Thursday, March 10, 2011

Public land policy and wild horses

I’m going to delve a little into policy here...

Due to the public outcry concerning the treatment of free-roaming horses, Congress declared that they were fast disappearing from the western landscape.  As a result, they enacted the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (hereafter referred to as Wild Horse Act).  It placed their care under the Secretary of the Department of Interior to be managed on public lands by the Bureau of Land Management, which at the time knew nothing about how many horses there were or how to manage them.   They would learn on the fly though as the Act states that the horses shall be managed as an “integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”  The Secretary is also to manage these animals in “a manner designed to achieve and maintain a thriving ecological balance on public lands,” to consult with state wildlife agency, and to take into consideration wildlife needs, particularly those that are endangered.  This means that excess animals (horses and burros) are to be removed to maintain said “ecological balance,” pursuant to the Wild Horse Act.  Again, the Secretary shall capture excess horses.  It is mandatory. It is declared by Congress.

…If Congress only knew what a mess the consequences of this policy would be over the next forty years.  Ranchers have filed for “takes” when horses wander onto private property and cause damages.  Activists have continually cried out for the “rights” of horses and hailed the BLM capture methods “inhumane.”

Also mixed in with the Wild Horse Act and management of horses on public lands is the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).  Among other purposes (readers can read others on their own if interested), Congress declared that management of this policy is to be “on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield” §102(7); to promptly create “regulations and plans for the protection of public land areas of critical environmental concern” FLPMA §102(11); and to be managed in a way that recognizes the Nation’s needs for “sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands” FLPMA §102(12).  Now, horse management must be managed in accordance with the other uses intended for public lands to serve our Nation.  Among these uses is livestock grazing with its own section in the FLPMA (Range Management §401).  And as declared with the Taylor Grazing Act long before it in 1936, the FLPMA gives power to the Secretary to issue livestock grazing permits and leases on ten year cycles.  This was occurring long before the wild horses became protected under the Wild Horse Act.  Therefore, to maintain an “ecological balance,” horse management is constrained by multiple-use, wildlife, and other uses of public lands.  Contrary to many beliefs, the horses are not entitled to any land.  No, they must share it and indeed the BLM must - or rather shall - manage them to coexist with the other uses.

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