Editorial: Adoption incentives could curb wild horse population

Why not?

Unless some self-appointed “wild horse lovers” step in and manage to quash the idea, the Bureau of Land Management is seriously considering still another method for reducing the wild horse and burro population on the open range and in pens.

The idea was floated in a report to Congress this past April. Instead of charging people $125 a head to adopt a wild horse or burro, pay people $1,000 a head to adopt and care for the feral animals instead of letting them starve on overgrazed range or languish in pens.

The report predicted, “If the incentive proves to increase adoptions beyond the planned 5,000, the BLM could decrease the use of permanent sterilization and increase removals to match adoption/sale totals. While this incentive would increase costs in the initial years, it will quickly pay for itself by lowering off-range holding expenditures,” adding that the program could reduce the 83,000 horses and burros on the open range to the goal of 27,000 by 2030.

The idea was endorsed in the latest issue of PERC Reports — a magazine published by the Property and Environment Research Center, a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through markets and property rights.

Writers Hannah Downey, the policy and partnerships coordinator and a research fellow at PERC, and Tate Watkins, a research and publications fellow at PERC and managing editor of PREC Reports, reported that under the current plan the BLM would pay adopters a $500 first installment 60 days after adoption. Once new owners demonstrate they are providing quality care after a 12-month probationary period the new owners would get another $500 payment.

“The plan has the potential to help improve the lives of wild horses while also benefiting taxpayers,” the PERC Reports article states. “Owning and caring for a horse is not cheap. The $1,000 payment should promote adoptions as the stipend can help cover veterinary and training costs. This sort of approach has been widely used by animal shelters that offer free adoptions or waivers for veterinary care to help get pets placed in loving homes, and it has potential to make a real difference in the lives of wild horses and burros.”

Why not treat wild horses and burros in a manner comparable to dogs and cats?

“Adoption is clearly a better outcome for a wild horse than starving on the range or living out the rest of its days in an overcrowded corral,” Downey and Watkins argue. “For taxpayers, the per-horse savings is undeniable. Spending $1,000 to find a mustang a good home is orders of magnitude cheaper — and likely much more humane — than caring for it in a government holding facility for the rest of its life.”

The BLM now spends more than $50 million a year to warehouse wild horses and burros, about 60 percent of its budget for protecting the beasts.

It’s worth a try.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)

Newspaper column: BLM rule change doesn’t signal wild horse slaughter

Wild horses being affected by drought. (AP pix)

Wild horse advocates are apoplectic over a change in rules for selling off wild horses recently announced by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management, saying it could lead to the animals being sold for slaughter.

In 2013, after learning that Colorado rancher Tom Davis, a friend and neighbor of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had over a three-year period sold 1,800 wild horses he had purchased from the BLM for slaughter in Mexico, the BLM instituted a rule that no one could purchase more than four wild horses in a six-month period without approval of the agency’s deputy assistant director of resource and planning.

In May, the BLM issued new guidelines saying up to 25 wild horses could be sold without prior approval up the chain of command.

“The federal government is about to resume selling America’s cherished wild horses and burros by the truckload, sending potentially thousands of mustangs into the slaughter pipeline against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans,” fulminated Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) in a press release this past week. “This Administration appears hellbent on destroying America’s iconic wild horse and burro herds, and this is the latest step on that path to destruction.”

Pay no heed to the fact the BLM spends 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros on warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000. Nor to the fact that earlier this year BLM officials desperate to rid themselves of the expense of feeding all those “wild” animals were contemplating offering $1,000 incentives to anyone willing to take some off their hands.

An Interior Department inspector general report in 2015 found that Davis over three years bought truckloads of 35 horses at a time for $10 each and sold them to others who took them to Mexico for slaughter. Davis made up to $3,000 profit per truckload. The case was referred to federal and local prosecutors who declined to prosecute, criminally or civilly.

Davis told inspectors that BLM officials had to know so many horses were going to slaughter.

Congress for years has effectively banned the slaughter of horses for meat in the U.S. by denying funding for health inspectors.

The new BLM guidelines for selling wild horses say untrained animals may be sold for as little as $25 apiece, while horses trained to halter or saddle must fetch $125. Purchasers also must provide adequate feed, care and a facility, such as a corral, barn or stall.

Applicants also must swear that the animals are not intended for “slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products …”

Though the limiting of sales to only four horses at a time appears to have not been financially conducive to either buyers or taxpayers, and despite the lessons learned from the Davis probe, AWHC’s Roy forecasts doom and gloom will result from the change in rules.

“When you’re selling horses by the truckload for $25 apiece, it provides a big incentive for slaughter,” Roy was quoted in her press release. “Since riding a horse to his first day of work, Interior Secretary Zinke has galloped down a deadly path for America’s wild horse and burro herds – from asking Congress for permission to slaughter tens of thousands of these cherished animals to promoting the mass surgical sterilization of mustangs and burros on the range. Zinke is pushing the livestock industry agenda to rid our public lands of wild horses and trampling on the wishes of American citizens in the process.”

In a recent interview, Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Dean Heller said he has spoken with Zinke and a middle ground on this matter is being sought.

“Zinke assured me he’s looking at this issue. They’re looking at a number of different avenues how they can cull these herds without, frankly, having to remove some of these horses from the range, but they do believe they can put together a sterilization program and something that in five to 10 years can reduce the size of these herds,” Heller said. “There is a discussion out there. These discussions are being had — looking for a reasonable, reasonable answers to this, and trying to come up with a program or a process that both sides can agree on.”

When it comes to the taxpayers being on the hook to try to preserve non-native species in perpetuity, all means should be stoically explored.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: BLM agents should follow the law on wild horses and not their bleeding hearts

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)

When it comes to carrying out the instructions from Congress on the management of wild horses and burros under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the BLM is so bold and so brazen as to write on its own website that it doesn’t care one whit what the law says, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Under a section of its website labeled Myths and Facts the BLM denies that it is selling or sending wild horses to slaughter:

“Fact: This charge is absolutely false. The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and it has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter. Consequently, as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report issued in October 2008, the BLM is not in compliance with a December 2004 amendment (the so-called Burns Amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) that directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros ‘without limitation’ to any willing buyer.”

In another “Fact” the agency admits there are 14,000 too many horses currently roaming the West.

These are just two of the myriad misdeeds by the federal land management agency revealed in a recent federal lawsuit filed by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation against the Department of Interior, the BLM, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and others.

The suit asks the court to issue an injunction or writ requiring federal agencies to follow the wild horse and burro law, because its current failure to do so is starving the very animals the law was intended to protect.

“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” the suit says.

The federal agencies often claim that their ability to properly maintain the population of wild horses and burros is hampered by a lack of funds. The suit calls this a “self-inflicted handicap,” because half of the BLM’s horse and burro budget is going to warehousing those 50,000 animals, which can live for 25 to 30 years.

Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs, told The Associated Press, “The plaintiffs have an arrogant sense of entitlement. I’m grateful the American public will see how the plaintiffs allegedly intend on denying native wild horses the right to water and are requesting BLM destroy the majority of the roundup survivors. Their lawsuit will rally more voters to fight for wild horses to remain wild and free for future generations.

If that is the case, perhaps the law should be amended rather than ignored by those paid to enforce the law.

The suit: Wild horse suit in pdf format

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko.