The County Seat   Horse and Burro Summit
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The County Seat Horse and Burro Summit

August 12, 2019

Welcome to The County Seat I’m
your host Chad Booth. Today we are talking about wild or feral
horses. There are some 43,000 of them in holding pins right now and if
they bring the range size down to an appropriate level, we’ll be
looking at seventy some odd thousand horses additional. They cost $20,000
apiece to keep. That’s 1.2 billion
dollars we currently owe an it will double
if we bring more into pasture. How do
you solve the problem? That’s our
show today. Let’s learn a little bit
more about wild horses to start. When we think about wild horses
on the range images like this one usually
come to mind. However the reality is far
harsher. It is images like this show the
true plight of wild horse herds in the western
United States. In 2014 there were roughly 3,000
wild horses and burros in Utah and about
33,000 nationwide. Fast forward to this
year and there are now 5,000 in Utah and 72,000
on ranges nationwide. According to the rules set out
in Wild Free- Roaming horse and burro act of
1971, federal agencies were to manage wild
herds while maintaining a thriving
ecological balance and multiple-use relationship. At
the time the sustainable number was estimated
to be 25,000 animals, roughly a third of what
the population is now. And the numbers just
continue to grow. “The horses don’t have much in
the way of natural control in their numbers
other than through starvation and
dehydration and that doesn’t occur until the
resources on the range have been depleted. And that is
a slow ugly death for the horses involved.” Currently 46,000 horses and
burros are living in BLM holding facilities. The cost
to maintain that number is using roughly two
thirds of the horse and burro program budget, a cost
estimated at 50 million dollars. This is why the National Wild
Horse and Burro summit was held in Salt Lake
City recently. A solution needs to be found
before the cost becomes too much for the BLM to
handle, before rangelands are decimated,
and before the horses breed themselves into
oblivion. “That’s why I’m here today is to
participate in these conversations to see if we
can help drive some ideas and some solutions
that will really help us tackle the
overpopulation of wild horses and burros and produce healthy
rangelands.” In today’s panel discussion,
we’ll focus on the options presented at the horse
and burrow summit and ask what lawmakers
need to do to help fix the ongoing problem. For the County Seat I’m Malia
Stringham. Thanks Malia, the Horse and
Burro Summit has yielded some very
good information and some very interesting speakers. We are
going to talk to four of them, when we
come back on The County Seat. Welcome back to The County Seat
we are doing an update and wild
horses and burros because of the recent summit in Salt Lake City joining
us for this conversation is John Ruse
who is the acting deputy director of operations for the BLM
transplant for the time being from Washington
DC thank you for joining us. We
have J.J. Goicoechea who is a veteran of
our show and a Nevada State veterinarian and the chair of
the county commission for Eureka
County in Nevada. We have Eric Thacker who is an assistant professor at
Utah State University and you are
also the range specialist. Which gives
us a great conversation. I have
noticed in this summit as there have been
other horse and burro events we have
gone to as The County Seat over the
years that this one has some
difference to it there are a lot of changes in motion. Most notably changes in
the range conditions changes in the
herd and herd populations and it
seems like there is a change in policy
where at least how the federal
government is acknowledging what is going
on with the horses that is publicly
has not ever shown up before so that
is what I would like to focus on.
I think probably most important to start with the range issues so Eric if
we could talk to you for just a
second. Let’s talk about what conditions
have changed on the range. The wild horse and burro
problems are not new problems we have
kind of reached a point and a lot of
people are referring to it as a
breaking point wild horses are at the highest population they have ever been
in certain parts the range of
experience with the pretty dramatic drought over the last few years which exacerbates the range condition
even worse and so it has reached a
point where people are concerned that
we have reached a breaking point
that something needs to be done now because of the range condition
and we have already crossed what a
lot of people would call an ecological threshold meaning even if the
horses come off the range right now all
the grazing animals come off the
range right now it would not return to
its previous condition because of
the damage it has been done. So a
lot of this is triage and trying to
stop the bleeding so to speak before it
gets any worse. So is there more of a
willingness to look at some of these issues. I jumping down to the other end
here on policy, I have not ever
actually heard acknowledgments of saying
we need the tools back of being
able to sell them outright and that has
never ever come up publicly from the
BLM but it was part of two
presentations today. It is very important for us to
have the full set of tools in order for
us to do the job that Congress gave us in
the 1971 wild horse and burro act.
I think it is we are at a
precipice you talk about range conditions and
if we do not acknowledge the fact that horse numbers are too high and
we have to take some active management the situation is
going to get completely it’s so out of
kilter now we cannot sustain it. Two years ago J.J. when you were
last on the show we were still way
out in numbers and from the BLM’s part this was not part of their
public dialogue it was we have tools we
are not allowed to sell outright we
are not allowed to engage in
euthanasia has things changed with the
herds as well? Things have changed not only
with the herds we are starting to see
some dramatic body condition changes
in some of these horses they are
very thin we are seeing some die offs
of horses in some places late in
the summer. But all the other
species that are out there we have
started to see some significant changes as
well. Our wildlife is being impacted
by the over population of wild horse
out there we have been warned about this for 20 to 25 years and we
are now finally really starting to
see that and I think that is what is
changing this conversation today. So what is a good range? How
many animals should be out there,
that is my question? What do you think? I jump in first I think let’s
get to where we are supposed to be currently and then we can have a conversation about whether that
is still too many. I think is kind
of an academic argument pointless argument is the 27,000 which is
the high AML (Appropriate Management Levels) is that too many or not enough the conversation says
let’s get them to AML and then we can reevaluate whether or not we
need to go lower or maybe we can
handle fewer we cannot even have that conversation until we get there
in Utah we have not ever been at
AML since the 90’s. So we don’t
even know what it looks like to be at
AML. I agree with Eric we have to AML
but most likely we will probably see
some number changes ups and down perhaps in some areas because
the ecological sites have changed
since 1971 where those 27,000 horses were in 1971 I do not think we
can carry 27,000 horses in those
identical places again today because of
the range deterioration. This is a good place to hold and
I want to come back and address
can we actually accomplish this if
we are like 60,000 horses over AML we
will take a break on The County Seat
and we will be right back. Welcome back to The County Seat
we are talking today about the wild horse and burro situation a
recent summit in Salt Lake City brought
all the people together put the best minds together and working on a solution. So I want to start
and I have two questions I really want to
get in this segment and John here is
the first one. You have 60,000 too
many horses out there not even
counting Indian lands not even counting
what is in the pastures can we
actually do this? We have to. So the question is
how and that is what this summit has been about is to try to find and
have a dialogue and look at options
and look at finding those ways how
do we work together to come up with solutions to dealing with 60,000 horses. So I understand that the intent
is right but I am going to be
honest with you live in an environment with
an agency that likes static things
not dynamic and from what I am
hearing this is going to require being
very dynamic on the range and how we handle the things because we
have got population shifting around
and you have a lot of variables on
the ground including drought weather and everything else. So how do
you make that shift? For the agency we have to go
back to some of our foundational
principals. We have to go back to the wild
horse and burro act itself which
talked about management we have to back to FLPMA the federal land policy management act because that also give us direction on management.
So if we get back to our
foundational purpose our mission if you will
then tell us we need to be managing
and that is where we have to go and
what we have to do we have to focus
on those foundational principals. Those are really tough if you go
into it and read the 1971 act it talks
about excess horses being sold out
right for euthanasia it talks about things
that are currently unpopular but are
those not going to have to be in the
tool box to work? You know I think they are. They
are going to have to be in the tool
box other ways of curbing our reproductive growth and in the
tool box we need to get down to AML
that means we have to find that
capacity off range to get there. That is
going to require some additional tools
that currently are not palatable
today. But I ask everyone is it
palatable to allow these horses to starve? To
die for lack of water and to allow
all the other resources out there to
suffer the same consequences because
the horse is the last one to show
that. We are going to have to take
some unpleasant steps if we are ever
going to get this. Every day we wait
it becomes more and more
unpleasant. So Eric looking at the range conditions are the advocates
that save we have to protect the
horses at all costs just give them all the
range, are they being unrealistic at
looking at what the range can sustain. I cannot speak for them directly
but what I can speak to with an
animal with a 20% annual growth rate
even if all the cattle come off the
range that’s a lot of the conflict now
is let’s take more cattle off and put
more horses on that really doesn’t
address the problem. We will just add
more horses to more land and we will
still end up we are not solving any problems with that because we
still have a species that is nonnative
there is no ecological regulatory mechanisms to control population
so that is really not a solution.
See what I am trying to say in the short
term we might have more animals but
it will just exasperate the
problem. So Eric maybe you want to touch
on as a range scientist what
happens to those remaining ecological sites
that are still intact and maybe
functioning at risk. Well I should have finished
because what that means is you are now spreading the problem. Right
now we have like in Utah we have 19
wild horse management areas if we
just took the boundaries off those
and let the horses go where they want we would just expand those problems
to a broader cross section of the
range so ultimately lead to more range
land degradation and more of the same issues we are dealing with now
so it is not a solution. The advocates look at it from
saying we have to get the cattle guys
off as we should all be vegetarians
anyway. That kind of seems like the
argument. So what happens to the wildlife
in those cases? We are still
forgetting we have native wildlife because
this is an introduced species the
horse and we have native wildlife they
are being pushed onto our private property in so many places
across the west already, where the horses
are forcing them off of these eco
systems that is only going to continue
you can remove all of the domestic
livestock from public lands that wild life
is then the next species that is going
to suffer. I think that is the one thing
that is often not brought up. It
polarizes the argument to would you rather
have horses than cows on the range? Which to a lot of people it may
sound appealing but that is completely discounting the fact that it
would lead to wide spread loss of wild
life and wild life habitat that is
also very important. We are not just talking about
elk here are we? We are talking birds,
we are talking all kinds of things. Well its multiple use and that
is John’s agency mission if you
will is multiple use. Correct. You know the presentation that Brock McMillian from BYU gave
today illustrates this point
perfectly. Even with song birds which they don’t
live on the ground with horses you
would think you saw more than 50% reduction in the numbers of
birds around water holes where horses were versus where horses were excluded. So the point is that
they have an impact on everything
else in those systems. We have largely ignored the impacts to wildlife
up to this point because that has not
been part of the discussion which I
think needs to be part of the
discussion. Let me take you back quickly to
the wild horse and burro act where
it tells us to maintain a thriving ecological balance and a balance
of all the uses that are out there.
Not just the horse or burro. Now that is something I do not
think I would have heard from your
agency a year and half ago or two years
ago. It is a natural ecological
balance as well. Correct. What is naturally there we do
not want to supplement with
additional water sources or haul water or
those types of things to do what Eric
said and put the problem somewhere else. Well there are going to be those
who say oh yes, the horse is a
native species it started in the North American continent in the
prehistoric times and so now it is not
native because it moved to Europe and
has come back. I have heard people
make this argument. They have one of the presenters today actually addressed that.
The horse that evolved here in North America went extinct over 10,000 years ago. Gone. So did all of its predators. That’s the large part of it that
was ice age stuff a lot of things
changed so the horses that are here today
are of Spanish and European descent and are not related to those
original horses. John question for you very short answer. Are you equipped with
the tools that you need right now or
are your hands tied as an agency? We have a lot of tools and what
we need right now is a full suite
of tools then we need the partnership
with the state and local governments
and the people that live on the
ground to help us accomplish those things. Could you do that today could
you implement an outright sale and a euthanasia policy? No we need assistance from Congress. Okay we are going to take a
break and address that issue when we come back right here on the
county seat and we are talking about
wild horse and burros and doing an update some very interesting conversation and there is a
dynamic in this conference I have never
seen before. We will be right back. Welcome back to the county seat
we took the gauntlet seriously
about Congress needing to do something
so we have substituted John for
this last segment with Clay White who is
the assistance legislative director
for Representative Chris Stewart out
of Utah. We are going to start
this and let’s just say the balls in your
court the BLM has said you guys have
got to make something happen in Congress is this even possible
right now? Well thanks for having me on
Chad and the previous guest John was absolutely right. Let me very
clear this is a congressional created problem the BLM does not have
all the tools in their tool box that
they were meant to have from the 1971 horse and burro act Congress has taken many of those tools away
and not allowed them to use those.
So we have been working on
addressing this problem since Mr. Stewart
came into congress. He has become
known as the wild horse guy he holds
up pictures every year in the appropriations committee because that is where this rider
prevents the BLM with the wild horses and
burros from having additional
management tools. To answer your question I
think it is possible. We have moved
the ball inch by inch we will take a
first down instead of a touch down. To be quite frank and I am not
trying to put you on the spot Clay but
if you listen to these two we do not
have time to do a first in ten. I
mean it’s got to be a Hail Mary at this
point because if it takes another 20
years to get those tools put back
there is not going to be any range left. Absolutely and I 100% agree with that we are at a tipping point
and unfortunately that is when
Congress acts is when their backs are
against the wall we tend to not do
anything proactively we tend to do things
at midnight before it runs out of
time. So Clay you guys and
Congressman’s Stewart’s office and some others across the west but what do we
need to do those of us on the ground
who are really seeing this day to
day the ecological damage the damage to
the horses themselves the death to
the horses. How do we need to reach
out to those others in Congress and
make them understand just how
significant this is today? That is our biggest hurdler we
have to cross. Members of congress on
both sides of the isle do not fully understand this problem this is
a western issue that is out of
sight and out of mind to most members of Congress. What do you hit them with? Do
you hit them with the 1 billion
dollars it’s going to take to keep these
horses in pastures? Absolutely the cost the inhumane treatment that the animals are receiving currently on the range where they are starving to death
we have scientific based evidence
this horse conference is a great illustration of that. That is
why I am saying that our partners on our
side of the isle and the other side
of the isle are starting to come
around. Mr. Stewart was successful in giving
the BLM more tools this past July in
the appropriations process and we
are hopeful that will be in the end
of the year spending package. Five years ago I think when we
first did our very first County Seat
on this issue I was scolded from
bringing up slaughter. I said the word,
even by panelist. They said you cannot
say that. Are we are the point to me
it seems like a solution we really
have to look at is this opening stuff
up for commercial sale again. It depends on your definition of slaughter. It really does. Mr. Stewart’s amendment will still prohibit slaughter for
commercial and human consumption but it will
allow the BLM to euthanize excess
horses. That is a tool that they have
not had in their tool bag for decades.
So when I say we are making
progress those are some of things we are doing. Granted they are not all
the tools but we had to realize the political reality and we got our friends on the other side of the
isle to agree with us. They did not
oppose Mr. Stewart’s amendment they
said we won’t vote against it and it received a technically unanimous vote because there was not
recorded vote called. I guarantee I will get emails
about this but we are at a point where something needs to happen and I
am asking everybody who watches
this show this is one you need to get involved in you need to start
making your point known that we need to
do something about this give
congress the courage through
representatives to do what they need to do to
change the policy to make things
happen. Share this with your friends
share it on social media we have to get
these pictures and this dialogue out
to everybody so do that and we will catch you next week on The
County Seat.

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  1. disclosure of proven climate engineering programs, significantly affecting the hydrological cycle funded with public and private funds leading to widespread drought and destruction of property and ecosystems should be addressed within this forum as a critical matter of importance. and Congress needs to put an end to open air testing violating informed consent rights. the issue of whether as a weapon should be addressed.

  2. Last week I read a very interesting a thoughtful rebuttal to the contrived rhetoric in this video. What happened to that comment? Anyway, No, you are being used and handed a pile of cow dung. Wild Horses belong and they have written plans to exterminate most of the herds by 2024. — they want to do it quickly while they think they have the political mandate to do so. Not because of excess, but because of entitlement of those who have no sense of ecology or understand the importance of keeping at least the 5% of public lands intact for the horses to roam. All of the summit is a farce with the same ole crony's that spuu the same ole talking points far from reality. We do not Kill horses just because of a failed mandate. Step aside greedy Pajama boys in big hats and let those who know intellectually, intuitively and academically how to restore the land with the wild horses as an integral part. (not protect the harvest clueless types). of course restoration is a term not understood only extraction and exploitation, who can make and take the most is.

  3. I am at a loss for words for the people, like Marly here, who advocate for more horses. I can only conclude that some people would rather see horses confined to pens and/or starve to death than send them to humane slaughter. Everyone likes the idea of wild horses running free, but this is not a Disney movie and real, hard choices have to be made. You can blame the government or the cattle ranchers or whoever you want to be the bad guy, but at the end of the day, the habitat cannot support the horses we already have, and ignoring the problem will result in suffering and death.

  4. 2.1 MILLION privately-owned cattle on Public Land and you are worried about (your number) 60,000 Wild horses? All the tourist commercials that you show during the breaks do not show tourists coming to see cows. Patagonia already left Utah because of your backwards Cowcentric mindset. Expect more.

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