NAS Study to be a Whitewash?

wild horses in captivityAs the Bureau of Land Management’s tentative schedule for the rest of 2011 and 2012 indicates, the agency continues its aggressive roundups and removals of America’s wild horses and burros from the range.

6,000 wild horses and burros are targeted for round up and removal from the range in the next year. Most will end up in long term holding facilities or slipped out and sent to slaughter.

There has been a call for sometime for a moratorium on the roundups pending a National Academy of Sciences study of wild horse and burro management that is to be completed in two years.  by 2013. The panel begins its work this week. The BLM requested the $1.2 million study after prodding from Congress.

But as Scott Sonnor, first reported in the Santa Cruz Sentential and in R.T. Fitch’s Force of the Horse, October 23, 2011, the panel of 14 "experts" chosen by the National Academy of Sciences appears to be "stacked with allies of the livestock industry".

Many of the panel members are "outspoken defenders" of the BLM’s current costly strategy of rounding up wild horses and burros and placing them in long term holding facilities, providing contraception or even spaying or gelding as many that remain on the range as possible.

"The committee is tasked with producing a comprehensive study that addresses, among other things, total herd populations, genetic diversity, appropriate management levels, and population control options including immunocontraception and "managing a portion of a population as non-reproducing," according to the academy’s website.

"Committee members under fire include Dr. David Thain, former Nevada state veterinarian who is an assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Nevada Reno.

"’Thain is a member of the Nevada Livestock Association-a ‘clear conflict of interest,’ said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation."

Thain also has conducted research on two horse fertility drugs that may have negative side effects. It is charged that Thain has a conflict of interest and would not consider issues related to wild horse adn burro contraception and fertility objectively.  

As Sonner reports, "Other panel members targeted by critics include Erik Beever, a research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman, Mont., and Paul Krausman, a wildlife biologist in the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation in Missoula.

"Beever is a member and Krausman the president-elect of the Wildlife Society, a national professional scientific group" that has defended roundups.

A government study riddled with such conflicts of interest will come as no suprise to lawmakers who have raised questions recently as to the scientific integrity of federal agencies. In a recent letter to John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy,  Sens. David Vitter, R-La., James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., discussed "the apparent collapse in the quality of scientific work being conducted at our federal agencies."

The lawmakers wrote, "Specifically, we are concerned with data quality, integrity of methodologies and collection of information, agencies misrepresenting publicly the weight of scientific ‘facts,’ indefensible representations of scientific conclusions before our federal court system, and our fundamental notions of ‘sound’ science". 

This also sounds a lot like the cookie cutter environmental assessments and impact statements that BLM releases to justify wholesale roundup and removal of thousands of wild horses and burros.

Indeed, a 2010 Dept. of Interior Office of Inspector General report charged that DOI lacks a scientific integrity policy. The OIG noted in its 2010 report that the agency’s numbers lack a scientific basis, oversight or checks and balances.

Nevada has roughly half of the 33,000 wild horses that freely roam 10 Western states. Another 40,000 horses are being housed in short- and long-term holding facilities in the West and Midwest-a costly practice.

Over the 2010 fiscal year, holding costs accounted for $36.9 million, or 57 percent, of the BLM wild horse and burro program’s $63.9 million budget.

The BLM has refused to consider stopping the roundups until there is a clear census and scientifically based appropriate management levels, meaning the number of wild horses and burros the range can support in each herd management area. A report issued to Congress last year called into question BLM’s numbers. The report illustrated that at the current rate of removal, BLM’s own numbers prove there soon will be few wild horses and burros left on the range.

Indeed, at the recent International Equine Conference in Alexandria, Virginia economist Caroline Betts, Ph.D., M.A., a professor at the University of Southern California in international finance and macroeconomics, said the BLM numbers don’t add up. She said BLM simply assumes the number of horses doubles every four years which would mean there are a million horses on the range today. Even BLM says there are less than 40,000.

Dr. Betts explained, "Either the removal data is wrong or the 20 percent population growth is wrong". Meaning BLM is removing too many wild horses and burros; there are fewer left than we think.

For more on this report and the costs of BLM’s "program" for wild horses and burros….