Amy Joi O’Donoghue
Range wars: Tension mounts in the West over public lands grazing, wild horses and ranchers
More than 70 animal advocacy and conservation groups are calling on the Biden administration to eliminate livestock grazing on any public lands where wild horse populations exist, ramping up the debate on how rangelands should be used across the West, including in Utah.
Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, Western Watersheds and The Cloud Foundation joined a coalition of organizations demanding Interior Secretary Deb Haaland put a freeze on grazing permits, much like what was done for oil and gas drilling.
The groups assert that the Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of grazing permits is biased against wild horse populations and mass “roundups” are being driven by pressure from ranchers.
“Specifically, we advocate an immediate elimination of all cattle/sheep grazing on all horse-occupied BLM Herd Management Area (HMA) lands,” the letter reads, as well as an assessment and action to address livestock-induced ecological problems inside those herd management areas to help climate stabilization efforts and address biodiversity issues.
The BLM insists there is an “overpopulation” of wild horses and burros. But the groups contend that is not true and public lands management is tipped in a grossly unfair away in favor of the ranching industry, with an estimated 4.3 million cattle and sheep on Western lands — or 30 of these domesticated animals for every wild horse.
In October 2019, the Deseret News reported then that nearly 90,000 wild horses and burros roamed in 10 Western states where government range watchers say there should be just under 27,000, and the horses are multiplying quickly.
On average, horse populations grow 15% to 20% every year in the wild, and left unchecked, the population across rangelands will double every four to five years.
“The American people cherish our wild horses and burros as living treasures, and iconic reminders of the essential 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 slated for roundup this summer, with the BLM aiming to remove 75% of the population.