Issue: Secretary of Interior's proposal to remove wild horses from Western lands and relocate them in midwestern states.
Situation Report Summary:
Ken Salazar, the Secretary of Interior, has come under increasing pressure to address the boondoggle that the Bureau of Land Management has created in it's Wild Horse and Burro Program. Secretary Salazar recently made his excuses and laid out an all new boondoggle in a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Instead of addressing the fundamental flaws in his Department's past policies and practices with respect to accumulating some 32,000 horses that are now standing around in long term holding corrals, Secretary Salazar grossly misrepresented statistical data and revised history in an attempt to make his agency appear to be the victim rather than the architect of the current mess, and to solicit money and support for yet another folly.
You can read the Secretary Salazar's letter in a new window by clicking
Secretary Salazar falsely claimed to Senator Reid that the numbers of horses on western public lands have grown since 1971. The secretary used "made up" figures. Salazar claimed that the wild horse and burro population in 1971 was "approximately 25,000." The truth is that this 1971 figure was no more than a best guess estimate (and that "guestimate" was actually 27,000 animals, not the 25,000 animals that Secretary Salazar claimed.) The horses were actually counted in 1974 and BLM found about 42,000 horses and 15,000 burros ranging on western public lands, roughly double Salazar's claim. Experts believed even that number to be low. [Citations: Final Report, Committee on Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros, National Resource Council, 2008 GAO Report] (Note 1)
Secretary Salazar falsely claimed that there are no natural predators for wild horses. That claim should come as a surprise to the trappers employed by the USDA, Nevada Department of Agriculture and Nevada Department of Wildlife whose jobs are to control cougars and coyotes in Nevada.
Secretary Salazar complains that western public ranges, home to some 5 million head of private livestock who graze under programs subsidized by the American taxpayers, can't support some 37,000 wild horses and burros.
In 1971 Congress designated certain lands upon which wild horses and burros would inhabit and coexist with the other lawful uses on our Federal public lands. During the past 40 years the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management has shown preference to special interests and in spite of Congress' intent, have systematically closed hundreds of thousands of acres to wild horses and burros by removing whole herds of these animals. These benefits to welfare ranchers and other special interests have come at a huge expense to the American taxpayers as these displaced horses have stacked up in contract holding facilities in the midwest.
The welfare ranching industry doesn't want solutions. They simply want nearly-free grazing on millions of acres of our public lands. (The self indulgent nature of this industry is illustrated in Elko County's reaction to the Winecup Gamble sanctuary proposal.)
Instead of coming to terms with his agency's unfortunate legacy and addressing the fundamental problems that need to be corrected, Secretary Salazar chose the low road of misrepresentation and spin. In the last election the American public demanded change and honesty. Clearly we've yet to achieve that. Perhaps it is time to remind our elected officials as to what the voters expect.
Solving the current department-created wild horse problem won't be simple. But any lasting solutions have to come from the Department of Interior acknowledging its past mistakes (so if for no other reason, it doesn't repeat them,) get its priorities straight, and be honest with Congress and the American People. Unfortunately if the public doesn't demand such proper conduct, we aren't likely to see it.
Historically between 2/3rds and 70% of the American public responding to objective polls have supported the practical preservation of wild free-roaming horse and burro herds in the West. The Nevada Appeal, Nevada's Capitol City newspaper, is currently running a poll on the Salazar proposal and in checking the poll as of Saturday morning, the "NO" votes (against moving horses from the West) are ahead by 69.79%. Public opinion regarding this issue has remained virtually the same over the decades.
What you can do.
- Register your opinion, no matter what it is, on the Nevada Appeal poll. The greater the number of individual responses, the more reliable the poll is likely to be. The poll will open up in a new window when you click
- Call and write your own Senators and Members of Congress and tell them that
it is time for the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management to be straight with Congress and the public and that we can't afford to continue "business as usual." Contact information for Senators and Representatives can be found here.
- The original "guestimate" provided to Congress as to the actual populations of horses and burros on Federal public lands was later acknowledged to be low, by perhaps as much as 50%. This "margin of error" was supported by the 1974 horse and burro "hard count." However BLM still used its original approximation as a management baseline. [Citation: History of the Wild Horse and Burro Program - BLM] While this approximation may or may not have had any real scientific validity in making management decisions, it is irrelevant to any discussion on horse and burro population trends over the past 40 years (visa vis false claims that the range populations have grown since 1971) since the 1971 figures were made up, and the more valid 1974 census showed more horses on the range than presently exist.