More than 100,000 predator animals native to the land are shot, trapped, snared, poisoned and killed in dens every year by programs authorized by the federal government.
Animals that are being erased from the landscape as the human population increases include mountain lions, coyotes, bears and wolves whose job is to keep nature in balance. The justification for killing these animals is that grazing livestock need public lands, which commercial producers can get at below-market rates.
In 2002, a study found that Americans pay between $500 million and $1 billion annually in taxes to subsidize grazing in the West. “Taxpayers pay to restore streams fouled by cattle; to fence public campsites and archaeological sites; to filter out giardia and other parasites that end up in city water supplies from cattle. They also pay when government trappers kill mountain lions, coyotes and other predators that threaten cows on the public range.”
There is little scientific evidence to show that these animals compete for the same areas as domestic animals or that the federal dollars spent on killing the native animals is remotely connected to the actual damage they cause.
Yet every year the government spends millions of dollars to kill thousands upon thousands of animals on private and public lands. Animal Damage Control began in 1886 as a program to advise people on how to control birds that farmers said were damaging crops. It started killing predators in 1914 and has continued to do so ever since, now called Wildlife Services within the Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) under the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931.
By 1921 labs were creating poisons for wildlife, coyotes and wolves. In 2006 a USDA audit found biological agents and toxins used by APHIS to kill wildlife were not safeguarded, inventories were not accurate, access was not restricted and didn’t comply with security regulations.
Called “welfare ranching” the program also benefits game hunters who hope to increase the numbers of game species like big horn sheep and sage grouse for shooting.
A large part of the federal kill program also focuses on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Policies of the BLM have been revealed to benefit private interests at the expense of wild horses being inhumanely rounded up and removed.
More and more showdowns are occurring between protestors and the BLM when helicopters close in on wild horses in their beloved death stampedes.
“They are by law supposed to protect these horses, and in fact they are doing the exact opposite — they are exterminating them,” says Simone Netherlands, founder of the advocacy group Respect 4 Horses. “They are managing them to extinction.”
The BLM insists there are more wild horses and burros today than there were in 1971 when the roundup program began after a unanimous vote to protect and manage wild horses and burros under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, ensuring them a place on public lands free from “capture, harassment and death.”
The population grew and the last BLM roundup removed more horses and burros than it had in other years. According to the BLM, the estimated 33,700 wild horses and 4,700 burros roaming the bureau’s lands in 10 western states would explode in numbers if not controlled.
The government’s plan to remove 12,000 more horses from the land would leave about 26,600 horses and burros to roam 26 million acres.
So the tax-funded killing cycle of wildlife continues, killing both predators and prey, despite public outcry.
Wild mustangs are managed on much of BLM’s public lands where other wildlife and livestock also live and people use for recreation and mining.
“We have to manage for all users,” says Alan Shepard, the head of BLM’s Nevada office. “We can’t let one, say the horse, impact everybody else by taking all the feed, all the water.”
If horses were actually taking all the feed and water, everything else would be dead, which is not the case.
Netherlands said the problem isn’t the horses but the cattle that are allowed to graze on the same land. Decisions of the government that determine the number of horses they will leave in peace on the land are calculated by a study done in the mid-1990’s, a study that activists insist is not scientific.
The National Academy of Science previously noted that the population growth estimates the BLM uses are double the actual number.
According to the Animal Law Coalition, “[Interior Secretary] Salazar and the BLM do not mention the thousands of cattle grazing and drinking and fouling water on these lands, BLM’s land sales, development, increasing recreational use, and mining as well diversion of water from herd areas. Wildlife ecologists say if public lands are “degraded”, something that is disputed, these factors are far more to blame. In fact, citizens living in the areas where there are wild horses and burros, including small ranchers, contradict BLM’s assessments the range is “degraded” or lacks sufficient water for these few remaining animals.”
“To be rounded up in the way that it is done with helicopters, being run for miles and miles and miles — it’s brutal,” says Netherlands. “It’s barbaric and it does not need to be done this way.”
More than 100 horses died in a round-up earlier this in a roundup from being run in the cold over hard ground.
“This is not a risk-free operation and yes, horses do get killed,” says Tom Gorey, spokesman for BLM. “We have a very low mortality rate of less than 1 percent from gather-related deaths.”
The media were kept about a quarter of a mile away from where the horses were being corralled at a recent Lahontan roundup. Shepard said the reason was because if they were any closer, cameras might spook the horses.
Right. After chasing them down and terrorizing them with helicopters, you wouldn’t want them to be further traumatized by the public or a few journalists.
Hope has come from a group of members of Congress who encouraged BLM to ask for an independent study of its Wild Horse and Burro Program. An assessment by the National Academy of Sciences would take two years to complete.
There is currently an opportunity for those who are concerned for wildlife being targeted by these damaging and wasteful federal programs to voice their opposition.
Visit the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign to submit your comments to the USDA on an Environmental Assessment for Predator Damage Management in Nevada.
Send a letter to the BLM to voice your opposition to plans to remove 400 horses from the High Rock Complex in Nevada.