Issue: Amendment 485 to H.R.1 (the new federal spending bill) that would prohibit funds to be spent on roundups to remove horses.
Situation Report Summary: House cuts to BLM Roundup budget; BLM responds with reforms
Updated and Revised: February 24, 2011
In response to growing criticism over the Bureau of Land Management's large scale removal of wild horses from Western public lands, and as an apparent push back against efforts to increase public lands livestock grazing, the US House of Representatives cut two million dollars from BLM's appropriations and prohibited BLM from using funds from the appropriations bill for roundups for any purpose other than fertility control.
Text of amendment:
H.R. 1 OFFERED BY: MR. BURTON, AMENDMENT NO. 485:
At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following: SEC. ll. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the gathers and removals of free-roaming wild horses and burros, except for the purpose of fertility control.
Dan Burton is a Republican and the House presently has a Republican majority. As the debate on the bill drew to a close, Congressman Burton decided not to push an all out ban on roundups however BLM's funds for roundups were trimmed. This relaxation of an outright ban coincided with BLM Director Bob Abbey coming forth with a list of reforms for BLM's wild horse and burro program. (Links to documents relating to these reforms appear below.)
When Amendment 485 was published, the response from wild horse advocates was a mixture of elation and concern. While a clear message from the wild horse camp has been that BLM must change its management priorities and practices, and while advocates were clearly happy that Congress shared that view, there is recognition that preserving a thriving ecological habitat is critical to preserving healthy horse herds and other wildlife that share Western habitats with horses.
Some "field active" horse advocates expressed relief that Congress has finally told BLM that its myopic approach to management through large scale horse removals - and endlessly accumulating horses in holding facilities - is not what it intended, and in doing so reaffirmed the status of wild horses and burros on public lands. They are also pleased that the House recognized that populations need to be sensibly regulated through less extreme measures such as fertility control.
This relief has been mixed with concerns as to whether BLM would simply leave horses on the range or whether the agency would finally focus on resource protection projects necessary to preserve range habitat and protect resources such as fragile water sources. BLM's subsequent announcements regarding "reforms" have addressed these concerns to some degree.
Some of the horse advocacy groups have been involved in resource development projects and have been researching sources of funding for improvements such as water guzzlers and restoration and protection of springs.
Advocates learning how to evaluate range forage.
Unfortunately acrimony in this discussion has been fueled by such entities as the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners and its committees who have produced what advocates claim is "voodoo science" designed, among other things, to rationalize dramatic increases in public lands livestock grazing. Such credible entities as the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies have denounced such unscientific findings. (Please see articles in the War Room that discuss these developments.)
Credible wildlife biologists warn that horses are a highly successful and dominant species on Western ranges. Where horse populations are maintained at high levels, there must be corresponding resource development and management in order to protect all the species that inhabit the range.
One example often cited involves water sources, a critical resource in the driest state in the Union.
When sufficient water is available, horses and wildlife will stop, drink and leave. However when the recharge rate of a spring is poor, horses will remain as long as is necessary until all have drunk, and other wildlife will often be kept away from the spring until the horses leave.
While such unnatural behavior forced by insufficient resources might be beneficial to a predator who would like to take down a horse or other ungulate waiting to drink, the problem illustrated here can significantly impact horses and other wildlife. While they are all waiting for a turn to drink, sometimes for hours, they can't be out grazing and they will tend to overgraze the area close to the water source.
This one example is important as it illustrates how the simple improvement of one water source could significantly reduce the hardship of literally hundreds of animals and how it would serve to better distribute the grazing pressure exerted by the animals using that water source.
Advocates providing alternate sources of water for horses, livestock and wildlife
If Congress is going to discourage BLM from pursuing "trap and toss" range management, it must at the same time provide opportunities for BLM and other agencies to restore and improve essential range resources until fertility control and other proactive population management options become effective in achieving some semblance of ecological balance.
during hot weather when springs could not adequately serve all the animals needing water.
"Balance" is the keyword on Western ranges. Whether you are a horse enthusiast, bird enthusiast, sportsman or livestock producer, balanced and healthy ranges are essential to the long term sustainability of plants and animals on our public lands. Particularly with the new emphasis on renewable energy projects, all the stakeholders need to take Congress' dissatisfaction with current management strategies and shift at least part of the emphasis to increased and more aggressive resource management. Let's have robust multiple uses on our public lands, but in the process let's be sure to protect those lands!
Here are documents that illustrate Director Abbey's response and planned strategies.
Other relevant links
Please note: If you read these related stories please note that the Nevada Board of Wildife Commissioners is a related but completely separate body from the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The Commissioners are politically appointed. NDoW staff are educated and experienced professionals. The views presented by the Commission and its committees don't necessarily reflect the professional views of Department staff.