America's Mustangs: Let's Have Facts, Not "Fake News"

Some of our nation’s leaders want to “solve” our nation’s wild horse management issue with radical, long-abandoned ideas, such as killing thousands of animals or shipping them to foreign slaughterhouses. The American public made clear decades ago that it won’t stand for such treatment, but the politicians continue to pump out misinformation to push their lethal agenda.

It’s time to counter these outrageous myths with the truth.

Myth:

Wild horses are starving on the range because there are too many of them.

Truth:

To make this point, politicians point to the same photo of one emaciated horse. If many horses are starving, where are all the other photos?

If fact, current photographs from across the West document healthy thriving horses, including in the area of Nevada where BLM intends to remove an astounding 7,000 horses, based on claims that they are starving.

Wild horses and burros are simply not starving on the range, and that’s why every major horse welfare and animal protection organization has rejected the BLM’s lethal plan to “cull” our wild herds.

Myth:

Huge numbers of wild horses are overwhelming our public lands.

Truth:

Wild horses are present on only 17 % of BLM rangelands. How can they be overrunning the range if they are present on only 17% percent of the land BLM manages?

Additionally, the BLM allocates less than one quarter of forage on rangelands to wild horses. More than 75 percent of forage is allocated to privately owned livestock. The truths is, wild horses are vastly outnumbered on federal land by cattle.

Furthermore, the “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) system that the BLM uses to allocate land to wild horses has no foundation in science. The National Academy of Sciences in its 2013 study said it “could not identify a science-based rationale” for the AMLs, which are “not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amendable to adaptation with new information and environmental social change.”

If the BLM gets its way, it will drive wild horse and burro numbers back to fewer than existed in 1971 when Congress protected these iconic animals because they were “fast disappearing.” That’s not “appropriate;” that’s extinction.

Myth:

Fertility control doesn’t work.

Truth:

PZP birth control vaccine works… if you use it, but the BLM has barely given PZP a chance.

The BLM spends less than 1 percent of its annual budget on fertility control and its 2018 budget proposes to spend even less. The agency continues to spend millions on roundups and removals, which science shows only prompt horses remaining on the range to breed more.

In its extensive 2013 study, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,” the National Academy of Sciences recommended that BLM use fertility control as a more effective way to manage herds on federal land.

The National Park Service has used the PZP vaccine for nearly 30 years to safely and effectively manage the wild horse herd on the Assateague National Seashore. PZP programs also have helped reduce and even curtail roundups in wild management across the West, such as in the Pryor Mountains on the Montana/Wyoming border, in McCullough Peaks in Wyoming and in the Spring Creek Basin and Little Book Cliffs areas of Colorado. Many of these successful projects are the result of public/private partnerships between management agencies and volunteers, which helps keep costs down.

My organization is working with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to implement a fertility control program for wild horses near Reno. So far this year, our small darting team of five volunteers has vaccinated more mares with PZP than the entire $80-million-a-year BLM program did last year.

Peer reviewed science shows that PZP is cost effective and could save BLM hundreds of millions of dollars over time. And, unlike roundups and removals, the vaccine would stabilize horse populations.

Myth:

The public will support the killing wild horses if we call it “euthanasia.”

Truth:

No matter what you call it, killing tens of thousands of wild horses and burros is slaughter.

Politicians love polls, so why are they ignoring these?

  • A national poll conducted this year shows 80 percent of the American public strongly opposes horse slaughter.
  • Recent polls in Utah and Nevada also confirmed that the vast majority of people oppose slaughter.

Opposition to killing wild horses crosses party lines and geographic boundaries.

Public pressure to preserve wild horses is as strong today as it was in 1971 when U.S. Congress voted unanimously to approve the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect these national icons.

Myth:

No better option than killing wild horses exists.

Truth:

Killing horses or shipping them to slaughter still requires horses to be managed via roundups and removals, which cost millions and cause prolific breeding. It also puts the government in the horse slaughter business, which is opposed by 80 percent of the American public.

It’s time for stakeholders to come to the table to implement win-win solutions. In addition to pursuing public/private partnerships to implement fertility control, these include:

  • Applying real science to re-evaluate BLM’s arbitrary population limits.
  • Compensating ranchers for reduced use of public grazing allotments in herd management areas, which is far cheaper than rounding up, removing and stockpiling wild horses.
  • Reducing costs by moving horses from holding pens to holding pastures that cost almost three times less, and returning captured mustangs to public lands where they can live out their lives in non-breeding wild herds requiring no taxpayer money for feed.

Decision-makers must learn the facts and get behind humane solutions for America’s wild horses and burros. Those who fail to prevent wild horses from being killed and slaughtered will be held accountable by the majority of voters who cherish these iconic animals and want them protected on our public lands.

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