Wild Horse advocates gathered at the State Capitol on Monday to condemn Rep. Chris Stewart’s legislative proposal to increase roundups and sterilizations of wild horse herds across the West.
Kristen Bullock, a member of Stop Wild Horse Roundups Coalition, organized the rally attended by about 25 people and featured a speech about nature and spirituality from wildlife ecologist Craig Downer.
Stewart’s legislation, called “The Path Forward for Management of BLM’s Wild Horses & Burros,” asserts that animals are overpopulating the West, causing some herds to overgraze and starve. The proposal identifies four actions to manage wild horses on public lands, including sterilizations, relocation of horses to pasture facilities and promotion of wild horse adoption.
“Modeling shows the need for a large-scale fertility control program, which ensures that 90% of the horses and burros remaining on federal public lands are treated with fertility control,” the proposal states.
Downer, author of The Wild Horse Conspiracy, said the proposed methods of managing wild horse populations are inhumane and cause unnecessary suffering. “Horses don’t speak English but they show us in many ways how miserable they are,” he said. “It is torture for these poor animals.”
Bullock and other wild horse advocates claim that Stewart’s proposal is based on faulty evidence and will endanger the well-being of wild horses on public lands. She argues the Bureau of Land Management’s method of collecting data on livestock and wildlife populations on public land lacks scientific backing.
According to Bullock, Stewart’s example of a 2015 incident where 200 wild horses in Nevada were reported to be starving to death was an isolated incident and not a result of overpopulation.
“The horses and burros are not starving, nor will they ever be if the BLM would do their true job instead of their position as a glorified storefront for grazing permits,” Bullock told the crowd. “The Government Accountability Office has provided reports stating that there is substantial proof that every time a roundup of wild horses occurs, more grazing rights are granted.”
Under the current wild horse management paradigm, the BLM establishes Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) for each Herd Management Area (HMA)—in other words, guidelines for population management. Stewart’s proposal argues that horse roundups are necessary because AMLs often exceed the carrying capacity of HMA’s.
However, a 2016 ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act does not define ALMs and that the removal of excess horses from HMAs are not required.
Bullock also said that plans to decrease wild horse and burro populations are driven by special interest groups that profit from commercial use of public land.
“While a federally protected species exists in a certain area, it is against the law to use that land in ways that would lead to profit such as drilling for oil and coal mining,” Bullock noted. “If the horses and burros are there, the rich can’t get richer.”
Rep. Stewart did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.