Editorial: No solution for wild horse overpopulation in budget

The wild horse can has been kicked down the road yet again.

Congress could not possibly find a way in its 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion budget that President Trump signed a couple of weeks ago to do anything whatsoever about the overpopulation of wild horses.

The Interior Department’s FY2019 budget at one time included this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Among those tools could have been the humane slaughter of sick and unadoptable wild horses and burros that are starving on the overgrazed range in the West. That was the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but every federal budget since 2009 has prohibited this commonsense approach.

So we are stuck with spending $50 million a year to warehouse 46,000 “wild” horses in pens and pastures, while 73,000 roam free on grazing land that can sustain only 27,000 animals. The main population reduction method left for the federal land agencies is adoption. According to The Washington Post only 3,500 wild horses were adopted in 2017.

“We are thrilled that Congress has rejected this sick horse slaughter plan,” the Post quoted Marilyn Kroplick, president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, as saying in a statement that claimed horse lovers had “jammed Congressional phone lines with calls and sent tens of thousands of emails” to make their case.

On the other hand, in the real world, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in an op-ed in The New York Times in December, cited an example of the conditions on the ground, noting that in 2015 the Bureau of Land Management sent agents into the desert outside Las Vegas to round up about 200 wild horses that were reported to be starving to death.

“Bureau employees discovered nearly 500 horses,” Stewart wrote. “They had pounded their range to powder; the desert grasses that remained had been eaten to the nubs. Nearly 30 were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized, and many others were on the brink of death.”

The BLM had determined that the 100,000-acre expanse where these horses were grazing produced only enough grasses and water to sustain 70 horses, the congressman concluded.

Stewart advocated euthanizing excess horses. “I understand that some will recoil from this approach. But anyone who really cares about these majestic animals must understand that other efforts have failed to curb their exploding population and that culling these herds to numbers the land can sustain is the best way to prevent further suffering and death,” he concluded.

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 feral horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, still starving and dying of thirst and crowding out other species and competing with cattle and sheep for forage.

The BLM canceled a meeting of its National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board scheduled for late March in Salt Lake City when a member objected to using a 15-day public notice for “urgent matters,” instead of the customary 30 days. The terms of three board members expired on March 31. Another meeting will be scheduled once new members are seated.

That may be a futile gesture. At a 2016 meeting in Elko the advisory panel recommended “offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed unadoptable, for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia.” The recommendation was ignored.

Meanwhile, nothing is being done to the relieve the suffering of feral horses.

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.

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Editorial: Wild horse issue needs a compromise solution

Let the caterwauling continue.

The headline over a press release by a group calling itself the American Wild Horse Campaign reads, “80+ Organizations Oppose Trump Administration Plan to Slaughter America’s Mustangs.”

The trigger for the press release — more a fundraising appeal than legitimate polemic — was the release of the Interior Department’s FY2019 budget.

The budget includes this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Similar language was in the FY2018 budget, which has yet to be approved.

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

You see, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act states: “The Secretary shall cause additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But every federal budget since 2009, has stated, “Appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, was quoted as saying in the press release: “Americans want our wild horses and burros protected, not brutally killed and slaughtered.”

Roy was further quoted as saying the horse advocacy groups support a humane and scientific path for wild horse management.

Yet when the Elko district of the Bureau of Land Management submitted a plan to control the wild horse population with fertility control and gathers without ever mentioning euthanizing excess horses, one of those advocacy groups sued saying such action upset the “social organization, band integrity, and expression of a natural behavior repertoire.”

Though wild horses are dying of starvation and thirst on the depleted and drought-stricken range, the self-styled advocates offer only litigation and wild claims. Letting the status quo continue is hardly humane.

When this issue came up in the House Appropriations Committee a year ago Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who supported a return to the language in the 1971 law, said during debate, “First let me say I hate this issue and I think everybody here hates this issue. The reality is we have a problem. We have to face it and we have to deal with it. … You think you’re being kind to horses? You’re not. Letting them starve out on the range? … Nobody’s adopting these things — these horses. Not very many people anyway.”

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 wild horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, though the range can sustain only 27,000.

That doesn’t count the 45,000 formerly wild horses and burros currently being kept in off-range pens and pastures at a cost of $50 million a year.

In is unlikely Congress will ever approve the wholesale slaughter of wild horses, but there should be a middle ground compromise that handles horses humanely, saves taxpayers money and protects the range, wildlife and agricultural interests.

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.

Editorial: Suit to block feral horse plan is frivolous

‘Wild’ horses being held in pens. (BLM pix)

As sure as hogs wallow in slop, one month after the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan to properly control the population of feral horses on a nearly 4 million-acre tract of land 50 miles southeast of Elko, a New York nonprofit group calling itself Friends of Animals filed a federal lawsuit. (Friends of Animals suit)

The lawsuit claims the BLM gave “no opportunity for the public to review or comment on its decision” and thus violated its own procedures and requirements of federal law. Actually, the suit merely tries to throw overheated rhetoric at a decision with which the Friends of Animals disagree.

In December the BLM outlined a 10-year plan to control the population of mustangs in the Antelope, Antelope Valley, Goshute, Maverick-Medicine, Spruce-Pequop and Triple B Herd Management Areas, plus another million acres onto which the horses have spread. The area currently has 9,500 horses, 11 times more than the low estimate for what the forage and water can support, about 900 horses.

The plan is to gather and remove some excess horses and control the remaining population with castration of some males and chemical fertility control of some females. The goal is to establish stable herds of about 60 percent male and 40 percent female.

There are already about 45,000 “wild” horses being held in storage pens across the West at a cost of $50 million a year.

The Friends suit claims an Environmental Impact Statement is required for all “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

But the “Decision Record” signed by Elko District BLM Manager Jill Silvey clearly states that following “public review” she found the plan “will not have a significant impact to the human environment, and that the Environmental Impact Statement is not required.” This is backed up by a 361-page Environmental Assessment and a four-page Finding of No Significant Impact.

Though the federal lawsuit claims there was a lack of public overview, it states there were 4,940 comments submitted to the BLM during a public comment period.

Silvey’s decision notes, “The BLM received over 4,940 comment submissions during the public comment period; the majority of those submissions (more than 4,780 or 97%) were form letters. Form letters are generated from a singular website from a non-governmental organization, such as an animal advocacy group. Comments identified on form letters were considered along with the rest of the comments received, but as one collective letter. … Letters and e-mails were received both in support of and in opposition to the gather.”

The lawsuit wonders all over the legal rangeland, ruminating about the impact of sterilization on social behavior in herds.

It spouts such pseudo-scientific folderol as this: “A potential disadvantage of both surgical and chemical castration is loss of testosterone and consequent reduction in or complete loss of male-type behaviors necessary for maintenance of social organization, band integrity, and expression of a natural behavior repertoire.”

But the lawsuit fails to ever address the fact the feral horses are currently starving and dying of thirst due to their excess numbers, much less their impact on wildlife, ranching and recreation.

The suit demands that the court block the population control plan, and, of course, seeks for themselves “reasonable costs, litigation expenses, and attorneys’ fees.”

Meanwhile, the BLM argues, “A gather of wild horses from the area is also necessary to prevent continued degradation of rangeland resources, and the unnecessary death or suffering of individual wild horses that are being currently impacted by a lack of water and forage. The BLM is required to manage multiple uses to avoid continued degradation of the rangeland, and reduce the potential for catastrophic loss of animals.”

The courts should let the BLM try its management plan for a couple of years and hear the horse huggers’ suit later if it is not working. Doing nothing while the litigation languishes is not an option.

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.

Newspaper column: Nevada politicians balk at Trump’s budget

The Obama administration managed to increase the national debt from $10.6 trillion in 2009 to nearly $20 trillion in 2016, meaning the cost of serving that debt has doubled and will rise as interest rates rise.

But when President Trump proposes a budget that would cut spending by $4.23 trillion over the next decade there is wailing and gnashing of teeth — including from the majority of Nevada politicians.

Much of the lamenting is over the budget’s proposal to carry out the House-passed modest rollback of Obamacare, specifically rolling back Medicaid eligibility. Previously, Medicaid covered low-income children, pregnant women and disabled, but largely excluded other low-income adults. Obamacare allowed just about anyone earning below 138 percent of the poverty level to become eligible.

Nevada was one of the 31 states to expand Medicaid eligibility since the federal government promised to initially pick up 100 percent of the increased cost and 90 percent in later years.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he intends to protect Medicaid funding “at all cost” — meaning your cost. The expansion has added 220,000 Nevadans to Medicaid.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller also said he is concerned about the budget’s cuts to Medicaid and its affect on Nevadans now covered by it.

Freshman Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined other senators in signing a letter to Trump bemoaning the proposed Medicaid cuts. She noted that more than 18,000 veterans in Nevada are covered by Medicaid. How many were previously covered or still would be after a rollback was not stated.

“Your proposed cuts to Medicaid and your efforts to take away people’s health coverage are inconsistent with the promises you made to America’s veterans. They deserve better,” the letter states.

Spending as well as cuts are drawing fire.

There is that $120 million in Trump’s budget to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain to become a nuclear waste storage site, a measure apparently opposed by a majority of state politicians.

This prompted Heller to say, “From slashing funding for important public lands programs to its renewed effort to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the President’s budget request contains several anti-Nevada provisions. While Congress ultimately has the power of the purse, I will continue to stand up for Nevada’s priorities by defending our important public lands programs and fighting any effort to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Yucca Mountain is dead …”

Rep. Dina Titus of Clark County fired off this missive: “President Trump wants to fund a revival of the failed Yucca Mountain boondoggle that will ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Just as his budget overlooks the needs of the America people, Trump’s Yucca Mountain line item ignores the majority of Nevadans who don’t want this dangerous project rammed down their throats.”

On the other hand, Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen sent out a statement saying, “I am pleased that the just published fiscal 2018 budget submitted by President Donald Trump includes funding that will continue the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain Waste Repository in Nye County. The promise of a safe and secure site for nuclear waste has been promised to the nation for more than three decades.”

Time to negotiate for benefits?

Then there is the plan in the budget to save $10 million a year by finally following the provisions of the original 1970s act to protect wild horses by allowing excess animals to be sold for slaughter instead of being warehoused at taxpayer expense.

The wild horse management budget has doubled under Obama to more than $80 million a year. The usual suspects decry this trim.

Few seem willing to throttle back on the government largesse, even though the economy has picked up a bit since the depths of the recession and unemployment has fallen from October 2009’s 10 percent peak to 4.7 percent.

Trump’s budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and trim $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs — all of which have increased in recent years.

Medicaid enrollment has grown by 47 percent since 2006 and spending by 75 percent — to $554 billion in 2015. Food stamp recipients have increased by 11 million.

Trump’s budget is 55 percent larger than 2007’s, though inflation has been 20 percent.

As Ronald Reagan once remarked, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”

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.

Yucca Mountain (CBS pix)

 

Wild horse lawsuit dismissal outcome is in the eye of the beholder

The lede on the AP story about the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting a lawsuit intended to force the federal agencies in Nevada to actually to do their jobs and reduce the wild horse overpopulation reads:

“Wild horse advocates in Nevada scored a victory Monday in an ongoing legal battle with rural interests they say want to round up federally protected mustangs across the West and sell them for slaughter.”

The lede could just as easily have reported that Nevada ranchers had the value of their grazing rights unconstitutionally taken due to a hair-splitting technicality, a sort of Catch-22. The suit from the Nevada Association of Counties, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and others asked the courts to requiring federal agencies to follow the wild horse and burro law, because its failure to do so is starving the very wild horses the law was intended to protect, as well as damaging range land used for grazing and taking private water rights. (9th Circuit wild horse opinion)

Just as a Nevada federal judge had ruled, the 9th Circuit said the plaintiffs failed to cite a “final action” by the land agencies that could be challenged:

The district court did not err in dismissing NACO’s APA (Administrative Procedure Act) claims. Federal courts lack jurisdiction over an APA claim that “does not challenge final agency action.” … Here, NACO has failed to identify a specific final agency action … or discrete action unlawfully withheld … that allegedly harmed it. Instead, NACO seeks judicial oversight and direction of virtually the entire federal wild horse and burro management program … in Nevada. This sort of programmatic challenge is foreclosed under the APA.

That is because there is never a “final agency action.” Everything is fluid, flexible, changeable, appealable. What the Bureau of Land Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service do is deny and delay.

It is not entirely the land agencies fault. They are aided and abetted by Congress.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which NACO and others say is being ignored, specially says, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But the federal budget every year since 2009, has stated, “Appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

The BLM itself reported in September that the population population of free ranging wild horses and burros was 67,000, even thought the range could sustain a population of no more than 26,700 animals, which means that there insufficient grazing for the horses as well as cattle and sheep.

The AP story quoted two different horse-bugging groups but could not find any ranches to quote.

Nick Lawton, a lawyer for one of the horse lovers was quoted as saying, “We’re pleased that the courts continue to dismiss attempts by these grazing interests to use the judicial system to rewrite federal law that Congress designed to protect wild horses from capture, not to favor the livestock industry.”

The original lawsuit pointed out, “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.”

Now, who is being humane?

Stallions fighting (Getty Images file photo)

 

 

 

Editorial: Will Congress allow BLM to curb horse overpopulation?

Wild horses near Bald Mountain. (Elko Daily Free Press file photo)

Wild horses near Bald Mountain. (Elko Daily Free Press file photo)

Earlier this month at a meeting in Elko the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend to the Bureau of Land Management that it actually follow the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 “by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press account.

The recommendation was approved by all the board members except one after the board toured the range land in the area and saw first hand the destruction caused by an overpopulation of feral horses.

The newspaper quoted board member Dr. Robert Cope as saying that after the field trip “it became so obvious there’s an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource” and “something has got to be done.”

The current problem is that Congress has for years prohibited using federal funds to follow the law and euthanize unadoptable wild horses and burros or even allow them to be sold for processing into commercial products.

Congressman Mark Amodei, whose district includes much of Nevada’s wild horse territory, remarked, “This is one of those areas where actually Congress has created a lot of the problem with the amendment that prohibits euthanasia as something that needs to be evaluated as part of the solution to managing these folks.”

Budgets since at least 2009 has stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”

“Regardless of where you are at the issue,” Amodei said, “you cannot look in the mirror and look yourself in the eye and say, whatever we’ve been doing is working, because what we have is holding facilities throughout the nation that are within 10,000 animals of being full. We have an annual feeding bill in the 10s of millions, which quite frankly BLM even says is not sustainable.”

The BLM is being crushed under the financial burden of feeding wild horses, he said.

There are an estimated 70,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, 40,000 more than the range can handle, and that number can grow by 9,000 a year without intervention.

“Here’s the last piece of the puzzle that will make your eyes roll, BLM will tell you that the population doubles at the present reproduction rate about every four years,” Amodei noted. “It is an exacerbated problem as we speak and it is only going to grow geometrically.”

Congress has to do something rather than nothing, he said.

“The only reason it’s been allowed to get to this point is quite frankly it’s a Western problem that affects Western congressional districts which are represented by about 22 people,” the congressman reasoned. “If this was an innercity urban problem it would’ve been solved decades ago.”

Coincidentally, on the same day the advisory board recommended euthanizing excess horses, the BLM canceled an experimental program to test sterilization techniques, because it was being sued by some self-styled animal rights groups.

The Congressional Western Caucus responded with a press release saying, “Responsible sterilization could help stem the exploding wild horse populations on federal lands in the West. Yet the BLM dropped the project under the threat of litigation by a special interest group. BLM Director Neil Kornze has said his agency is ‘overwhelmed’ by the growing herds, and described the situation as dire. The wild horse and burro population is nearly triple what the rangelands can support. As a result, the lands are being obliterated and the horses are dying of thirst and starvation.”

Amodei, a member of the caucus, added, “It is discouraging to see the agency has such a low opinion of its own administrative procedures that it won’t even defend them in court.”

He noted that the BLM denied a number of grazing permits in Elko County because wild horses had wiped out the vegetation. If cattle had done that there would have been a hue and cry, he noted.

“The last time this wasn’t a problem was when wild horses were treated like every other animal on the range, every other animal on the range, whether it be domestic or wild. We manage for deer. We manage for jack rabbits. We manage for cows. We manage for sheep. We manage for mountain lions. We manage for bears, but we’re not going to manage for horses,” Amodei said. “That makes no sense.”

Some people want to love the horses to death — a slow, painful, agonizing death.

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.

 

Some people want to love feral horses to death

This wild mare and foal were among a group of mustangs removed from a range in Nevada last year because they were starving. (BLM photo)

This wild mare and foal were among a group of mustangs removed from a range in Nevada last year because they were starving. (BLM photo)

This is driving the horse huggers bat guano crazy.

This past Friday at a meeting in Elko the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend to Bureau of Land Management that it actually follow the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 “by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press account.

The recommendation was approved by all the board members except one after the board toured the range land in the area and saw first hand the degradation of the land caused by an overpopulation of feral horses.

The newspaper quoted board member Dr. Robert Cope as saying that after the field trip “it became so obvious there’s an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource” and “something has got to be done.”

The current problem is that Congress has for years prohibited using federal funds to follow the law and euthanize unadoptable wild horses and burros or even allowing them to be sold for processing into commercial products.

The Humane Society put out a press release saying: “The decision of the BLM advisory board to recommend the destruction of the 45,000 wild horses currently in holding facilities is a complete abdication of responsibility for their care. The agency would not be in this situation but for their long-term mis-management. Alternatives to this proposal have been ignored for over 20 years. The HSUS stands ready to implement these alternatives at any time.”
There are an estimated 70,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, 40,000 more than the range can handle, and that number can grow by 9,000 a year without intervention.
Coincidentally, on the same day the advisory board recommended euthanizing excess horses, the BLM canceled an experimental program to test sterilization techniques, because it was being sued by some self-styled animal rights groups.
The Congressional Western Caucus responded with a press release saying, “Responsible sterilization could help stem the exploding wild horse populations on federal lands in the West. Yet the BLM dropped the project under the threat of litigation by a special interest group. BLM Director Neil Kornze has said his agency is ‘overwhelmed’ by the growing herds, and described the situation as dire. The wild horse and burro population is nearly triple what the rangelands can support. As a result, the lands are being obliterated and the horses are dying of thirst and starvation.”
That’s what the advisory board found. The Elko paper reports today that the BLM is having to haul water to horses in the Ely district.
But some people want to love the horses to death.