OpEd: NAS Report Shows Lack of Science, Slaps BLM Justifications

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.

Triple B wild horses removed in 2011 in chaotic removal operation

Triple B wild horses removed in 2011 in chaotic removal operation

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”!

Hmmmm? Can you caption this?

Hmmmm? Can you caption this?

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.

Removals without a humane care protocol.

Removals without a humane care protocol.

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.


10 thoughts on “OpEd: NAS Report Shows Lack of Science, Slaps BLM Justifications

  1. Woohoo is right! Now let us hope that Sally Jewell takes these recommendations to heart.

  2. Great op ed, thanks Leslie. I read this and weep because we may actually save these guys! Thanks NAS for actually doing something in integrity with regard to wild horses and burros.

  3. As always…we cannot become complacent! Can’t help but be guardedly optimistic. BLM….We are watching!

  4. YAHOO!!! Well done! It’s really heartening to get the NAS report and to find that they back so many of the WHE. I too, wish they would have at least looked into the inhumane aspects of the round ups of the BLM. Hopefully this will make a difference in court. You’ve done a fantastic job!! Thank you from me and I’m sure the horses and burros would thank you to. Judy Maxwell Sent from my iPad

  5. Dare I see a glimmer of HOPE? This is great News. Even though the health safety and welfare concerns were not addressed the important message here is the BLM NEEDS TO REFORM. They need to work with the public and science to evaluate the true issues anhat includes PRESERVATION AND PROTECTION of the wild horses and burros and their home. Thank you NAS. NOW if the courts and congress and president Obama will pay attention.

  6. Excellent findings!! Science based facts are the most crucial missing element in the decision making process! It does make me nervous however, to leave the scientific findings in the hands of the BLM; don’t forget On May 15, 2012, The Wildlife News published the article titled “BLM Report: Public lands ranching fails rangeland health standards on a third of rangelands assessed, 33 million acres”; Livestock grazing was identified, BY BLM EXPERTS, as the primary cause (nearly 80%) of BLM lands not meeting health standards. The BLM actually directed scientists to EXCLUDE the livestock grazing as a factor in changing landscapes in the findings! The scientific finding must come from unbiased truthful sources! Thank you so much for helping the Wild Ones!

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