Interior Wild Horse Focus Ignores Cattle Impacts  

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Monday, September 20, 2021
Kirsten Stade 240-988-4207

Interior Wild Horse Focus Ignores Cattle Impacts

BLM’s Scientific “Cow Blindness” Impedes Sage Grouse Recovery


Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to blame wild horses for ecological damage across the West while avoiding analysis of its own massive livestock grazing program, charges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in a letter sent today to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. A PEER analysis shows that on the majority of lands where the agency has identified wild horses as implicated in the decline of sage grouse habitat, agency records indicate livestock grazing as a significant cause of habitat degradation.

A highly-publicized U.S. Geological Survey study released earlier this month found that wild horses are adversely affecting sage grouse habitat. That study is being used as part of the rationale for removing thousands of free-ranging horses from this habitat. Yet the USGS has an earlier version of the dataset used in PEER’s analysis and has in fact used these data to map livestock impacts as long ago as 2011, despite their claim in the study that “Our analysis did not explicitly model livestock (e.g., cattle) … primarily because of challenges associated with compiling quality spatial data.”

“USGS and BLM have put on scientific blinders when it comes to public lands grazing,” stated PEER Special Projects Manager Kirsten Stade, noting that cows outnumber wild horses on BLM lands by a ratio of more than 30 to 1. “While wild horses do have impacts of their own, coherent landscape and recovery planning require a hard look at the millions of cows foraging increasingly stressed rangelands.”

PEER, which has obtained BLM’s rangeland health data via the Freedom of Information Act, charges that the Bureau of Land Management’s deliberate obfuscation of livestock eco-impacts is a function of political pressure from the ranching industry, and that–

  • While the agency scapegoats wild horses for habitat degradation, its data reveal that most of the allotments within Wild Horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) that fail its standards for rangeland health — approximately 11.5 million acres of the 21.5 million acres of allotments within HMAs assessed by BLM to date — identify livestock as a significant cause of that failure; 
Livestock are by far the most frequently identified cause of allotment failure to meet standards for quality of water, vegetation, and soils, as well as the ability to support wildlife nationwide, including for allotments within HMAs. More than 40 million acres, including 15 million acres of priority sage-grouse habitat of BLM lands across the west fail to meet these standards due to overgrazing by livestock;
  • Of the almost 22 million acres of HMA area within allotments that BLM has assessed, only a tiny fraction–just 1% or 311,000 acres–has been identified as failing standards due to wild horses alone, with no mention of livestock;
  • In Colorado, the Sand Wash Basin wild horse roundup, the largest wild horse roundup in the state’s history, overlaps portions of ten grazing allotments totaling 158,000 acres where BLM assessments have overwhelmingly found livestock—and not wild horses– to be at fault for deteriorated range conditions. In Nevada, another state in which the BLM is conducting wild horse roundups, 88% of allotment acreage in which wild horses have been identified as a cause of land degradation also list livestock grazing as a cause.

“Given BLM’s pattern of denying grazing impacts, Secretary Haaland will have a challenging time honoring her pledge to the American people that Interior will henceforth be guided by the best science available,” added Stade, pointing to worsening drought conditions throughout the West. “Despite the unmistakable red flags, Interior is not even studying, let alone planning, any widespread, programmatic changes in livestock stocking rates or management to prevent further sage grouse decline.”

Read the PEER letter to Secretary Haaland 

See USGS press release on its wild horse study 

See the breakdown of land health standards status of allotments within HMAs 

See Western Watersheds Project’s map showing Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Areas overlaid with BLM grazing allotments 

See PEER analysis and images of grazing allotments on Utah’s Onaqui Mountain HMA, site of a recent BLM wild horse roundup 

View massive damage across western range caused by overgrazing    

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