BLM, Cattle, Wild Horses, and Biodiversity on Western U. S. Ranges

BLM and Biodiversity on Public Lands

Mustang photo by John Harwood

GR:  The U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) protects livestock ranching interests while seeking to balance other public land uses. Public interest has forced BLM to remove and board cattle-competing wild horses and burros instead of thinning them. Today, BLM is boarding almost 50,000 horses and burros and the number is increasing. For 2013, the total cost was $7.8 million.

I love horses.  As an advocate for non-human animal rights and species equity, I also care about the other species sharing the public lands. Are we sacrificing vegetation, soil, and biodiversity in the western U. S. to protect cattle?  In consideration of the general decline of birds, frogs, insects, mammals, and turtles, is it time to give the BLM a new mandate?  Should we direct the BLM to give its highest priority to protecting diversity?
There is no end in sight for the cattle/wild-horse conflict.  According to Wild Hoofbeats, the BLM is planning a heavy 2014 Roundup Schedule for the Red Desert of Wyoming (Source for the following:  Wild Hoofbeats).

Mares rounded up in Salt Wells Creek in December 2013

“The BLM has finally released its roundup schedule for 2014:  On this schedule are three roundups in Wyoming:

  1. Adobe Town 8/20 – 8/24, plan to remove 177 wild horses
  2. Salt Wells Creek 8/24 – 8-28, plan to remove 228 wild horses
  3. Great Divide Basin 8/28 – 9/10,  plan to remove 541 wild horses

“This is despite having just rounded up and removed 586 wild horses from Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town in December 2013.

“Looking at the numbers provided by the BLM, Great Divide Basin will be virtually zeroed out after this roundup and removal. The Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the area is 415-600 wild horses. At their May 2013 count they said there were 439 horses and they estimated that there would be 579 in the summer of 2014.  Removing 541 would be almost all,  if not all, of them.

“In Salt Wells Creek, the AML is 251-365. In their projected estimate before the 2013 roundup the BLM said there were 823 wild horses, they removed 586,  and they plan to remove 228. Even estimating a 20% population increase this year, this would bring the population below low AML.

“In Adobe Town, the AML is 610-800 wild horses. The BLM projected the population to be 624 in 2013, they removed 14 in 2013 and they plan to remove 177, Even estimating a 20% increase in population this year, this would bring the population below low AML.

“Currently, BLM is revising the Resource Management Plans for both the Rock Springs and Rawlins Areas (RMP). It is during the revision process AML’s can be changed to herd management areas and herd management areas can be changed to herd areas, allowing them to be zeroed out. This process has NOT happened yet.

“The BLM is acting precipitously, working to zero out Great Divide Basin and bringing Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town below low AML before the RMP can be completed. Clearly, appeasing the Rock Springs Grazing Association is an “emergency” just like drought to the BLM. Despite lamenting the high cost of holding 50,000 wild horses in captivity (46 million dollars annually) in this roundup document, the BLM is determined to remove 2400 wild horses from their homes and possibly their families this year.

“Environmental Assessments for the roundups of the three herd management areas in Wyoming have NOT been issued or made available to the public for comment yet.  Please check back to see when these will be available for comment.”

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