BLM Talks Wild Horse Management

Lizzy Schultz

On this week’s AnimalAgCast we hear from Dean Bolstad, Division Chief of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Division of Wild Horses and Burros.

Dean provides an overview of the ways BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program works to protect and maximize the welfare of our nation’s wild horses and burros and discusses some negative rumors about the program that have recently spread across the internet from horse industry and animal rights groups.

Many of the rumors spreading across social media have centered around recent wild horse gatherings conducted by the agency in overpopulated areas. Groups, including a statement from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have called the gatherings irresponsible and inhumane and have accused BLM of mistreating and wrongly euthanizing healthy animals in an attempt to eliminate the nation’s wild horse population.

In this program, Bolstad offers concerned listeners an informative explanation of the wild horse program’s mission and BLM policies related to horse welfare, as well as a look into the scope of the challenges facing the program’s sustainability.

Bolstad explains that the allegations of abuse and the intention of eliminating America’s wild horses are false. He explains that, while BLM remains committed to the protection and support of the nation’s wild horses, growing herd populations have created serious, expensive challenges for the agency.

The 67,000 wild horses and burros that currently reside over 10 U.S. states have reached far beyond the land’s maximum capacity of 27,000. Overpopulation of that scale can cause serious harm to the land, impacting the habitat of local wildlife and posing an increasing threat to wild horse welfare.

“Taking care of the habitat the horses depend on is the most important factor in ensuring that we can sustain healthy horse herds, and that means controlling their numbers,” he said. “The overarching goal here is to control the wild horse population so that we can sustain the public lands they reside on.”

If you are interested in adopting a wild horse or burro, or for more information on the BLM Wild Horse Adoption Program, contact the BLM Office at 866-4MUSTANGS. An online adoption application is available here.

Listen to the full program to learn more:
AnimalAgCast with Dean Bolstad, BLM

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Animal AgCast

Comments 7

  1. THE ECONOMIST/August 2016
    Reader Comment

    The Big Lie of “overpopulation” is the pretext for BLM’s war against the wild horses. It’s BLM’s version of the “Shock Doctrine,” wherein BLM concocted a phony crisis to push through policies antithetical to the Wild Horse Act against the will of The People.
    In fact, horses are a slow-growth species when it comes to reproduction. The gestation-period lasts over 11 months, and a mare produces just 1 foal. While an independent study of BLM’s records did confirm a nearly 20% birth rate, that study also found that 50% of foals perish before their first birthday. Thus, the effective increase in population from new foals is just 10%. However, adult mortality must also be taken into consideration. Adult mustangs succumb at a rate of at least 5% a year. So, what is a normal herd-growth rate? Around 5%, probably less. Thus, a herd could not double in 4 or 5 years, debunking another BLM falsehood. But BLM stealthily inserts herd-growth rates far higher than 20% in its reports — biologically-impossible herd-growth rates. For instance, in Wyoming, BLM declared that the Salt Wells Creek herd grew from 29 horses to 616 horses in 6 months (yes, months), a 2,024% increase. BLM’s “data” is chock-full of preposterous growth-estimates. So, when you hear talk of how the wild horses are reproducing “exponentially,” that’s a sure sign that BLM has falsified the data. You should also know that the National Academy of Sciences was required by the terms of its grant to draw conclusions per BLM’s figures — the falsified figures. The NAS was not allowed to collect data independently. Thus, BLM wired the results to confirm its lies.

    Wild horses are underpopulated. Per the guidelines of BLM’s own geneticist, more than 80% of the herds suffer from arbitrary management levels (AMLs) set below minimum-viable population (MVP). Low AMLs enable BLM to claim an “excess” in herds whose numbers, even if they were over AML, would still not reach MVP. So being “over AML” is meaningless as well as misleading. But those low AMLs, combined with fraudulent, biologically-impossible herd-growth estimates, give BLM an excuse to scapegoat those few wild horses for the range-damage done by the millions of livestock that overgraze the public lands.

    PZP is a potent weapon in BLM’s arsenal — for its biological warfare against the wild horses. PZP is a registered pesticide. Its mechanism-of-action is to cause auto-immune disease — tricking the immune system into producing antibodies that target and attack the ovaries. The antibodies cause ovarian dystrophy, oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), ovarian cysts, destruction of oocytes in growing follicles, and depletion of resting follicles. The mare’s estrogen-levels drop markedly as PZP destroys her ovaries. Ultimately, PZP sterilizes her. A recent study — which included the McCullough Peaks herd — found that PZP extends the birthing season to nearly year-round. Out-of-season births put the life of the foals and the mares at risk. Worse yet, radioimmunoassay tests indicated that PZP antibodies are transferred from mother to female offspring via the placenta and milk.

    As for the wild horses held in captivity, they are the “legacy” of former Secretary Salazar’s equid cleansing era, during which he had tens of thousands of wild horses removed from the range. However, the mortality rate of captive wild horses is about 8% a year. So, obviously, since they are not reproducing, their numbers will steadily drop, showing that BLM’s billion-dollar figure for their care was bogus — it was just another Lie. But that Lie has ballooned. BLM has taken the $1 billion figure that it originally announced, multiplied it by 230%, and then multiplied that number by another 200%, amplifying the fraud. When BLM lies, it lies Big.

    The Wild Horse and Burro program, if administered per the minimum-feasible management-model specified by Law, would not cost much at all. BLM does not lack for resources. There are 22 million acres of legally-designated wild-horse herd areas — which BLM previously took away for political expediency — that can be reopened as habitat. The horses now held captive can be released to those areas, where the cost of their upkeep will be $0.

    Contrary to BLM’s disinformation campaign, wild horses do have natural predators — mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes. But those predators are persecuted mercilessly. The government exterminates what the hunters don’t shoot. However, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros — Wild Horse Annie’s foundation — notes that even without predators, their wild-horse herds self-regulate their numbers, with population-growth in the single digits.
    Finally, adoptions have not declined. It’s just that BLM used to count sales-for-slaughter as “adoptions.” Now, only “forever-family” placements qualify. However, mustangs are not homeless horses. They are wild horses whose home is on the range.

  2. Every time there’s an article pointing out we hav a serious horse problem the egotistical, mindless, propagandists pile in with their absolute BS. Very tired of these people sitting on their butts tapping keys to furnish their egos with gratification. They don’t care about the horses, only wanting to give their hate to innocent people. Our rangelands across the West are being destroyed by these animals, as BLM, state, Native American Reservations, and in my community private lands these idiots claim is public for “wild” horses, including water resources, are obliterated. They take and take and attack anyone with the courage to stand up to them.

  3. Mr Bolstad fails to mention how the wild horses and burros are set up by under allocation of forage even within their own legal areas on BLM land. The great majority, often 80 to 90 percent or more goes to the livestock even thought the Wild Free Roaming Horses And Burros Act states that their legal land shall be “devoted principally” to the benefit of the wild horses and burros. See my book The Wild Horse Conspiracy and website by same name.

  4. The NAS study found no evidence of over-population of wild horses. The BLM had the study done and is ignoring the findings and over-estimates the numbers . There are millions of cattle on our public lands which are the cause of water pollution, erosion and over-grazing. Wild horses do not defecate in water and they roam as they graze and will eat cheat grass which helps to prevent fires. Independant observers estimate there are only about 25, 000 wild horses still free. The 40-50,000 in holding need to be retuned to their lawful HMA’s and the 22 million acres taken from them must be restored. Wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems and help other wild animals survive. It’s time the welfare ranchers give up their leases where they only pay $1. 35 for a cow and calf / month to graze. They only supply 2-3 % of the beef , and cattle are the real destroyers of our public lands and ecosystems. The truth needs to be told. BTW what happened to the approximately 1, 700 wild horses that Tom Davis was sold by BLM ?

  5. Overpopulation: Is the Big Lie, the pretext for BLM’s war against the wild horses.

    Normal Rates: Horses are slow to multiply. Gestation lasts 11 months, and a mare produces 1 foal. Independent research by Gregg et al. (2014) found the birth rate in wild-horse herds to be slightly less than 20%, but that 50% of foals perish. At least 5% of wild horses other-than-foals also die every year. Their death-rate (5%) further reduces the surviving-foal rate (10%), yielding an average herd-growth rate of 5%. Thus, it would take at least 14 years for a wild-horse herd to double (yes, fourteen years).

    Bogus Rates: The “overpopulation” of wild horses exists only on BLM’s falsified spreadsheets. Here are just a few examples of BLM’s fraudulent one-year herd-growth figures, from 2015 to 2016:

    71% — 14 times the norm — for Adobe Town,
    237% — 47 times the norm — for Divide Basin, and
    522% — 104 times the norm — for Salt Wells Creek.

    To achieve that much net growth in spite of mortality rates, the respective birth rates would have to have been:

    152% — for Adobe Town,
    483% — for Great Divide Basin, and
    1,054% — for Salt Wells Creek.

    Such birth rates are biologically impossible.

    Unethical Manipulation: BLM staffers cannot claim ignorance. They are college-educated professionals with degrees in science and range management. They are well-aware that wild-horse-and-burro herds cannot increase at exponential rates. Yet, even after such impossible growth-estimates are brought to their attention, they willfully continue to cite them and — worse — base decisions on them.

    Integrity of the Data: BLM is bound by law — the Information Quality Act — and by policy — the Department of the Interior’s Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct — to disseminate information obtained through “as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved.” However, BLM’s data with regard to mustangs is deceitful.

    Underpopulated: According to the guidelines of BLM’s own geneticist, the arbitrary management levels (AMLs) of 83% of wild-horse herds — and 90% of wild-burro herds — are set below minimum-viable population (MVP). Example: The AML for Oregon’s Beaty’s Butte herd restricts the stocking-density to 1 wild horse per 7 square miles. At 3 wild horses per 7 square miles, BLM labels them “overpopulated.” The Beaty’s Butte herd was recently displaced by cattle to accommodate a rancher who has a contract to supply grass-fed beef to an upscale grocery chain.

    Resource v. Use: Wild horses and burros are a resource of the public lands — like grass, water, minerals, and other wildlife-species. Commercial livestock-grazing, in contrast, is a use of the public lands. Cattle-grazing extracts resources (in this case grass, water) for private profit. Drilling, fracking, and mining are also uses — they extract oil, gas, and various minerals (gold, copper, uranium, etc.) from the public lands for private gain. As Clarke and Leigh pointed out, the difference between a resource and a use is an important distinction. Livestock-grazing (a use) impacts wild horses and burros (a resource).

    PEER Reveal: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports that BLM’s method of assessing range-conditions is skewed to minimize impacts from domestic livestock and to magnify those from wild horses and burros. BLM thus favors “use” and blames “resource.”

    Sage-Grouse: Per Western Watersheds Project, Sage-Grouse have the following habitat-needs — “seven inches grass height for hiding, sufficient residual vegetation for food, and protection from trampling by sheep and cows.” WWP’s executive director states plainly: “We find no evidence that today’s wild horse numbers are causing problems for land health or for native wildlife.”

    Predators: Mustangs do have predators — mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes — but they are persecuted mercilessly. Wildlife Services exterminates what trophy-hunters don’t shoot. The right way to right-size the wild-horse population is Nature’s way — predators. To achieve a “thriving natural ecological balance,” the herd-areas should be safe-havens for predators. Such an approach would help the wild horses by favoring survival-of-the-fittest and the best genetic adaptations. Predators are the “no-cost” option.

    Restore Herd Areas: BLM would have us believe that it “takes care” of the wild horses’ habitat when it “takes away” habitat from them. A lot of habitat. More than 22 million acres of habitat closed by BLM for political expediency. That land should be reopened and the equine captives freed there. Cost: $0.

    PZP: Is a registered pesticide. Instead of preventing disease, PZP causes disease — auto-immune disease. Behaving like a perverted vaccine, PZP tricks the immune system into producing antibodies that cause ovarian dystrophy, autoimmune oophoritis, ovarian cysts, and premature ovarian failure. PZP quickly sterilizes mares that have a strong immune system but has no effect on those suffering from weak immunity. Thus, PZP both “works” and “doesn’t work” but, in the long run, selects for low immune function, which weakens a herd’s resistance to infection. If a mare is pregnant or nursing when darted, PZP antibodies are transferred to her offspring via the placenta and milk. Stillbirths are also associated with the pesticide’s use, meaning that some of its apparent contraceptive effects are actually feticidal.

    Research: To develop a Final Solution to a concocted crisis, BLM is handing out $11 million for sterilization-studies. The grant money is surely intended to buy loyalty and silence potential criticism from recipients. Plus, BLM gets to cloak itself in respectability by affiliating with prestigious institutions such as universities. The research is a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars. It is unethical to look for ways to sterilize underpopulated herds, particularly those with rare genetics.

    Adoptions: BLM spreads the Lie that the number of adoptions has “diminished.” Truth be told, the decline is due to the definition. Previously, BLM counted sales-for-slaughter as “adoptions.” Those false adoptions no longer appear in the statistics. Nowadays, only true adoptions — forever-family placements — are counted, explaining why adoptions only seem to have declined. However, wild horses are not homeless horses. They have a home — where they belong — on the range.

    BLM Sold Wild Horses to Kill-Buyers: The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General issued a scathing report on one such recent scandal, in which BLM staffers sold over 1,700 protected mustangs by the truckload to a kill-buyer, who just happened to be a friend of former DOI Secretary Salazar. Those wild horses were slaughtered in Mexican abattoirs. However, the kill-buyer was not prosecuted despite having signed the contract promising the wild horses would go to “good homes.” The staffers that handled the sale continue to be employed by BLM.

    CAWP Condones Cruelty: The public needs to know just how low BLM’s “humane standards” are. BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) condones brutal actions that any prudent person would deem abusive. For example, hitting, kicking, striking, or beating a wild horse is prohibited only if done “in an abusive manner.” The guidelines do not define how much and how severe the hitting, kicking, striking, or beating would need to be to rise to the level of “abusive.” Regardless, there are no penalties identified in the CAWP for hitting, kicking, striking, or beating a wild horse “in an abusive manner.”

    References:

    44 USC 3516. Information Quality Act. Rules and Regulations. Policy and Procedural Guidelines. Retrieved from http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title44-section3516&num=0&edition=prelim

    Bradshaw, Corey J.A. (2012, November 21) Essential Predators. ConservationBytes.com. Retrieved from http://conservationbytes.com/2012/11/21/essential-predators/#more-8024

    Clarke, B and Leigh, L. (2016, September 21) Wild Horse Advocates Respond to BLM Advisory Board’s Recommendations. Horse Network. Retrieved from http://horsenetwork.com/2016/09/wild-horse-advocates-respond-blm-advisory-boards-death-sentence/

    Gregg, Kathleen, LeBlanc, Lisa, and Johnston, Jesica. (2014) Wild Horse Population Growth. Retrieved from http://protectmustangs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/PM-Population-Growth-4.25.14-FINAL.pdf

    Maughan, Ralph. (2015, June 2) “Interior puts out its big plan to save sage grouse.” The Wildlife News. Retrieved from http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2015/06/02/interior-puts-out-its-big-plan-to-save-sage-grouse/

    Molvar, Erik. (2016, December 10) “Molvar: A solution for Red Desert wild horses.” Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved from
    http://trib.com/opinion/columns/molvar-a-solution-for-red-desert-wild-horses/article_5763d6fe-7cb1-51e8-8921-45066979d133.html#comments

    PEER — Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. (2014, September 16) BLM Weighs Wild Horse Impact Much More Heavily Than Cattle. Retrieved from http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/blm-weighs-wild-horse-impact-much-more-heavily-than-cattle.html

    U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Wild Horse and Burro Program. Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program for Wild Horse and Burro Gathers. Standards. Retrieved from https://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Information_Resources_Management/policy/im_attachments/2015.Par.70807.File.dat/IM2015-151_att1.pdf

    U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Wild Horse and Burro Program Data. Retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram/herd_management/Data.html

    U.S. Department of the Interior. Data Quality Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/national/national_page.Par.7549.File.dat/guidelines.pdf

    U.S. Department of the Interior. Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities Policy. Code of Conduct. Retrieved from https://www.doi.gov/scientificintegrity

    U.S. Department of the Interior. Office of the Inspector General. (2015, October 23) Investigative Report of Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Buyer. Retrieved from https://www.doioig.gov/sites/doioig.gov/files/WildHorseBuyer_Public.pdf

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