by Joe Camp
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Public Law 92-195) as written outlines everything the wild horses and burros need. There’s very little wrong with the law. It’s just that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is ignoring the law, actually violating the very law they are charged with enforcing.
Per the law the BLM’s powers to maintain and control the population of wild horses is severely restricted. As Federal Judge Rosemary M. Conyers stated in her ruling against the BLM in the Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition case.
“It is a federal crime to remove a wild free-roaming horse or burro from public lands, convert a wild free-roaming horse or burro to private use, or kill or harass a wild free-roaming horse or burro. Congress delegated to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior jurisdiction over all wild free-roaming horses and burros ‘for the purpose of management and protection in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.’ The Act further provides that “[i]t is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands. It further provides that “[t]he Secretary shall manage wild free-roaming horses and burros in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands” and that “[a]ll management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level . . . in order to protect the natural ecological balance of all wildlife species which inhabit such lands, particularly endangered wildlife species.”
The Judge goes on to say, “BLM’s authority to “manage” wild free-roaming horses and burros is expressly made subject to “the provisions of this chapter[,]” 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a), including the provision that “[i]t is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture . . . .” Id. § 1331. It would be anomalous to infer that by authorizing the custodian of the wild freeroaming horses and burros to “manage” them, Congress intended to permit the animals’ custodian to subvert the primary policy of the statute by capturing and removing from the wild the very animals that Congress sought to protect from being captured and removed from the wild.”
To read her entire ruling:
The BLM appealed the ruling and then abandoned the appeal when they realized that if they lost at the appellate level the ruling would become legal precedent that could be used against them over and over again in other court actions.
The problem then is that most of the lawyers and advocates – for reasons I cannot explain – have not been battling the BLM’s violations of the law on the legal merits, often preferring to wage non-explicit emotional law and “poor horse” rhetoric. If all the litigating organizations would fight on the merits of the law , as the three mentioned below have done, it would, over time, give the BLM so many losses that they’d have no choice but to comply or give up their control (or better yet have it stripped away from them). Consider the following un-amended language of the 1971 law and what each means (any underlines or bolds are mine):
“It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this , they are to be considered in the area where presently found as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” Defined as… ” the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare…”
With no legal basis, 95% of the land that by law was to be “devoted principally” to the welfare of the wild horses and burros was leased to for-profit cattle and sheep ranchers. To the tune of 150 cattle and sheep to one horse or burro. That is illegal. For-profit cattle outnumber wild horses and burros approximately 150 to 1 on land that by law is to be devoted principally to the wild horses and burros.
And that’s after the amount of land that was originally designated by congress to be devoted “principally” to the wild horses and burros was arbitrarily reduced by the BLM by approximately 36%. Which also is illegal.
The land on which the horses and burros were to reside, according to the law, was to be “designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance.” Impossible with over a million cattle and sheep on the same land. Which is reason #2 why the cattle and sheep are illegal. Millions of cattle in no way help to achieve or belong in any natural ecological balance.
Worse yet, in some instances water rights on land designated by law to be devoted principally to the wild horses and burros were also leased to ranchers who then fenced in the water sources to keep the horses and burros out, cutting off their water supply. Then the BLM uses the fact that the horses have no water supply as their reason to round up the horses and remove them to government holding pens.
George Knapp, a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8 in Las Vegas recently wrote:
“BLM will never stop the roundups on its own. Never. The only time it has been thwarted is when citizens have gone to federal court to fight it, and those victories are few and far between. Unless BLM is lassoed, hog-tied and forced to change, there is no chance in hell the prevailing anti-mustang sentiment in the bureau will ever do things differently.”
And the only way to lasso, hog-tie, and force the BLM to change is with the law. The courts. And to do that, lawyers are needed who can donate time to lawsuits against the BLM. If you’re a lawyer, please consider this. I believe it’s the only ultimate way to save what’s left of the horses in the wild. The only way to finally bring the BLM to its knees. If you’re just a lover of horses or a concerned citizen and know some lawyers, please tell them about it. And maybe donate some money to organizations that are taking on the BLM and winning to help pay for lawyers who cannot afford to donate their time. The ultimate solution, in my humble opinion, lies there. In hammering the BLM in the courts with facts and law so hard and so often that they lose enough to be forced by the courts to buy back cattle grazing rights on public lands that were designated for the horses in the 1971 Law. And to return the horses to those lands they were granted. And to allow the cougars, bears, and wolves and other wildlife to restructure the natural ecological balance required by the law.
Organizations taking on the BLM in the courts and winning are: Ginger Kathren’s The Cloud Foundation, Laura Leigh’s Wild Horse Education, and Suzanne Roy’s Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, all of whom have taken on the BLM in the courts using the BLM’s blatant disregard for the 1971 law… and won! We need more of that. And we need to make a frontal assault on the illegality of leasing grazing rights on land that congress designated to be for the wild horses and burros. But, again, it takes lawyers, and money. So please! Join the frontal assault.
It’s a long and winding road, but it can happen.
Proper enforcement of the law would effect the ultimate solution to the problem while drastically reducing the budgets of both federal agencies charged with implementing the protection of wild horses and burros. Enforce the law and you’ll save the horses and cut costs.
Enforcement of the law as written would give the horses and burros the land Congress intended them to have and there would be little need for “management” or management expenses beyond observation. And perhaps some serious research on how the horse is genetically designed to live, eat, travel, etc.
Below is the absolute best film about wild
horses I ever hope to see!
This is the third in a PBS series about a wild stallion named Cloud and his herd in the Pryor Mountains of Montana, produced and filmed by Ginger Kathrens who named Cloud and has been following him on camera from the day he was born more than 17 years ago. Purchase this DVD (or all three in the series) and you will learn more about horses than you ever thought possible.
And because every dollar goes to the Cloud Foundation you will also be helping to save wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management’s serious attempt to manage these American icons into extinction.
Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions – $20
All three films on one DVD – $30