Advocates Warn Ranchers and BLM: Removal of Wild Horses Violates Federal Laws

Wild horses in holding pens. Photo Credit BLMDecades of Illegal Private Livestock Grazing Damages Public Lands As Ranchers Try to Scapegoat Wild Horses

April 7, 2014

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), a national coalition and its founding organization, Return to Freedom (RTF), today warned the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Iron County Commissioners that any removal of wild horses from federal lands would be in violation of federal laws. The warning came in response to a threat and ultimatum made by the Iron County Board of Commissioners to the BLM that local officials would round up federally-protected wild horses if the BLM did not.

At the same time, wild horse advocates have released BLM-based data that shows that wild horses are greatly outnumbered by livestock on public lands in Utah and Nevada.

“We fully expect the BLM to uphold the federal laws that protect wild horses and require the withdrawal of trespass livestock on public lands,” said Suzanne Roy, campaign director of AWHPC. “The Utah BLM director appears to be ready to appease the ranchers at the expense of federally-protected wild horses. This will not be tolerated by the American public, which strongly supports wild horse preservation and opposes the BLM’s preferential treatment of private ranchers. Our public lands belong to all Americans, not to a handful of commercial ranchers who believe they are entitled to graze their livestock on our public lands at tax-subsidized rates.”

“The threat by Iron County to illegally remove wild horses from our public lands is yet another example of commercial ranchers and their allies perpetuating propaganda that wild horses are responsible for range damage caused by livestock,” said Neda DeMayo, president of RTF and founder of the AWHPC. “In reality, the small number of federally-protected wild horses on public lands in Utah is dwarfed by hundreds of thousands of privately-owned cattle and sheep that graze Utah’s public lands.”

DeMayo continued, “Further roundups of wild horses from our public lands are fiscally irresponsible and unjustified. As recommended by the National Academy of Sciences last year, the focus should be on the immediate implementation of available and proven fertility control that is a viable alternative to expensive and traumatic roundups.”

AWHPC and RTF released the following data contradicting the claim that wild horses are overpopulating the range:

• In Utah, wild horses are restricted to just 2.1 million acres of BLM land, whereas livestock graze on 22 million acres. Fewer than 3,500 wild horses are estimated to live in the state, while hundreds of thousands of livestock graze on the public rangelands. In fact, the BLM authorizes 55 times more forage to privately-owned livestock than to federally-protected wild horses in the state. (Sources: BLM HA/HMA data 2013; BLM Utah grazing data)

• In Nevada, wild horses and burros are restricted to 14 million acres of BLM land while livestock graze on 45 million acres. The estimated population of wild horses is 20,000, or one horse per 700 acres. The BLM allocates at least 7 times more forage to livestock than to wild horses in the state. (Sources: BLM HA/HMA data 2013;BLM Nevada grazing data; BLM Nevada grazing AUMs 2010)

Meanwhile, national public opinion polls demonstrate that the vast majority of Americans support protecting wild horses on public lands, while just 29 percent of the public wants to ensure that public lands are available for livestock grazing.

The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Public Law 92-195) protects wild horses from “capture, branding, harassment or death.” The BLM cannot conduct a roundup of federally-protected wild horses in the absence of full legal disclosure and analysis required under the Wild Horse Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Under the Wild Horse Act, the BLM is mandated to protect wild horses, while livestock grazing on public lands is authorized entirely at the discretion of the Interior Department pursuant to the Taylor Grazing Act.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.

Return to Freedom (RTF) is a national non-profit dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education and conservation. RTF operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA. and is the founding parent organization for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.