Wild Horse Issue Deserves Fair Reporting

David Phillips, reporter for the New York Times has produced yet another disappointing article that fails to look beneath the surface of the BLM’s claims that wild horses are overpopulating and the agency's hands are tied in dealing with this “problem.”

Wild horses are not a problem; they are a national resource. However, they are losing their place on the range due to the BLM’s gross and long-standing mismanagement. Long before the current budget crisis, the BLM refused to implement humane management through PZP fertility control, which has been available for nearly three decades. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences laid out a road map to reform, but the agency continues to ignore the recommendations of this esteemed scientific body. 

It would be great for the New York Times to critically examine and provide perspective in its coverage of this controversial issue. How about taking a look at the basis for the claims of overpopulation, the agency's so-called "Appropriate" Management Levels (AMLs)? There's nothing appropriate about these arbitrarily established population limits, for which the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) "could not identify a science-based rationale" and concluded, "How Appropriate Management Levels (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."

Let's see some reporting on the NAS' conclusion that "Removals are likely to keep the population at a size that maximizes population growth rate, which in turn maximizes the number of animals that must be removed through holding facilities." The BLM is essentially creating its own reality by continuing the broken roundup and removal system. Why doesn't the New York Times take a look at the cultural and bureaucratic factors that have led to policy paralysis within this agency? 

And, while we're at it, how about taking a critical look at the tired allegations that wild horses are damaging rangelands where they have historically been and continue to be vastly outnumbered by livestock? How about some actual investigative journalism? A competent reporter would obtain actual use data for all livestock grazing permits in wild horse and burro habitat for each of the last five years to assess the situation on the ground before merely regurgitating the BLM's blaming of wild horses for environmental damage. 

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has done some excellent work on this topic, finding that BLM scapegoats wild horses for range damage caused by livestock ("The method used by the [BLM] to assess range conditions is seriously skewed toward minimizing impacts from domestic livestock and magnifying those from wild horses and burros."), and that BLM "livestock land abuse" remains rampant on BLM land.  Why don't we see this information in the New York Times coverage of the wild horse issue?

And finally, why not focus on solutions that are socially acceptable and actually exist, instead of on outrageous suggestions that the public opposes, such as the mass killing of 45,000 captured mustangs whose only crime was living free as Congress intended on lands designated for their use? Fertility control, compensation to ranchers for non-use or reduced use of grazing permits in wild horse areas, return of horses in short term holding to the range where they can earn their own keep, phasing out long term holding, and most importantly, ending removals, or at least bringing the numbers of horses removed each year in line with adoption demand... these are solutions that deserve a fair and balanced look by the nation's leading newspaper.

That may be too much to ask from Phillips, who is deeply bought into the current and wildly misleading BLM narrative, but perhaps the newspaper could assign another reporter to take a deeper look.  

Photo credit: Kimerlee Curyl

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