Educate yourself: BLM “Myths and Facts”

At Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Roundup operations the BLM hands out an “information packet” to the press and public. The packets used to include specific information about the operation at hand and the adoption program. BLM has now added things like printouts of their “Myths and Facts” page from the website. That page does not address the “myths” in their entirety and actually creates a few of their own.

Our website:

Below is the content of BLM’s page and our response to each.

A printable version can be downloaded for use at events as handouts by clicking the image to the left.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro program

Response to website publication by BLM:

Myths and Facts

Myths and facts pertaining to Wild Horses and Burros, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on public land in the United States.

Copyright 2011 Laura Leigh all rights reserved

Wild Horses on the Antelope Complex under Ely/Elko districts management before the roundup of 2010/2011   (photo Laura Leigh, all rights reserved)

This document follows the order issues are presented on BLM’s webpage and in no way reflects our interpretation of importance.

Myth #1:  The BLM is selling or sending wild horses to slaughter.

BLM “Fact:”  This charge is absolutely false.  The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and the BLM does not and has not sold or sent horses or burros to slaughter.  Consequently, as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report issued in October 2008, the BLM is not in compliance with a December 2004 amendment (the so-called Burns Amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) that directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros “without limitation” to any willing buyer.

Copyright 2012 Laura Leigh all rights reserved

                                               BLM “off limits to the public facility” Broken Arrow, Indian Lakes Road, Fallon Nevada.

Our Response

BLM has sold horses into the hands of kill-buyers and has not followed up on the whereabouts of the horses and has ignored public concern.

As scrutiny and criticism of the agency increased after horrific images of conduct by roundup contractors escalated last year Gus Warr, the Utah state lead of the program, intercepted two truckloads of slaughter bound wild horses.

Two men from Utah, Robert Wilford Capson and Dennis Kay Kunz, were indicted by a federal grand jury following an investigation by BLM. The men face charges of wire fraud and making false statements after bureau agents impounded 64 slaughter bound horses on a one way trip to a Mexican abattoir.

In an interview with KSL TV in Salt Lake one of the accused men, Dennis Kunz said, “The BLM is only trying to make him look bad, and the entire operation was a set-up to make the BLM look good for future funding for the Wild Horse Program.”

Wilford Capson plead out to the charges and the conclusion for Dennis Kunz is yet to come.

This year a private investigation by journalist Dave Philipps, assisted by Wild Horse Education, revealed more startling evidence that BLM may be knowingly selling to kill-buyers. The piece was published in ProPublica and an interview with Dave Philipps about the investigation on DemocracyNow can be viewed here:

In the current sale to a known kill buyer, Tom Davis of Colorado, more than 1700 wild horses were sold and their whereabouts currently unknown. But Davis is a longtime advocate of horse slaughter. By his own account, he has ducked Colorado law to move animals across state lines and will not say where they end up. He continues to buy wild horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, which are not protected by the same laws. And since 2010, he has been seeking investors for a slaughterhouse of his own. Yet BLM continued to sell this man wild horses as it reassured the public it was doing “all it could” to ensure horses sold did not go to slaughter.

BLM has now assured the public that the IG’s office is involved in an active investigation on this matter yet no specifics have been given.

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Wild horse loaded onto semi-truck

Please recognize that the number represented, in the specifically listed instances above, do not represent all of the purchases of horses for “sale.” BLM currently sells horses it considers un-adoptable, (the parameters of that status such as age and condition are not clearly defined), for $10.00 each by the truckload. In the above mentioned instance of Tom Davis, who is an acquaintance of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the shipping costs were paid by the tax payer as well. BLM does not do any compliance checks that are available to the public on horses “sold.”

To compound this issue Long-term holding facilities that “sell” wild horses  by the truckload are off limits to “adoptions” by private individuals. BLM set up these facilities as “private” without allowing public input. No comment period was ever given to the American public as to how their money would be spent housing wild horses and burros. No private citizen can enter a facility to purchase a single animal. Requests to purchase animals that have been sent to long-term by the public have met with a response that it is “too difficult” to track the whereabouts and sell a horse to an individual and have been refused.

BLM claims in it’s published statement on sale authority to do everything in their power to offer the animal for sale and to find them a “good home.” When facilities are off limits, no inventory is published and requests are refused to adopt single animals.

Links of Interest:

BLM page on sale authority:

Interview with journalist Dave Philipps on his investigation:

Injury 2010 Silver King in crowded alley, horses held this way for five hours (Leigh)

Myth #2:  Horses are held in crowded “holding pens.”

BLM “Fact:”  This assertion is false.  The BLM’s short-term holding corrals provide ample space to horses, along with clean feed and water, while long-term holding pastures – large ranches located mainly in Kansas and Oklahoma – permit the horses to roam freely on 292,000 acres of grassland.

Our Response:

It is our belief that this “myth” was added to address the statement made by a well-known individual seeking an eco-sanctuary that BLM keeps horses “butt-to-butt.” This statement has been made in several news reports.

BLM traps horses on the range and utilizes a “temporary” holding corral near the trap sites to hold horses prior to shipping to a short-term holding facility.

The trap and temporary facility can be very crowded.

copyright 2010 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

                                   Fighting band stallions held in crowded mixed-sex pens for over 5 hours prior to sorting at Silver King, 2010

When animals are shipped to short-term facilities for branding and sorting the facilities do not house animals in the same fashion. However those facilities resemble “feedlots.” A feedlot is a facility where domestic livestock are housed prior to shipment to slaughter. Those facilities “finish,” or “fatten,” animals for human consumption.

copyright 2011 laura leigh

Broken Arrow (indian Lakes) facility off limits to public viewing, 2011

In short-term holding all resemblance to life in the wild is removed. Mares and stallions are separated. Stallions are gelded. Youngsters are weaned at 3-5 months of age, much earlier than would occur naturally. Horses and burros from different ranges and states are mixed.

Short-term holding is also a misnomer. “Short-term” can literally mean years.

Animals are then shipped to what BLM refers to as “long-term holding pastures.” These facilities are off-limits to public view and adoption.

Myth #3:  Since 1971, the BLM has illegally or improperly taken away more than 20 million acres set aside for wild horses and burros (from 53.8 million acres to 31.6 million acres).

BLM “Fact:”  This claim is false.  No specific amount of acreage was “set aside” for the exclusive use of wild horses and burros under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.  The Act directed the BLM to determine the areas where horses and burros were found roaming and to manage them “in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.”  The law also stipulated in Section 1339 that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the [Interior] Secretary to relocate wild free-roaming horses or burros to areas of the public lands where they do not presently exist.” Of the 22.2 million acres no longer managed for wild horse and burro use: 6.7 million acres were never under BLM management.                                                                   Of the 15.5 million other acres of land under BLM management:

48.6 percent (7,522,100 acres) were intermingled (“checkerboard”) land ownerships or areas where water was not owned or controlled by the BLM, which made management infeasible;

13.5 percent (2,091,709 acres) were lands transferred out of the BLM’s ownership to other agencies, both Federal and state through legislation or exchange;

10.6 percent (1,645,758 acres) were lands where there were substantial conflicts with other resource values (such as the need to protect habitat for desert tortoise);

9.7 percent (1,512,179 acres) were lands removed from wild horse and burro use through court decisions; urban expansion; highway fencing (causing habitat fragmentation); and land withdrawals;

9.6 percent (1,485,068 acres) were lands where no BLM animals were present at the time of the passage of the 1971 Act or places where all animals were claimed as private property.  These lands in future land-use plans will be subtracted from the BLM totals as they should never have been designated as lands where herds were found roaming; and

8.0 percent (1,240,894 acres) were lands where a critical habitat component (such as winter range) was missing, making the land unsuitable for wild horse and burro use, or areas that had too few animals to allow for effective management.

(The percentages above were current as of July 25, 2011.)


copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Wild horses on the Antelope Complex HMA in an allotment currently owned by Hank Vogler, vocal former “Mustanger” active in attempts to pass a Nevada state bill denying wild horses access to water.

Our Response:

The Act directed the BLM to determine the areas where horses and burros were found roaming and to manage them “in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.”  The law also stipulated in Section 1339 that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the [Interior] Secretary to relocate wild free-roaming horses or burros to areas of the public lands where they do not presently exist.”

The BLM was given a transitional period from 1971-1974 where inventory and boundary lines were to  be assessed.

During this time the “public” was given opportunity to claim “private property” from the ranges. There have been interviews given where individuals claim personal knowledge of horses being moved or shot prior to assessments of the land “where presently found” as a tool to keep horses from being “found” on certain allotments. Range boundary lines were drawn that did not follow any scientific method. Boundaries were drawn where animals stood at the time of the assessment without any comprehension of seasonal movement in a population labeled as “free-roaming.” Note: All wildlife species on public land have seasonal habitat identified, wild horses and burros do not.

The result of such arbitrary boundaries has been a management nightmare. Wild horses and burros exist in areas that do not have seasonal waters, (with an area currently managed that has no real water source at any time of year). This creates a recurrent pattern in most areas where at one time or another horses cross the imaginary line and are “off-HMA” (Herd Management Area) occupying land “illegally.”

Instead of rectifying the errors the agency simply removed those areas as wild horse habitat.

Horses being removed in sub-zero temperatures, Laura Leigh

Eagle Complex roundup of 2011 where temperatures dipped well below zero during days of operations.

Myth #4:  The BLM is managing wild horse herds to extinction. 

BLM “Fact:” This charge is patently false.  The current on-the-range population of wild horses and burros (approximately 37,300) is greater than the number found roaming in 1971 (about 25,300).  The BLM is seeking to achieve the appropriate management level of 26,500 wild horses and burros on Western public rangelands, or nearly 11,000 fewer than the current West-wide population.  The BLM also actively monitors the genetics of each herd by sending genetic samples to Dr. Gus Cothran at Texas A&M University.  Dr. Cothran furnishes the BLM a report on every sample with recommendations for specific herds.

Our Response:

In 1971 there were 303 areas identified as “Herd Areas” containing wild horses and burros. Currently there are 179 Herd Management Areas (HMA) considered “managed” by the BLM. If you remove the areas that literally have no population, or populations of less than 10 animals, BLM manages 165 areas.

Noted in BLM’s “fact” response is Dr. Gus Cothran as an “expert” used to determine genetic health of wild herds. Dr. Cothran has been repeatedly cited as saying that a genetically viable population must consist of 100-130 adults.

Of the 165 herds that actually contain a managed population 105 exist with what BLM calls an “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of less than 100 animals. Only 14 HMA’s managed by BLM have an AML over 200 animals.

BLM will assert that animals can be introduced into a population if genetics get “too low.” This statement is inappropriate for two reasons. 1. It fails to recognize the unique genetic component of each herd directly related to the land where presently found as “living symbols” of the pioneer spirit. Each herd was manipulated to serve the history of the land. 2. Genetics that teeter on bankruptcy can not be fixed by the simple introduction of a “few stallions.” If inbreeding occurs then traits stabilize and anomalies appear. Even with the introduction of new material the anomaly continues in the population.

Genetic instability is the first step toward extinction.

In 1971 the Act was passed because wild horses and burros were “fast disappearing” from the American landscape. Wild horses and burros were disappearing from a landscape that Congressional mandate declared wild horses and burros an integral part of. To cite the number of horses in 1971 as somehow “appropriate” seems an intentional distortion of the statement “where presently found.” To use the numbers found in 1971 would sustain a population at a crisis point, the exact point that created impetus to pass an Act of Congress in the first place. Using population numbers from that time period as a representative of a healthy population defies all logic.

                      Wild horses being driven off the range during a drought emergency declared by BLM during the height of foaling season in June  2012 at Jackson Mountain. These horses in the photograph are being driven through privately owned livestock grazing unrestricted on the public range.

Myth #5:  The BLM removes wild horses to make room for more cattle grazing on public rangelands.

BLM “Fact:”  This claim is totally false.  The removal of wild horses and burros from public rangelands is carried out to ensure rangeland health, in accordance with land-use plans that are developed in an open, public process.  These land-use plans are the means by which the BLM carries out its core mission, which is to manage the land for multiple uses while protecting the land’s resources. Livestock grazing on BLM-managed land has declined by more than 30 percent since 1971 (when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act)  from 12.1 million Animal Unit Months (AUMs or forage units) to 8.3 million AUMs in 2011.

Our Response:

The statement that this “myth” addresses is not that BLM removes horses to make room for just more livestock, but that BLM caters to private profit interests on public land. “The horses are the first to go,” is a common statement by the wild horse advocate community.

As public land policy is driven by “Multiple Use,” a term that comes from the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), the profit driven interests lobby Congress and engage in land use planning at district levels. Private profit interests are not limited to livestock. Private profiteers on public land include livestock, oil and gas, gold and silver mining, geothermal projects etc. Even hunting (or wildlife) interests are profit driven through tag sales and permits.

Public land livestock permits are attached to the private land. The numbers of animals associated with those permits is considered a “right” by those that own the land. Regardless of other uses or range conditions most livestock permitees consider the privilege of public land grazing, at a rate less than 5% of what it would cost to purchase feed, an entitlement. Any restriction on domestic cattle or sheep is seen as an infringement on “their rights.” Most of the permits have Animal Unit Months (AUM’s) that were set based on historical use, not any science to determine impact to the land.

More than 66% of public land is open to livestock grazing. In comparison only about 10% of BLM land is currently legal for use by wild horses and burros. Within the HMA’s, the only land the wild horses can occupy, available forage can be allotted to 80% for private livestock with the rest being given (usually at a 70-30 split) to wildlife and wild horses. Wild horses and burros most often are left with less than 10% of available forage on 10% of public land.

Often the public witnesses wild horses being removed from public land and taken to an “AML” that is dangerously low and in no way represents a genetically healthy population. As the wild horses are being removed cattle graze in numbers that far exceed wild horse populations.

Wild horses and burros make no money for anyone wild on the range. Once removed from public land wild horses create income through the current warehouse system of holding facilities.

copyright 2012 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Privately owned domestic cattle observe wild horses being loaded onto semi-trucks after being rounded up at Stone Cabin 2012

Antelope Complex roundup (copyright Laura Leigh 2011, all rights reserved)

Helicopter Roundup Antelope Complex 2011. Horses were chased at high speed across a valley floor on Superbowl Sunday back and forth repeatedly. Repeatedly the pilot came in close proximity and chased a single horse for nearly 15 minutes. 

Myth #6:  The BLM lacks the legal authority to gather animals from overpopulated herds or to use helicopters in doing so.

BLM “Fact:”  This assertion is false.  Section 1333 of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandates that once the Interior Secretary “determines…on the basis of all information currently available to him, that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to remove excess animals, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.”  Section 1338 of the law authorizes the BLM’s use of helicopters and motorized vehicles in its management of wild horses and burros.

Our Response:

The BLM answers this so called “myth” with the justification for removals “that once the Interior Secretary “determines…on the basis of all information currently available to him, that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to remove excess animals, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.”

This is an odd response to this “myth.” BLM simply should say that in 1959 a law was passed that prohibited aircraft and motorized vehicles on a state level in Nevada. That law was rendered “moot” in 1974 when the Act was amended to include the use of helicopters on Federal land.

Using the Secretaries authority actually opens this up to a discussion on the appropriate and lawful use of the authority given the secretary. If you take into account that “excess” is often asserted and not proven, and that excess is most often based on an AML that does not represent a genetically healthy population, you change the conversation to one that can seriously question the validity of any assertion that discretion is not carried out according to the law.

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Lathered animals reach the trap in sub-freezing temperatures at the Antelope Complex roundup in 2011. Many animals died of respiratory illness in holding facilities in the winter of 2010/2011.

Myth #7:  Gathers of wild horses by helicopter are inhumane.

BLM “Fact:”  This claim is false.  The BLM’s helicopter-assisted gathers are conducted humanely, as affirmed by three recent independent reports (see below), and have proven to be more humane, effective, and efficient than other types of gather methods when large numbers of animals need to be removed over wide areas or rugged terrain.  Helicopters start the horses moving in the right direction and then back off sometimes one-quarter to one-half mile from the animals to let them travel at their own pace; horses are moved at a more rapid pace when they need to be turned or as they reach the entrance to the capture site.  Helicopter pilots are better able to keep mares and foals together than horseback riders; pilots can also more effectively move the animals around such barriers as deep ravines, fences, or roads.

The mortality rate during wild horse and burro gathers is typically about one percent or less.  In Fiscal Year 2011, the number of deaths occurring during gathers was 0.91 percent (99 horses died out of the 10,892 horses and burros gathered) — that is, less than one percent of the total number captured.  About one-quarter of one percent of the animals gathered (0.22 percent or 24 of the 10,892 gathered in 2011) died or were euthanized because of injuries or accidents that occurred during capture.  Most of the gathered animals that need to be euthanized, however, are put down as an act of mercy because of preexisting conditions, such as limb deformities or old injuries that happened on the range.  Some deaths also occur soon after horses are brought into captivity, usually associated with older horses or those that are very thin or in poor condition when gathered.  Some of these already weakened horses, many of which would likely die on the range if not gathered, are examined by veterinarians and BLM staff and are euthanized if they are unlikely to improve or do not respond to treatment.  Others adapt to captivity and do well after they get adequate feed and water and make their initial adjustment to domestic life.

Two reports issued in the fall of 2010 (one by four independent, credentialed equine professionals and one by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General), plus another report released in 2011 by the American Association of Equine (Veterinary) Practitioners, found — without any ideological or political bias — that the BLM’s gathers of wild horses are conducted in a humane manner.  The Inspector General determined that the BLM’s gathers are “justified” and reported that the agency “is doing its best to perform a very difficult job.”

Our Response:

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Constant overcrowding of alleys cause stress and injury, Barren Valley 2011

BLM’s assessment of their own conduct has proven inadequate. The independent observers noted above do have affiliations that are not unbiased. The ideologies of those chosen by BLM to report on BLM conduct, are pro-slaughter and have connections with domestic livestock. All other observers are not allowed the access to gain respiration rates or close observation of handling practices.

BLM’s response fails to recognize in any way the two Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO’s) and Injunctions to conduct against the agencies condoned conduct won in Federal Court. BLM fails to recognize that the case is still active and the validity of the issue has been recognized by the Federal court.

BLM’s response fails to recognize the findings of its own “Triple B review team” that was assembled after a TRO was won against a pilot actually coming in contact with an apparently exhausted animal. In part “…the review team concluded that there were incidents where horses were not handled appropriately, and animal welfare experts cited several examples where handling techniques were inappropriate.”

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

New foal run in extreme temperatures during Triple B where the first two fatalities of the operation were foals.

Such “incidents” referenced in the Triple B document include: “These incidents seemed in part due to a combination of poorly designed loading set up at the trap site, as well as unprofessional conduct by handlers at the trap site. Horses were observed being struck in the face, and often confused due to aggressive loading procedures and excessive pressure by multiple handlers. Several videos reveal that a few horses were repeatedly shocked with an electrical animal prod, sometimes in the face, and in one case, the use of this electrical prod led to a horse becoming stuck in a panel at the loading site. Some videos reveal horses being struck in more than one instance with the trailer gate to induce loading, and in one instance a horse appears to have been kicked in the head by a Sun J employee. In one video it appears that a horse was dragged into a trailer by a rope around its neck.”

The Triple B report then states: “Video footage provided by some public observers allegedly shows a helicopter bumping a horse. Sun J stated that the helicopter did not strike any horses during the gather, and BLM COTR did not observe a horse being struck. The horse shown in the video also did not appear to have been injured by the incident that was recorded. However, whether or not the helicopter pilot used the helicopter to bump a horse during gather operations is incidental as the consensus – after viewing some of the videos – was that the helicopter operated too close to the horses at least twice involving two different horses. Helicopters should not ever make contact with wild horses. Animal welfare experts agreed that the helicopter operations likely did not injure the horses involved.”

It is extremely disturbing that the panel fails to recognize that the Federal Court Judge found the justifications for this conduct unacceptable and not credible. The agency continues to make assertions that are blatantly false as it references it’s handling practices.

Helicopter at high speed, in close proximity, to wild horses at Antelope on October 5, 2012

BLM continues to allow: hotshot use on injured and pregnant animals, runs in extreme temperatures (below freezing and above 90 degrees), no distance restrictions, close proximity of helicopters, multiple runs at the trap in excess of three, single animals to be run repeatedly. These are among many other practices the public finds unacceptable.

BLM is fond of using a statistic of less than 1% of animals die as a result of a “gather.” That statistic only reflects animals that literally drop dead at the trap.

The statistic is manipulated further by the use of “pre-existing conditions.” If a twelve year old stud has a limb anomaly, yet can fight off other stallions and keep his mares and offspring, is otherwise in great body condition, survived a helicopter stampede, yet BLM determines he has a “pre-existing” fatal condition and kills him, his death is not roundup related. If BLM runs a week old foal in the desert heat in July, and the foal presents with ligament or tendon issues, BLM euthanizes the foal and does not add that to any roundup related death statistic (foals naturally present with a broad range of normal in leg development). Spontaneous late term abortions, respiratory illness after being stampeded to a lather in sub-zero temperatures, broken necks or limbs during transport and at holding all do not count in BLM’s statistic. When you factor in the other deaths the statistic can be as high as 14-16%, as the case of Calico in 2009/2010.

To date no humane handling policy and protocol for violations have been adopted by the agency as the case in Federal court on these issues moves forward.

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Foal born to a mare in good condition, just days after stampede, dies in holding hours after birth 2011

Myth #8:  If left alone, wild horses will limit their own population.

BLM “Fact:”  There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that wild horses will automatically limit their own population.  There were an estimated 25,300 wild horses and burros in 1971, and those numbers rose to a peak of more than 60,000 before the BLM was authorized and able to effectively use helicopters for gathers.  If left unchecked, Mother Nature would regulate the wild horse and burro population through the classic boom-and-bust cycle, where the population increases dramatically, food becomes scarce, and the population crashes through starvation.

Our Response:

This “myth” is actually added to address an interesting concept called “Reserve Design” that has been utilized in wild habitat “preserve” plans since the 1970’s. The concept creates a “core” zone that attempts to manage a natural environment of predator/prey ratio. The core is then encompassed by a zone that allows agriculture and other uses to create a “buffer” between the minimally managed areas and human habitat. Within the core zone a natural environment is allowed to exist that has ebbs and flows of predator increase/decrease and population “stabilization.” These “plans” were most often seen in places like Africa yet have been used in the US in some areas for example on forest bear habitat.

However the response to this concept as a “myth” actually raises some interesting points.

In 1971, when wild horses and burros were declared “fast disappearing” by Congress and the Act was unanimously passed in both houses, BLM cites the population at an estimated 25,300 animals. Keep in mind that this is the population noted as so fragile it required an Act of Congress to protect. Yet also keep in mind this population was estimated without a ground count. BLM cites the population as 60,000 animals at the beginning of the onset of the era of the helicopter roundup in 1974, after an actual ground count was completed.

At no time has the fulcrum of “fast disappearing” and “excess” been defined. BLM, to this date, utilizes the number that defined a fragile population as an “appropriate” number of animals that represent a “healthy” population. This again defies all sense of logic and is based on no science to back it up. To the contrary current information available supports that the notion that the “appropriate” management level is anything but appropriate.

The majority of those advocating for change in the wild horse and burro program recognize that management of the population is a necessity. Public recognition of the laws surrounding multiple uses, (extraction, livestock, hunting) is not overlooked. However what the public has expectation of is that the small areas set aside for wild horse and burro populations (10% of BLM public land) will be managed in a manner that identifies the resource requirements of a genetically stable population capable of reproducing itself (stated by law) is set aside for that protected use prior to allowing resource division among other uses. The public also has expectation that the identification of such resource, in those small areas legally identified for wild horse and burro populations, will be based on the best available science for the welfare of the protected species.

Within the conversation of management practices the majority of the public advocating for change recognizes that management must occur that includes birth control and selective removal of animals appropriate for adoption.

Yet keep in mind that since the inception of the Act populations have only been managed as a “feral resource” that requires “harvesting” in order to produce a profit of jobs and income for holding facilities. Those practices are clearly reflected in the current holding crisis. At no time has the requirement of “healthy herds” actually ever been identified in manners that identify a genetically sound species that allows a natural seasonal migration as we manage other wildlife species such as Elk and Pronghorn.

BLM will continually make the assertion that advocates do not “understand” and want wild horses to overpopulate and die as an apparent dismissal tactic to any conversation that validly questions the agencies faulty methodology.

copyright 2011 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Mare with head wound as a result of overcrowding during processing, Barren Valley 2011

copyright 2012 Laura Leigh, all rights reserved

Mare with her nose grabbed by the door during processing for the second time (not necessary in any way) during Antelope, 2011

Myth #9:  The BLM overestimates the number of wild horses and burros on the range.

BLM “Fact:”  This assertion is false. Currently, most BLM field offices in the West use a “direct count” method that involves the counting of each wild horse and burro actually seen during aerial surveys. This method, the Government Accountability Office concluded in an October 2008 report, results in an undercounting of herd populations.  A new BLM directive, known as an Instruction Memorandum, seeks to correct this undercount by using two principal methods of survey that account for a range of error. The two survey methods, which will be implemented in a multi-step process, are known as “simultaneous double-count” with sightability bias correction and “mark-resight” using photographs.  The new directive, prompted by the GAO report, can be accessed at this link.

Our Response:

If BLM has been guilty of an “undercount” and is using methodology to correct an error in an equation that determines an appropriate population size then the change must apply to both sides of an equation. We all learned simple algebra in school. If the BLM undercounted the amount that is “excess,” then they undercounted the amount that is “appropriate.

This response again fails to admit that the definition of resource required for a healthy population of wild horses has never been defined. No scientific data has been used to rectify any mistakes on boundary lines, population size, genetic viability and so on. BLM continues to use the same number as “appropriate” that represented a “fast disappearing” population.

As a note to this issue seasonal guidelines and concurrent counts must be mandated to ensure accurate count. If one part of a range is counted in November and the rest in December or January the same animals can be counted multiple times. Also “foal” counts repeatedly show inflated birth rates when compared to independent counts. Most ranges reflect a 12-16% birth rate by outside observers and BLM insists on an average 20% rate. This can be explained if older foals are counted twice. This theory has been tested by averaging the number of foals that come in at any given roundup in comparison to younger foals from the year prior. Those calculations consistently give estimated birth rates closer to those utilized by BLM in determining “excess.”

Myth #10:  The Government Accountability Office, in a report issued in October 2008, found that the BLM has been mismanaging the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

BLM “Fact:”  This claim is completely false.  The GAO made no such finding.  The full report can be accessed here:

Our Response:

GAO asked BLM for additional reports and information that were not supplied in a timely manner. It is interesting that this is the only report BLM cites and fails to even recognize their own findings on inappropriate conduct in the Triple B Team Review and continuing TRO’s and Injunctions to such conduct.

It is interesting that BLM fails to note that their own assessment document entitled “Assessment, Inventory and Management,” also created in 2008, gave them a self-assessed failing grade on data collection and interpretation.

Hoof condition at Broken arrow BLM holding facility 2012

Myth #11:  Wild horses are native to the United States.

BLM “Fact:”  This claim is false.  The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today’s American wild horses should not be considered “native.”  American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were released or escaped captivity in modern times.  Over this 500-year period, these horses (and burros) have adapted successfully to the Western range.  Regardless of the debate over whether these animals are native or non-native, the BLM manages horses and burros on public lands according to the provisions of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which describes the animals as “wild” rather than feral.

Our Response:

It is very hard not to be “flip” in this response by saying “interesting logic.” The first statement actually does not support the negation of the term “native.” It modifies the term to “reintroduced native.” This is not an “either, or” situation.

It is believed that 1.7 million years ago E. cabbalus originated on the North American continent. Examination of DNA from the “Yukon horse,” E. lambei, actually reveals a species genetically equivalent to the modern horse. This clearly demonstrates that the horse evolved into it’s modern form on the North American continent. This explains why the animal is entirely compatible to the eco-system. Microorganisms evolve in every environment simultaneously as more complex life forms evolve. This gives us the efficient process of decomposition. Horse manure breaks down in harmony with the eco-system enriching soils. If you drop an orange peel, for example in the Nevada desert, you would see no such process as the micro-organisms do not exist to complete the process.

However it is true that the debate of “feral v. native” is not relevant under law. Congress declared these animals to be managed as “wild” and the public is still waiting for that premise to exist in practice.

Myth #12:  Two million wild horses roamed the United States in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Fact:  This mythical figure has no historical basis; it is complete speculation.  In a book titled The Mustangs (1952) by J. Frank Dobie, the author noted that no scientific estimate of wild horse numbers was made in the 19th century or early 20th century.  He went on to write: “All guessed numbers are mournful to history.  My own guess is that at no time were there more than a million mustangs in Texas and no more than a million others scattered over the remainder of the West.” (Emphasis added.) Mr. Dobie’s admitted “guess” of no more than two million mustangs has over the years been transformed into an asserted “fact” that two million mustangs actually roamed America in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  When it comes to the historical wild horse population, a substantiated and more relevant figure is the number found roaming in 1971, when the BLM was given legal authority to protect and manage wild horses and burros.  That number was 17,300 mustangs (plus 8,045 burros), as compared to today’s population of 31,500 wild horses (plus 5,800 burros).

Our response:

This is irrelevant except that it again points out that BLM is using the number in 1971 that defined a fragile populate to assert it is an appropriate population quota.

BLM map showing “Herd Management Areas” of the Western states where the public has an assumption that wild horses and burros are protected by all provisions of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but that is not the case.

Myth #13:  Under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, BLM-administered public lands where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971 are to be managed “principally but not necessarily exclusively” for the welfare of these animals.

BLM “Fact:”  The law’s language stating that public lands where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971 are to be managed “principally but not necessarily exclusively” for the welfare of these animals relates to the Interior Secretary’s power to “designate and maintain specific ranges on public lands as sanctuaries for their protection and preservation” — which are, thus far, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range (in Montana and Wyoming), the Nevada Wild Horse Range (located within the northcentral portion of Nellis Air Force Range), the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range (in Colorado), and the Marietta Wild Burro Range (in Nevada).  The “principally but not necessarily exclusively” language applies to specific Wild Horse Ranges, not to Herd Management Areas in general.  The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR, Subpart 4710.3-2) states: “Herd management areas may also be designated as wild horse or burro ranges to be managed principally, but not necessarily exclusively, for wild horse or burro herds.”

Our Response:

This one is a management practice “fact.”

The BLM has never managed all horses “where presently found” in 1971 as “Wild Horse Ranges.” Through land use planning and changes in the CFR, BLM changed language and has only designated 4 areas, out of the 303 originally identified, as Wild Horse Ranges.

However that does not negate that a wild population has defined terms of viability. All areas must be managed within the parameters of a sustainable wild population, if not a “principal” population. The definition of an appropriately managed wild population is genetically sustainable (non-manipulated by introduction of other animals) numbers, natural seasonal migration and enough resources set aside to accomplish the task.

The concept that all ranges are currently managed as “principal but not exclusive” under law has been perpetuated. Land use plans must be addressed and revised to change the language to make that management concept of “principal” a legal definition. Or the implementation of the Act in the current manner must be challenged in a Court as in violation of the Intent of law.

This is why the public’s continued comment is labeled as “not appropriate,” and therefore not considered, in an EA process will simply continue.

Horse hit with helicopter at Triple B, 2011

Myth #14:  The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR) specifies that the BLM is to allocate forage to wild horses and burros in an amount “comparable” to that allocated to wildlife and cattle.

BLM “Fact:”   The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR, Subpart 4700.0-6) states that “Wild horses and burros shall be considered comparably with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans.”  This regulation means that in its development of land-use plans, the BLM will consider wild horses and burros in a manner similar to the way it treats other resource values (e.g., cultural, historic, and scenic, as distinguished from authorized commercial land uses, such as livestock grazing or timber harvesting).

Our Response:

This “fact” says so much. BLM interprets this to mean that the paperwork process will be similar but not actual forage allocations, range identification, resource availability, genetic sustainability or public interest.

A Last thought: If BLM makes any claim that anything it does is for the “welfare” of wild horses and burros why does it allow such treatment and fails to create an enforceable humane care policy? If the welfare of each animal during human handling is not a priority how can any other part of this program make that claim?


One thought on “Educate yourself: BLM “Myths and Facts”

  1. So much to learn. Thank God Laura Leigh has been here all along and invests immeasurable time, energy and love into the exhausting pursuit of saving America’s Wild ones. Thank You Laura, you are a National Treasure.

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