Interior Secretary Called Upon for Fair, Effective Protections for Sage Grouse that Do Not Scapegoat Wild Horses

Tomorrow: Sally Jewell to visit BLM Lakeview (OR) District

Lakeview OR (September 24, 2014) . . . On the eve of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visit to the Lakeview, Oregon Bureau of Land Management (BLM) District, wild horse advocates are calling on her to ensure fair and effective sage grouse protections that target the major cause of habitat degradation – livestock grazing – and do not scapegoat wild horses.

Tomorrow, Secretary Jewell will tour sage grouse “conservation” efforts in the Lakeview BLM District. These efforts are aimed at preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from listing the sage grouse, a ground-dwelling desert bird, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Last week, Public Employees for Responsibility (PEER) accused the BLM of scapegoating a small number of wild horses in sage grouse habitat for environmental damage caused by vastly larger numbers of livestock.

“We are calling on Secretary Jewell to listen to Americans who overwhelmingly want to protect wild horses on public lands, while far fewer Americans want to ensure that public lands are available for livestock grazing,” said Deniz Bolbol, spokesperson for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, which is backed by a national coalition of more than 60 organizations. “Secretary Jewell’s leadership is needed to provide equitable solutions for all parties that include giving wild horses and burros a fair share of the resources on the small amount of public lands designated for their use.”

The FWS has determined that the sage grouse is eligible for listing as Endangered. Such a listing would curb the commercial use of public lands in sage grouse habitat, including livestock grazing. Ranchers and the BLM are scrambling to prevent the bird’s listing because it would spell the end for wide-scale grazing on public lands, which is available to ranchers at significantly below market rates, thanks to taxpayer subsidies.

The PEER analysis found that the BLM, in its bid to preserve welfare ranching on public lands, is overestimating wild horses impacts and underestimating livestock impacts. PEER concluded that if the agency had used the same standards to evaluate livestock as it did wild horses, the “area of influence” of livestock on sage grouse habitat would be 14 times larger than reported by the BLM, and six times larger than the area of influence for wild horses.

Nationally, the BLM manages 245 million acres of land, of which 155 million are grazed by livestock. Wild horses and burros are restricted to just 26.9 million acres of BLM land, which they share with livestock. In a recent email, BLM senior wild horse and burro specialist Zachary Reichold revealed that 77 percent of forage in wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas (HMAs) is allocated to livestock. 

In the Lakeview District that Secretary Jewell will visit, BLM manages 3.2 million acres of land. Under the Lakeview District Resource Management Plan, the annual equivalent of 13,700 cow/calf pairs are authorized to graze on 2.9 million acres, or 91% of BLM land in the District. Wild horses are restricted to just over 710,000 acres (22% of BLM land in the District) in two main HMAs – Beatys Butte and Paisley Desert – where a maximum of 400 wild horses are authorized to graze. 

Jewell will meet officials from the BLM, FWS, and state agencies tomorrow (Thursday 9/25) at 9:30 a.m. at the Lakeview Interagency Office, 1301 South G Street, Lakeview, Oregon.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. AWHPC was founded by Return to Freedom, based in Lompoc, CA.