What is the Difference between Cliven Bundy and the BLM?

Cliven Bundy and his cattle in Bunkerville, Nevada, have been a hot topic lately.

Bundy is often condemned and castigated by the BLM and others for “not following the rules.”  Like many governmental actors and agencies, however, the BLM likes to make and enforce rules against others, but hates to comply with the rules and laws that apply to its own actions.

The BLM’s management of its wild horse program is a prime example of this. The BLM is allocating millions of dollars to remove Cliven Bundy’s cattle from BLM land.  But the agency has completely failed and refused to manage its own wild horses.  Using “lack of resources” as a guise, the BLM has failed to remove excess wild horse numbers not only from BLM lands that the horses are denuding of forage at a critical point in the vegetation cycle, but also from state and private lands on the checker-boarded ranges of Iron, Beaver and Millard Counties.

Wild horses, cattle, sheep and other livestock, as well as wildlife, all compete for limited forage and water on these ranges.  Target wild horse numbers are governed by resource management plans.  A good example of the problem that exists is a resource management plan for a portion of the Escalante Valley west of Lund, in northwestern Iron County.  While the BLM’s resource manage plan calls for not more than about 300 horses in that area, the BLM itself acknowledges that there are at least 1200 wild horses on the ground.  According to ranchers in the area, however, there are probably well over 2000 wild horses in that area.

Clearly, this isn’t an issue that just cropped up overnight.  The BLM has been turning a blind eye to these numbers and conditions on the range for years – continually seeking to make sure that ranchers and everyone else follow the rules, while refusing to do the same.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that a big part of the problem is the fact that the entire BLM wild horse program is a well-documented disaster from a variety of perspectives, including financial.  According to a piece published in the Deseret News in February, 2014, the BLM’s wild horse program is one of the Federal government’s Top 20 money wasters.

According to that piece:

The Department of the Interior spends $76 million annually on rounding up wild horses on public land. The Bureau of Land Management spends more money on maintaining temporary corrals than actually catching the horses. There are more wild horses living in captivity than actually in the wild.

It is well-documented from internal reports and correspondence within the BLM that the wild horse program is on the verge of financial collapse.  The BLM has created a growing monster that won’t quit eating and must be fed.

Although the BLM’s mandate is to manage federal “land,” at this point the BLM has made the decision to be in the horse business instead.  The BLM has made the conscious choice to compete with ranchers and sacrifice the health of drought-stricken western ranges and the forage and water they produce for productive animals like wildlife and livestock, rather than manage and control wild horse numbers to reduce competition for scarce resources.

Compared to Cliven Bundy, the BLM’s actions seem to be the epitome of governmental hypocrisy.  It may finally be time to consider re-naming the BLM – Bureau of Land Mis-management.

Originally published in The Spectrum on April 9, 2014.