OpEd from Leslie Peeples, long time wild horse and burro advocate and volunteer/supporter/good friend of WHE
National Academy of Sciences report on BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program shows lack of science in decision making.
The first thing that comes to mind is that “oh my god, these are the exact things we at WHE have been shouting from the rooftops for years” and Hallelujah, NAS actually came out with an unbiased report (except the parameters of what NAS would study were set by BLM) that SLAPS BLM on it lack of scientific data when making almost all decisions regarding wild horses and burros on public lands”. I feel guardedly hopeful and somewhat validated.
Here are some juicy tidbits from the 6/5/2013, 451 page NAS report.
1. FINDING: Management of free-ranging horses and burros is not based on rigorous population-monitoring procedures.
WHE~, yes, thank you NAS, BLM really has no idea how many are out there because they only utilize 1% of their budget on this, counting the wild horses and burros.
2. FINDING: On the basis of the information provided to the committee, the statistics on the national population size cannot be considered scientifically rigorous.
WHE~thank you, we have been saying that their horse and burro counts are not based on good science for along time.
3. FINDING: Management practices are facilitating high horse population growth rates.
WHE~BLMs practice of roundup and removal as a primary management tool is causing “compensatory reproduction” that we have documented post roundups.
4. FINDING: How AMLs are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change.
WHE~again, how BLM has been setting the allowable numbers of animals on the range is NOT supported by science or made clear to the public. (subject of one of our federal cases, btw).
5. Finding: The committee could not identify a science-based rationale used by BLM to allocate forage and habitat resources to various uses within the constraints of protecting rangeland health and listed species and given the multiple-use mandate.
WHE~ and this one is priceless because we have been talking to Congress, the BLM and the public about this for years. No science based rationale for forage and habitat allocation. resisting the urge…oh what the heck, “WOOHOO”!
6. Finding: Thriving Natural Ecological Balance. The handbook does not provide guidance on how to assess a thriving natural ecological balance as called for in the legislation. It is also easily conflated with the allocation process, which is a policy-driven and sometimes court-adjudicated decision rather than something derived directly from currently available scientific information.
WHE~One of my personal favorites as BLM always uses the term “thriving ecological balance” to justify removing wild horses and burros and yet they have not developed a way to assess what that term truly means scientifically.
7. Finding; Record-keeping needs to be substantially improved; the committee recommends the development of a uniform relational database that is accessible to and used by all field offices for recording all pertinent population survey data.
WHE~to this I say yes, management of Wild horses and burros should be consistent among ALL field offices in a stand alone web site and made available to the public for transparency.
8. FINDING: Horse populations are growing at 15-20 percent a year.
WHE~this one I wholeheartedly do not agree with. If you cannot count the horses and burros based on science then it is not at all possible to determine a growth rate. We believe there is SUBSTANTIALLY LESS wild horses and burros on our ranges than is currently estimated, and Laura Leigh is seeing about a 10 to 15% increase per year in her studies. (as low as 4-6% when PZP is actually used correctly).
9.FINDING: The most promising fertility-control methods for application to free-ranging horses or burros are porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccines, GonaCon™vaccine, and chemical vasectomy.
WHE~no fertility control should be done until they can prove to the public that the have done a science based accurate count and that the herds have genetic diversity for long term survival.
10. FINDING: Resolving conflicts with polarized values and opinions regarding land management rests on the principles of transparency and community-based public participation and engagement in decision-making. Decisions of scientific content will have greater support if they are reached through collaborative, broadly based, integrated, and iterative analytic-deliberative processes that involve both the agency and the public.
WHE~And there is one of the main issues other than “humane care” that WHE has been fighting for diligently in court. We need public engagement, participation and outright full transparency.
11. FINDING: Tools already exist for BLM to use in addressing challenges faced by its Wild Horse and Burro Program.
WHE~And last but not least is this gem where NAS finds that “business as usual” practices will be unproductive for BLM, a satisfactory resolution will take time, resources, and dedication to a combination of strategies underpinned by science. Yes, it will take dedication, dedication to uphold the congressional mandate to protect and preserve wild horses and burros on our public lands, and, oh yes, SCIENCE.
In closing I would like to thank all the members of the NAS committee that gave up their time with no pay to do this important study, as well as all of the advocates who submitted comments and documentation to NAS. I see Laura Leigh’s documentation that was given to NAS played out in this report. I am saddened, however, that there was not any study on the “humane” aspects of this program. BLM must take this report to heart, use good science, become transparent, include the public and manage our wild horses and burros humanely and with their long term survival and their best interests in mind.
The NAS report can be downloaded on the Wild Horse Education Website HERE.
WildHorseEducation.org is a non-profit organization devoted to gaining protection from abuse, slaughter and extinction for our wild herds.