The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is busy clearing federally designated wild horse territory of wild horses on public lands — and BLM officials are telling some big lies to get the job done.
At roughly 27 million acres, wild horse herd management areas (HMAs) constitute just 4% of the 750 million acres making up “the West” in the lower 48 states. There are 22 million cattle and sheep across that vast western expanse. That’s 265 times the number of wild horses (presently estimated at 86,000) in the 177 HMAs that were established principally for their use by the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
But the livestock industry considers that 27 million acres with 86,000 wild horses on it (one wild horse per 314 acres) to be overpopulated, or, as the BLM puts it, “above AML.” This is an acronym for “appropriate management level” but “agribusiness management level” is more accurate. Science-based? No. The AML is a quota whose purpose is to maintain commercial cattle and sheep stocking rates inside wild horse territory.
The BLM allocates 84% of forage in wild horse HMAs, not to horses, but to ranchers holding cheap leases to graze their cattle and sheep. (This is the equivalent of selling low-cost vouchers allowing holders to abscond with 84% of the food and benefits established under the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program, then blaming women and infants for eating more than their fair share).
Never mind that another 128 million acres of public lands have also been leased by the BLM to livestock producers (with zero wild horses on them). And the US Forest Service leases out another 102 million for livestock grazing.
BLM rangeland health reports show many of these grazing allotments are in miserable shape, some grazed down to bare dirt, their water sources depleted and wildlife endangered. But the BLM doesn’t police the livestock industry in the wild horse HMAs or anywhere. There are no AMLs for livestock on public lands and no helicopter roundups.
Read almost any news report about wild horse roundups, however, and you’ll find no mention of the livestock grazing leases behind them and their exorbitant costs to US taxpayers.
Instead, you’ll read that extreme drought is the reason the BLM rounded up 80% of the wild horses in Colorado’s Sand Wash HMA — the biggest roundup in the state’s history. The BLM argued that horses there, and in every other HMA where they are conducting accelerated roundups, are “above AML”; facing “widespread thirst and mortality”; “water and food stretched to their limits”; causing “serious damage to the landscape” and endangering “other animals and themselves.”
But that’s a lie. The Sand Wash HMA had a month of monsoon-like rains leading up to roundup, which was delayed because of rain. When it finally began, on September 1, it was still raining. Photographs showed fat horses standing amid ample forage next to full watering holes two weeks earlier. Other photos showed huge sheep herds and fenced-off sheep-only grazing areas that were decimated.
When this was pointed out, the BLM changed its narrative. The wild horses needed to be saved from possibly not having enough to eat in the months ahead.
The BLM’s story is the same in every wild horse round up, in every HMA: It’s all a false-flag event.
Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse (Chair of the US House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands), the Colorado Sierra Club, and other environmental groups, implored the BLM to remove livestock from Sand Wash and postpone the roundups until livestock grazing impacts could be studied. Governor Jared Polis wrote Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and BLM to postpone the roundups after constituents phoned in, appalled at what they were witnessing in news coverage. They were ignored.
Here’s a fact that can’t be: Wild horses aren’t the only ones being chased off public lands by commercial interests. The public, too, is being corralled by the BLM’s big lie.
Those wild horses are our horses; that land is their land; moreover, it is ours. Get the livestock off it and let the horses stay. There’s enough water and forage for them to do that, and it costs taxpayers nothing.