation theory"
Mr. Harty incorrectly stated, "BLM’s management philosophy of gathering excess horses has been criticized by some wild horse advocates who promote a 'self-regulation' theory." For the record, there is no such thing as "self-regulation" or a "self-regulation theory." We conclude that what Mr. Harty meant was "autoregulation," or the impact that resources and environmental conditions have on reproduction rates of animals contained in such environments. Furthermore the concern expressed by mainstream advocates is not "gathering of excess horses" but rather "excess gathering of horses." The rearrangement of these words significantly changes their meaning.
The actual argument being brought forth is that unnecessary gathering produces higher birth rates among animals left on the range and therefore BLM's single-minded approach is counterintuitive to the objectives of the agency. Mr. Harty's use of an incorrect term that he specifically and erroneously attributes to advocates, and the incorrect arrangement of words relating to gathering of horses, has created both a false premise and false context.
Page 19, "Managing to extinction"
This discussion is not patently incorrect, however its construction has placed the Advocates' complaints in a completely incorrect context.
Mr. Harty described such issues as "commitments" and "population dynamics," however he failed to address the fundamental rationale behind the Advocates' position. Furthermore his discussion missed the point entirely. As with Mr. Harty's "self-regulation" error, the reader is led to believe that advocates are advancing invalid and unrealistic positions.
The correct context in which this argument should be viewed involves the repeated eradication of entire distinctive wild horse and burro populations in a number of locations. When one considers from a scientific basis that individual wild horse and burro populations are the unique combined products of genetics, the environment and natural selection, then it is reasonable to conclude that each isolated herd is a distinctive population. For all practical purposes, once a population has been eradicated, then that specific and distinctive gene pool is extinct. The only rational conclusion is that BLM has and is in fact managing certain herds (wild horses) to extinction.
Page 25, "Science"
Mr. Harty stated, "There appears to be only limited public understanding of the current role that science, including research, plays in the Program." His inference in the context he provided leads readers to conclude that advocates have limited understanding relating to science as compared with BLM's level of knowledge. Since population recruitment among horse herds is the predominant thorny issue, and since BLM appears to either not be aware of or understand the advances in population control being developed at various universities, it could be argued that in many respects the public has a greater understanding of some relevant scientific issues than do decision makers at BLM. For the record, among the "advocates" are range biologists, ecologists, veterinarians, veterinary pathologists and other accredited experts.
On a related subject, advocates point out that suggestions made by BLM that advocates are involved with "myth making" are grossly overshadowed by the Bureau's misuse and/or fabrication of facts and figures used to defend its policies and actions. The recent revelations relating to conduct within the Minerals Management Service demonstrate how business is conducted within agencies under the Department of Interior. Advocates have cause to believe that such malfeasance will be found to be rampant if fully investigated.
Page 27, "Meeting behavior"
Mr. Harty identified "an increasingly disruptive and antagonistic tone" at Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meetings. This discussion was composed in a manner that clearly suggests that the public (advocates) are at fault. In a subsequent paragraph Mr. Harty did go on to place his statements into relevant context, however in these reports specific paragraphs tend to be extracted and used outside their proper context. Therefore the content of this paragraph has to be addressed.
In providing context, Mr. Harty made two critical points that need to be reinforced. Mr. Harty described the limited opportunity for public comment and he touched on past and present procedures. We agree with Mr. Harty's conclusions in this area. What is profoundly ominous is the suggestion, apparently made by BLM, that public expression should be further restricted and controlled. This kind of attitude is illustrative of a fundamental cancer within elements of BLM whereby the public that the Bureau is supposed to serve is regarded as a nuisance to be dealt with. Advocates equate such "suggestions" with an imbedded agency culture founded on a faulty premise that BLM works for permittees and lessees rather than for the taxpaying citizens of this country. Public angst is an expected byproduct of such a culture.
BLM clearly needs an attitude adjustment.