Lummis takes on horse advocates
By David Louis
RAWLINS — As a member on the U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee for public lands, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. joined her fellow lawmakers last week taking dead aim at groups who advocate against euthanizing wild horses.
Although the committee realized it was taking on an issue that does not have any easy answers, Lummis stressed that the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is not being followed.
The law requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove wild horses from private land, if requested by the landowner, and also allows for their destruction if wild horses held by the agency are not adopted.
However, because of Congressional direction, BLM has not been allowed to slaughter wild horses for several years.
Compounding the issue, since 2012 Congress has required anyone who adopts a wild horse to contractually agree not to resell them for slaughter. The BLM has argued against lifting that restriction.
“This is a terrible problem without a good solution,” Lummis said. “The fact is that the law requires the BLM to maintain range resources in good condition. But this does not square with animal rights activists’ view of wild horses as the superior species on the range.”
According to the Associated Press, BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis expressed his frustration during last week’s testimony, offering a glimpse of the challenges facing the agency that has been struggling for decades with what is described as a $1 billion problem.
During the at-times emotional hearing, highlights included Nevada’s state veterinarian calling for the roundup and surgical sterilization in every overpopulated herd, followed by a protester who briefly interrupted with shouts denouncing “welfare ranchers” turning public lands into “feedlots.”
“I was surprised that we had an animal rights activist come to the meeting who disrupted it so thoroughly that the Capitol Police had to be called,” Lummis said. “I don’t want to be insensitive, but when people come and testify saying ‘no’ to everything, they are being inflexible, unrealistic and emotional.”
Lummis knows that the question of how to control the wild horse population is a political football and passions run deep; she doubts that common ground will be found.
“I’m not sure we all do want the same thing. People assume and assert if you take all the cattle off the range then everything will be fine. That’s simply not the case,” she said.
“Now BLM is experimenting with castration and neutering, and activists find that unacceptable. The problem I had with the disruptive witness was that she wanted no castration. No neutering. No holding pens. All she wanted was horses released from government corrals and turned back out onto the range.”
During subcommittee testimony, Ellis estimated there were 67,000 wild horses and burros on federal land in 10 states, 2.5 times more than the range can support.
However, government corrals and leased pastures are maxed out, where 47,000 horses nationwide cost taxpayers about $50,000 per head over the course of the animal’s lifetime.
“You can’t give the activists what they want and responsibly manage the land,” Lummis said.
“There are way too many horses on the range to do this, and they are way over objective population numbers. Wild horses double in number every four to seven years and this is completely unsustainable. We don’t do that with elk. We don’t do that with deer, don’t do that with any other wild specie.”
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands, objected to those who stood staunchly against euthanizing wild horses “and yet seem perfectly willing to watch them succumb to excruciating death by starvation, dehydration and disease.”
“That is the future we condemn these animals to if we don’t intervene now,” the California Republican said.
“I don’t know if there is common ground among us that can be found to create a win-win strategy with every single horse,” Lummis said, “but there have been some successes.”
The first of its kind in the United States, the Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary, located 35 miles west of Laramie, is home to a heard of 130 wild horses. Open fields invite long runs and lazy afternoon grazing.
The BLM established the EcoSanctuary project in 2013.
“I would think this type of an arrangement, although expensive for the taxpayers, would be an acceptable alternative, but advocates are opposed to neutering these animals,” Lummis said. “Until this hearing I didn’t realize just how unrealistic and unachievable the activist’s goals are.”
Though no one has come up with a one-size-fits-all solution to managing the wild horse population, and Lummis doubts there ever will be one, there are other alternatives that may include euthanizing animals in government pens, she said.
“I think that humanely euthanizing the animals and disposing of their remains without using them for food is certainly an acceptable alternative,” she said. “I could go either way, but if we can find the ultimate, compassionate, calming process — that’s a better alternative than holding them in pens until they die of old age.”
Many in the top jobs at BLM admit the wild horse program is broken and straining under its own weight.
“The committee understands BLM is between the ultimate rock and hard place,” Lummis said.
“I think this is an impossible situation on a large scale to find a solution that is acceptable for everyone. I suspect BLM is as frustrated as I am. I don’t fault the BLM. They are trying to thread the needle so that they are not beaten to a bloody pulp by people who are against them.”