Information provided courtesy of Valerie James-Patton and Equine Welfare Alliance
Internal documents from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shed light on the agency’s motives and plans for the wild horses and burros.
Two reports issued by the BLM for internal use only, The Herd Management Option Plans from October 2008, and the Team Conference Calls Report from July-September 2008 contain astonishing proposals to manipulate the WFRHBA and NEPA, eliminate the wild horses and burros altogether from the wild, and until they can be euthanized or sold most likely for slaughter, sterilize them and place them in feedlots paid for by rescue organizations duped into thinking the animals are in private "preserves".
BLM is the agency within the U.S. Department of Interior that is tasked with protecting the wild horses and burros pursuant to the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, 16 U.S.C. §1331 et seq. (WFRHBA) as free roaming animals in their historic herd areas and designated ranges. "All management activities are to be at the minimal feasible level." 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1333. Wild horses are not to be subject to "capture, "harassment" or "death". 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1331
BLM team members involved in these discussions included Jim Stratton, Rob Jeffers, Al Kane, DVM; Jim Johnson, John Neil, Lili Thomas, Gus Ward, Alan Shepherd, Bud Cribley, and Don Glenn.
These reports are almost certainly the precursor to BLM’s current proposal issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in October, 2009. The plan as announced is essentially to:
(1) work with non-profits and wild horse enthusiasts to create "preserves" in the Midwest or east, an idea that runs counter to the WFRHBA mandate to maintain free-roaming behavior and avoid zoolike settings for these wild animals,
(2) designate additional ranges that under WFRHBA are to be "devoted principally" to the wild horses and burros, but under BLM they have been afforded the same or even less preference than grazing cattle and sheep and other uses of the land, and
(3) work to restore the "sustainability" of herds and public lands which, translated from BLM-speak, means more slaughter and euthanasia of wild horses and burros and extinction of the herds through continued removal of wild horses from their herd areas and ranges, aggressive "fertility control", monitoring of sex ratios, and introduction of non-reproducing herds.
This proposal is floating around Congress and the Obama Administration. There has been no indication there will be a hearing or any changes made to the laws or authorization of appropriations that may be necessary to implement the plan. The full plan has never even been made generally available to the public.
Indeed, BLM has already begun to implement this plan. The removal or gather schedules for 2009-2010 are aggressive, and BLM has shown no signs of reconsidering these plans despite increasing calls for a moratorium on gathers. Indeed, just a couple of days ago, BLM announced plans to roundup 1,977 wild horses and remove 1,506 from the Antelope Complex in Nevada. The BLM has yet to issue the Environmental Assessment for this action.
And, earlier during the first week in December, without any public announcement, BLM rounded up 217 wild horses on the Nevada-California border. This gather of what are known as the Buckhorn wild horses had been scheduled for the summer, 2010. The roundup was conducted in secret, and it is not known how many horses were injured or killed or what happened to them.
Currently, allegedly "excess" horses, those deemed necessary to remove from designated herd areas or ranges basically because of overpopulation or to "maintain a thriving natural ecological balance", are generally held in short-term (STH) or long-term holding facilities (LTH) on private lands. 16 U.S.C. §§1332, 1333 As of May 31, 2009 there were 8,532 horses and 57 burros in short-term holding facilities that have a total capacity of 15,645 animals. As of that date there were 22,126 horses in long-term holding facilities that have a total capacity of 22,100. The long-term holding facilities are full. BLM claims there are 10,350 excess wild horses and burros that must be removed from herd areas and ranges. Since 2000, BLM has removed more than 74,000 wild horses and burros from the wild, 40% of the population.
Manipulating the WFRHBA
In these 2008 reports BLM employees and consultants discussed placing the wild horses and burros in LTH facilities on public lands by converting grazing rights for cattle. To do this legally, requires changing the status of the horses and burros from wild to titled or owned livestock. The WFRHBA protects wild horses on public lands, meaning they can’t be corralled in LTH there. BLM team members discussed that to keep the animals in LTH on public lands, they would create non-reproducing herds: "One could argue that a non-reproductive herd is not self-sustaining. Also refer to [43 CFR 4700.0-6 (c]) which states: "Management activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior." By managing for sterile animals we may be taking away their "free-roaming" behavior by altering the social interactions." If the animals are no longer “free-roaming", they are not wild and arguably could be considered livestock and kept in LTH on public lands.
In effect, BLM proposed to manipulate the WFRHBA by actually intentionally destroying herd behavior, free-roaming behavior, which as an agency they are supposed to protect, so that they could get around another provision of WFRHBA to allow the horses to be kept in LTH on public lands.
BLM team members also considered ignoring the WFRHBA prohibition on "relocat[ing] wild free-roaming horses and burros to areas of the public lands where they do not exist" but noted, "However, a solicitor’s interpretation concludes BLM is not prohibited from moving excess wild horses to LTH areas on public lands because no case law implies such a prohibition. Should BLM elect to move excess horses to LTH areas on public lands, appeals or litigation would be likely and could take years to resolve."
BLM team members discussed that the LTH facilities could be nothing more than feedlots. "BLM (or others? ie horse advocacy groups? would buy livestock permits with the objective of managing the allotments for a non-reproducing herd. Due to trouble finding additional pastures for excess horses, we may need to have feed lots. If the humane organization did take over payment of feeding excess horses they would need to pay for whatever type of facility is available."
Note that BLM’s current plan as described by Interior Secy. Salazar, calls, in part, for humane groups to take over the cost and care of wild horses and burros placed in "preserves" in the midwest and eastern states. "Preserves" is presumably a euphemism for "feed lot".
In this way, BLM would also manage the animals to extinction. The BLM team member discussed, though, "This alternative may require a change in regulations based on 43 CFR 4700.0-6 (a), which states: "Wild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat."
Actually, for this plan to be legal, Congress would be required to repeal the WFRHBA requirements that BLM manage wild horses and burros as free-roaming "components" of the public lands at the "minimal feasible level" and avoid "capture", "harassment" and "death". 16 U.S.C. § §1331, 1332, 1333.
Aggressive sterilization and manipulation of herd ratios
Other plans discussed by the BLM team to reduce the wild horse and burro populations included adjusting herd ratios from 50/50 to 70/30 male/female ratios with some of the horses returned to the wild after being gelded and an increased use of PZP, as well as using other unauthorized fertility drugs called Gonacon and SpayVac.
Team members acknowledged Spayvac was "barely available" for research, let alone approved for use as a contraceptive.
With PZP the BLM Instruction Memorandum requires field officials to consider using fertility control and justify when it is not used. During a June 15, 2009 meeting the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board noted the liquid the longer term effectiveness of the pelleted form of PZP is unproven. It is also well known that PZP may cause out of season foals.
In the 2008 team reports, BLM team members noted, "This alternative may require a change in regulations based on 43 CFR 4700.0-6 (a), which states: "Wild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat. …One could argue that a non-reproductive herd is not self-sustaining. Also refer to (c) which states: "Management activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior." By managing for sterile animals we may be taking away their "free-roaming" behavior by altering the social interactions."
Despite the clear language of WFRHBA and some of its own regulations, the BLM team asked, "Do we have an obligation not to affect horse herd behavior?…Does it affect behavior and do we care? Burger stated in the late 80’s that you should aim at a ratio favoring females, but BLM thinks a 50/50 ratio is natural. Would having more stallions change the band structure, will mares and colts be beaten down at water bottlenecks? Since we do not have any evidence [changing the sex ratio] is bad, the BLM should be allowed to do this on a large scale. We do not know if it is bad so should we wait until we know?"
BLM team members discussed options such as filling herd areas with onlyÂ geldings or sterilizing all mares. BLM also discussed placing wild horses in non-reproducing herds and wanted to look in each state for possible places for these herds.
In one discussion team members proposed it would be easier to "justify" a non-reproducing herd rather than zeroing out herd areas.
The idea was to eliminate a herd management area for every non-reproducing herd area that was created.
The team noted, "When making changes on HMAs (sex ratio, gelding, etc) the implementation would be a trial and error".
BLM knew the aggressive sterilization of mares would mean an increased death rate of at least 10% and admitted that "herd behavior would be out the window". BLM admitted, in effect, these aggressive sterilization plans would not only be potentially dangerous to the wild horses and burros, destructive of their herds and families, but also illegal and ultimately cause their extinction.
Euthanasia and Slaughter
The BLM team’s favorite ideas for eliminating wild horses and burros appear to be euthanasia preferably in the field and also by reducing restrictions on sales.
The team considered, "How many could be euthanized at a gather without having a NEPA?" The BLM is required by National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., to prepare Environmental Assessments or EAs or, if indicated, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for any proposed changes to public lands that may have a significant environmental impact. The law directs the agency to identify environmental concerns, consider alternatives including no action at all and take a "hard look" at the problem and minimize significant environmental impact. A significant environmental impact includes actions that are likely to be highly controversial orÂ have uncertain effects on the quality of our lives and that affect cultural and historical resources. 40 C.F.R. §1508.27(b).)
In other words, BLM hoped to be able to kill as many wild horses and burros in the field as possible without implicating NEPA.
BLM also discussed drastically reducing the time wild horses and burros are available for adoption or sale before they would then be euthanized.
The team observed, "People willing to put down healthy horses at gather sites could be a problem….Having vets put down healthy horses at preparation facilities could be a problem…Provide counseling due to stress for employees and contractors that have to euthanize healthy horses".
Team members also asked how many more horses could be euthanized without affecting disposal practices. It was noted that Reno Rendering, for example, "will take as many as could be sent". They checked on the capacity of other rendering plants to take more wild horses.
One team member questioned, ""Are we euthanizing horses to save money to complete gathers?"
Under the WFRHBA, "[a]ny excess animal or the remains of an excess animal shall be sold if–
(A) the excess animal is more than 10 years of age; or
(B) the excess animal has been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times." Currently, a wild horse or burro must be offered for adoption at 3 specific satellite or adoption events before qualifying for sale under subsection (B). Wild horses and burros sold in this way are called 3 strikes horses. Animals sold under this provision lose the protections of the WFRHBA. 16 U.S.C. §1333(e).
Adopters can take possession of 4 wild horses or burros at a time and title is not transferred for at least one year. 16 U.S.C. §1333(c) Only then do the wild horses or burros lose the protections of WFRHBA.
The team notes indicate, "The team needs to address selling horses without limitation….We need to make horses easier to [sell] by changing our policy on the criteria for what constitutes a three strikes horse."
The team discussed selling eligible horses at the gather site.
The team discussed that a horse would get a "strike" after each adoption event and also each 30 day period where a facility is open to the public by walk up or by appointment. In that way, BLM could say the horse had been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times for a period of 30 days, even if no one ever even looked at the horse let alone considered the animal for adoption. After the third 30 day period of unsuccessful adoption offers, the horse would be euthanized on day 31.
A note from a team member states, "Sally had an e-mail from a person in Canada who wants 10,000 horses that he would slaughter the horses and send them to a third world country. Don is going to send the email….Making horses easier to sale by changing policy on the criteria for what constitutes a 3 strike horse, which could be horses that have been in facility for 90 days or 3 weeks. Jim said he has a demand for horses going to Denmark, but they are having a problem getting titled horses."
Another note advises, "Address the need for congress to change the adoption law and allow instant title."
Notes from a June 15, 2009 Wild Horse and Burros Advisory Board meeting indicate "that BLM [should]advertise and market sale eligible animals (with the intent clause) in foreign countries with known good homes by offering "select sales" for sale eligible animals 11 years of age and over, and for younger animals that have been offered for adoption three times during a 90 day period and that BLM continue to explore opportunities to foster foreign aid by providing sale eligible animals (with the intent clause) to foreign countries for agricultural (nonfood) use."
Only BLM would call a slaughter house a "known good home". The BLM is obviously in contact with kill buyers, those that buy horses and transport and sell them to slaughter houses. Despite the mandate of the WFRHBA, BLM, the agency charged with protecting wild horses and burros as free roaming components of the public lands at the "minimal feasible level"Â is clearly attempting to smooth the way for their slaughter.
During its discussions in the past year BLM considered ways to keep the public away from round ups and the killing and sales of healthy horses and burros and planned to brand protests as "eco-terrorism". This was all to be done in secret. Unless Congress or the courts step up and stop this rogue agency, it looks like BLM’s plan may succeed.