Dave Philipps writes an anti-wild horse story with pro-slaughter undertones–ignoring the fact that livestock grazing is destroying public land
By Anne Novak
In his New York Times piece, As Wild Horses Overrun the West, Ranchers Fear Land Will Be Gobbled Up, Philipps writes,
“There are now twice as many wild horses in the West as federal land managers say the land can sustain. The program that manages them has broken down, and unchecked populations pose a threat to delicate public land, as well as the ranches that rely on it.”
Why is Philipps ignoring the 2013 National Academy of Sciences’ statement that there is “no evidence of overpopulation”?
Philipps also avoids the fact that commercial livestock outnumbers wild horses more than 50 to I on public land.
If left unchecked, horse populations could decimate grass and water on public lands, he said, potentially leading to starvation among horse herds and other native species, as well as lawsuits from ranchers and wildlife groups.
Why is the Pulitzer Prize-winner spreading myths that America’s wild horses are not native by writing this?
Wild horses today are the descendants of stray American Indian ponies and cavalry mounts, as well as more recent ranch stock. Roaming a patchwork of parched rangeland roughly the size of Alabama, they have been protected by federal law since 1971 from capture or hunting. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees most of the herds, has said that keeping the population around 26,000 would ensure the long-term health of the horses and the land.
Surely this investigative journalist learned that wild horses are indigenous in America.
Below are some excepts from scientific papers on wild horses as native or ‘returned-native’ species.
In 2010, Jay Kirkpatrick and Patricia Fazio explained the following in Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife:
The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co‐evolved with its habitat. Clearly, E. 6 caballus did both, here in North American. There might be arguments about “breeds,” but there are no scientific grounds for arguments about “species.”
The non‐native, feral, and exotic designations given by agencies are not merely reflections of their failure to understand modern science but also a reflection of their desire to preserve old ways of thinking to keep alive the conflict between a species (wild horses), with no economic value anymore (by law), and the economic value of commercial livestock.
Native status for wild horses would place these animals, under law, within a new category for management considerations. As a form of wildlife, embedded with wildness, ancient behavioral patterns, and the morphology and biology of a sensitive prey species, they may finally be released from the “livestock‐gone‐loose” appellation.
In June 2014 the American Journal of Life Science published The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America, by Craig Downer who writes,
“Fossil, genetic and archeological evidence supports these species as native. Also, objective evaluations of their respective ecological niches and the mutual symbioses of post-gastric digesting, semi-nomadic equids support wild horses and burros as restorers of certain extensive North American ecosystems.”
Read the extensive paper here: http://www.sciencepublishinggroup.com/journal/paperinfo.aspx?journalid=118&doi=10.11648/j.ajls.20140201.12
Other truths were ignored also. . . For example, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has produced factual reports proving livestock is causing extensive range damage. Philipps fails to mention this damage in his article. Here are some examples of PEER’s excellent information:
Washington, DC (September 25, 2014)— A U.S. Bureau of Land Management District Manager from Nevada targeted by angry Nevada ranchers was more than justified in removing cattle from drought-stricken public rangeland, according to data released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Tomorrow, protesting ranchers start a “Cowboy Express” ride to Washington demanding removal of BLM Battle Mountain District Manager Douglas Furtado as an “abusive federal employee” even as conservation groups urge that Furtado be commended not condemned for his actions.
In July, Battle Mountain District Manager Furtado ordered livestock removed from parched range on the sprawling 332,000-acre Argenta allotment in northern Nevada after conditions fell below thresholds that ranchers and BLM had previously agreed would trigger removal. The ranchers contend that Furtado’s actions were arbitrary but an analysis of Geographic Information Systems and BLM data reveal range in terrible ecological shape:
- Nearly every Battle Mountain allotment evaluated failed range health standards for wildlife and water quality, largely due to livestock grazing;
- Half of the Argenta Allotment, and roughly 30% of the Battle Mountain District is habitat for sage grouse, a species being reviewed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. BLM has been directed to protect the species’ habitat but 90% of assessed sage grouse habitat was in Battle Mountain allotments failing standards due to livestock; and
- Fence line contrasts visible in satellite imagery show that public lands in the checkerboarded allotment are far more heavily grazed than private lands, suggesting that ranchers are more protective of their own lands than they are of publicly-owned range.
Read the full article here.
Washington, DC (September 16, 2014)— The method used by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to assess range conditions is seriously skewed toward minimizing impacts from domestic livestock and magnifying those from wild horses and burros, according to an appraisal by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the BLM’s approach to range management targets scattered wild horses and burros while ignoring far more numerous cattle.
The agency’s assessment is part of a 2013 report on factors influencing conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse, a ground-dwelling bird whose numbers have declined as much as 90% across the West and which is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. That report concludes that twice the area of sage grouse habitat is negatively impacted by wild horses and burros than the area negatively impacted by livestock. A PEER appraisal of the methodology found –
- BLM calculates the “area of influence” of wild horses and burros on sage grouse habitat based merely on their presence within Herd Management Areas in sage grouse habitat, while it considers livestock impact to have occurred only when livestock grazing allotments fail the agency’s Land Health Status (LHS) standard for wildlife;
- If the agency used the same approach for calculating the area of influence of livestock within BLM grazing allotments on sage grouse habitat as it did for wild horses and burros, the area of influence for livestock would be roughly 14 times that given in the report and more than six times that of wild horses and burros; and
- Within BLM’s own grazing allotment LHS database records, livestock grazing is cited as a cause of failure to achieve a land health standard 30 times more often than are wild horses and burros.
“At BLM apparently not all hooves are created equal,” said PEER’s Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that the LHS evaluations cover more than 20,000 grazing allotments and examine whether a grazing allotment meets the agency’s standards for rangeland health with respect to several vegetation and habitat conditions. “This helps explain why wild horses are regularly removed from the range but livestock numbers are rarely reduced.”
Read the full article here.
Washington, DC (May 14, 2012)— A new federal assessment of rangelands in the West finds a disturbingly large portion fails to meet range health standards principally due to commercial livestock operations, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the last decade as more land has been assessed, estimates of damaged lands have doubled in the 13-state Western area where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts major livestock leasing.
The “Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring and Evaluation Report for Fiscal Year 2011” covers BLM allotments in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The report totals BLM acreage failing to meet rangeland health standards in measures such as water quality, watershed functionality and wildlife habitat:
- Almost 40% of BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 have failed to meet the agency’s own required land health standards with impairment of more than 33 million acres, an area exceeding the State of Alabama in size, attributed to livestock grazing;
- Overall, 30% of BLM’s allotment area surveyed to date suffers from significant livestock-induced damage, suggesting that once the remaining allotments have been surveyed, the total impaired area could well be larger than the entire State of Washington; and
- While factors such as drought, fire, invasion by non-native plants, and sprawl are important, livestock grazing is identified by BLM experts as the primary cause (nearly 80%) of BLM lands not meeting health standards.
“Livestock’s huge toll inflicted on our public lands is a hidden subsidy which industry is never asked to repay,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that the percentage of impairment in lands assessed remains fairly consistent over the past decade. “The more we learn about actual conditions, the longer is the ecological casualty list.”
Read the full article here.
Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is carrying out an ambitious plan to map ecological trends throughout the Western U.S. but has directed scientists to exclude livestock grazing as a possible factor in changing landscapes, according to a scientific integrity complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint describes how one of the biggest scientific studies ever undertaken by BLM was fatally skewed from its inception by political pressure.
Funded with up to $40 million of stimulus funds, BLM is conducting Rapid Ecoregional Assessments in each of the six main regions (such as the Colorado Plateau and the Northern Great Plains) covering the vast sagebrush West. A key task was choosing the “change agents” (such as fire or invasive species) which would be studied. Yet when the scientific teams were assembled at an August 2010 workshop, BLM managers informed them that grazing would not be studied due to anxiety from “stakeholders,” fear of litigation and, most perplexing of all, lack of available data on grazing impacts.
Exclusion of grazing was met with protests from the scientists. Livestock grazing is permitted on two-thirds of all BLM lands, with 21,000 grazing allotments covering 157 million acres across the West. As one participating scientist said, as quoted in workshop minutes:
“We will be laughed out of the room if we don’t use grazing. If you have the other range of disturbances, you have to include grazing.”
Read the full piece here.
Why hasn’t Phillips used PEER’s information to report fairly or is he only chomping on what the Cattlemen’s lobby feed him?
The Times article also pushes the wild horse overpopulation myth to fool people into believing there is a problem. For example, In northeastern Nevada only 1,338 wild horses are allowed on 1.8 million acres of public land designated for their primary but not exclusive use. Hardly overpopulated.
Holistic range management options aren’t discussed but the massive slaughter of captive wild horses is brought up like a ticking time bomb. The truth is, there are more wild horses in government holding than living in freedom on the range. Those left on the range have a red flag birthrate. The herds fear extinction and mother nature doesn’t want them to die off. If the Bureau of Land Management didn’t take so many off the range, birthrates would be normal and herds would self-stabilize.
In the UK, wildlife managers are using wild horses to heal the land and restore biodiversity. Holisitic management can work on America’s public lands if people would take the time to learn a new system but it seems they are just too lazy. . . Lazy, like the journalist who doesn’t do basic research for his article.
Has someone done a “follow the money” on Dave Philipps to see what’s really spurring him on? Now that’s an article I would find informative.
Links of interest™:
Dave Phillips’ spin piece in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/us/as-wild-horses-overrun-the-west-ranchers-fear-land-will-be-gobbled-up.html?_r=0
Kirkpatrick, J.F., and P.M. Fazio. Revised January 2010. Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. The Science and Conservation Center, ZooMontana, Billings. 8 pages.
Craig C. Downer, The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America, American Journal of Life Sciences. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2014, pp. 5-23. doi: 10.11648/j.ajls.20140201.12
National Academy of Sciences: Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program.