Range wars: tension mounts in the West on public lands, wild horses and herders
SALT LAKE CITY – More than 70 animal conservation and advocacy groups are calling on the Biden administration to end cattle grazing on all public lands where wild horse populations exist, intensifying debate on how rangelands should be used in the West, including Utah.
Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, Western Watersheds and The Cloud Foundation have joined a coalition of organizations demanding Home Secretary Deb Haaland suspend grazing permits, as has what has been made for oil and gas drilling.
The groups claim that the Bureau of Land Management’s monitoring of grazing permits is biased against wild horse populations and that the massive “roundups” are driven by pressure from herders.
“Specifically, we advocate an immediate elimination of all cattle / sheep grazing on all land in the BLM Herd Management Zone (HMA) occupied by horses,” the letter says, along with an assessment and action. to address ecological problems induced by livestock within these herds management areas to aid climate stabilization efforts and address biodiversity issues.
The BLM insists that there is an “overpopulation” of wild horses and burros. But groups argue that this is not true and that the management of public land is grossly unfair in favor of the livestock industry, with around 4.3 million cattle and sheep on Western lands – or 30 of these domestic animals for each wild horse.
In October 2019, the Deseret News then reported that nearly 90,000 wild horses and burros were roaming 10 western states where government observers say there should be just under 27,000, and the horses are multiplying rapidly.
On average, horse populations grow 15% to 20% each year in the wild, and if left unchecked, range populations will double every four to five years.
“The American people cherish our wild horses and burros as living treasures and iconic reminders of the vital role horses have played in American history and culture,” said Scott Beckstead, Director of Campaigns for the Center for a Humane Economy.
Beckstead added that Utah’s unique Onaqui herd is expected to be rounded up this summer, with the BLM aiming to eliminate 75% of the population.
Beckstead and other advocates are very critical of a Home Office-approved plan called The Path Forward that aims to remove up to 20,000 wild horses and burros each year from public runs.
They hope that under Haaland’s leadership, this management approach will change and the agency will instead focus on fertility control rather than elimination.
Haaland co-sponsored a law last year that would have ordered the BLM to spend $ 11 million of its budget on fertility checks rather than roundups.
“We hope the secretary will give careful consideration to what we are asking for,” Beckstead said.
The letter highlights the increasing pressure on cattle grazing on public lands, the link between cattle and climate change and beef consumption falling out of favor in some circles.
The New York Times reported in April that the popular recipe website, Epicurious, would no longer publish recipes with beef as the main ingredient, describing the movement not as anti-beef but as “pro planet.”
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, an investor in a plant-based protein company, also called on “rich” countries to forgo real meat in favor of more climate-friendly alternatives.
But the livestock industry, meat lovers and some Western states are fighting back.
The governor of Colorado took the heat from the governors of Wyoming and Nebraska when he proclaimed a March Day a No Meat Day.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox has declared that every day is Meat Day in Utah and Nebraska. Governor Pete Ricketts this week approved a beef passport program in which consumers eat beef at select restaurants and compete for a chance to win a beef cooler.
The strain on public land grazing comes as the livestock industry grapples with supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but begins to rebound.
US beef and pork exports hit record levels in March, and wholesale prices for “Choice” beef are soaring.