Wild horse advocate testifies

June 23, 2016 - Ginger Kathrens, founder and volunteer executive director of the wild horse advocacy organization The Cloud Foundation, testified Wednesday at a House Subcommittee on Federal Lands oversight that instead of embracing realistic management strategies, the Bureau of Land management and some western politicians have attempted to derail the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act aimed at protecting wild horses on public lands.

Katherns, whose documentation of Cloud the Wild Stallion represents the only continuing chronicle of a wild animal from birth in the hemisphere, appeared by invitation from U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona.

On May  11, officials with the BLM issued a press release contending wild horse and burro populations on public rangelands had increase by 2.5 percent from 1971 when the protection law was passed, Kathrens said, but she laid the blame for mismanagement on the agency. Kathrens said 22 years ago she was asked to create a film about mustangs for Marty Stouffer's "Wild America." She began filming the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in southern Montana, and almost immediately realized that she was documenting a complex species living in a tightly knit social bands.

"It is this family band structure which is emblematic and essential to the survival of wild horses," she said. "Nonetheless, the BLM regularly overlooks this important point when development management practices."

The National Academy of Science in a BLM commissioned two-year study of the wild horse and burro program stressed the importance of maintaining natural behaviors, she said. She also disputed BLM reference to the horses as feral or alien, pointing out that wild herds genetically are linked to North America. The NAS study also found that BLM removal of animals from the range causes populations to grow at high rates, because their numbers are held below levels affected by food limitation and density dependence.

Overpopulation of wild horses and burros on public lands has been alleged by the BLM for years, Kathrens said. “However the BLM manages the population of most herd management areas at levels far below the population required for genetic viability, from 150 to 200 animals," she said in her testimony. "BLM has so marginalized wild horses that the majority of herds are too small to meet even minimal standards to ensure their genetic viability. It is obvious that one solution to warehousing wild horses and burros in costly short-term holding is a reexamination of appropriate management levels and a fairer allocation of available forage between wild horses and livestock.”.

Cost effective humane alternatives to removal from the range include fertility control, using a two-year vaccine resulting in a $40,000 savings to taxpayers for each treatment or retreatment of mares, she said.

Thousands of caring, well-informed and well-trained volunteer field experts are available to assist federal agencies and organizations in implementing healthy and cost-effective alternative management approaches in the wild, Kathrens said.

"America’s federal lands belong to us all, genetically viable wild horses and burros deserve a permanent and a fairly allocated piece of that land, a lasting home on the range."

Accurate monitoring of herds is needed along with more emphasis on grazing buyouts, a financial incentive to holders of permits to swap some portion of their allowed livestock Animal Unit Month for use by wild horses and burros in exchange for at least fair market value payment, as well as the opportunity to profit from wild horse and burro tourism, Kathrens said. Repatriation, returning short-term holding horses, has long been discussed as a way to quickly relieve a significant drain on the BLM budget.

The Humane Advocate on BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Kathrens contends the BLM alternatives are not humane and do not consider the welfare of a species protected by a unanimously passed act of Congress. They include deadly sterilization experiments on wild mares.

"In 1990 the Government Accountability Office reported: 'BLM'S decisions on how many wild horses to remove from federal rangelands have not been based on direct evidence that existing wild populations exceed what the range can support. While wild horses are routinely removed. Livestock grazing frequently remains unchanged or increased after the removal of wild horses, increasing the degradation of public lands,'” she said.

Overgrazing, overpopulation and unsustainability are over-generalized and non-scientific claims by the BLM to justify removals of horses and burros from public lands, Kathrens said. Castration, sterilization, and long-term confinement in holding facilities are unnecessary, cruel, unhealthy, and fiscally irresponsible methods of controlling horse and burro populations, ultimately leading to the potential extermination of rare and native wild horse herds, she contended.

"We know from successful PZP programs and alternative management approaches that the government does not need to remove wild horses and burros from federal lands to effectively manage them, she told subcommittee members. "There are reasonable, cost effective and humane alternatives to current and/or proposed BLM wild horse and burro management policies/approaches; namely those including proper PZP application. Maintaining wild horse and burro herds in the wild can be financially and culturally beneficial to local communities as well as fulfill an iconic image of western heritage. Revenue from wild horse viewing and photography is the main economic driver in the small towns of Maybell, Colo. and Lovell, Wyo. due to the presences of wild horse herds."

She claimed that rangeland degradation by wild horses has been grossly overstated by the BLM to cover up years of livestock overgrazing.

Originally published June 23, 2016, Ruidoso News.

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published this page in Latest News 2016-07-05 14:32:23 -0600
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