Against R.O.A.M. for both right and wrong reasons;
Letter to Senators Bingaman and Murkowski re: HR. 1018 and S.1579
October 14, 2009
Senator Jeff Bingaman, Chairman
Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee
304 Dirksen Building
Washington D.C., 20510
Dear Senator Bingaman:
H.R. 1018, the Restore Our American Mustangs Act, was referred to your Committee July 20, 2009 and Senator Robert C. Byrd introduced the Senate’s version, S.1579 on August 5, 2009. The Public Lands Foundation (PLF), as it did with H.R. 1018, respectfully disagrees with the content and provisions found in S.1579.
PLF is a national non-profit, all volunteer membership conservation organization dedicated to the ecological stability of the public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Our mission is to advocate and work for the retention of America’s Public Lands in public hands, professionally and sustainably managed for responsible common use and enjoyment.
PLF does not believe amending the 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act as proposed is necessary to deal with the problems associated with wild horses and burros. Overall, the Act has had considerable success. According to the GAO-09-77 report titled “Effective Long-Term Options Needed to Manage Unadoptable Wild Horses,” dated October 9, 2008, approximately 235,700 horses have been adopted from passage of the 1971 Act through 2007. However, since 2007, the adoption demand for horses has tapered off and BLM now faces a major crisis for the funding and continued management of the program.
Neither H.R. 1018 nor S.1579 address the resolution of the two major challenges facing BLM spelled out in GAO’s October 9, 2008 report. These challenges were addressed in a PLF letter to Congressman Rahall. They bear repeating.
1. If not controlled, off-the-range holding costs will continue to overwhelm the program. The percentage of the program’s direct costs for holding animals off the range increased from $7 million in 2000 (46%) to $21 million in 2007 (67%). In 2008 these costs could account for 74 percent of the program’s budget.
2. BLM has limited options for dealing with unadoptable animals. The Act provides that unadopted excess animals shall be humanely destroyed or, under certain circumstances, sold without limitation. However, BLM only manages these animals through sales with limitations because of the concern about the public’s reaction to the destruction of healthy animals.
PLF is gravely concerned that the thrust of S.1579 is to eliminate the cornerstone of the 1971 Act by striking out a key sentence in the first paragraph that states, “…in the area where presently found,...” BLM has relied on this phrase to build a system of Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and establish Appropriate Management Levels of wild horses so they can be, as Congress dictated, “an integral part of the natural system of public lands.” Removing this phrase to consider allowing wild horses to expand outside of their HMAs will result in management chaos by guaranteeing an increase in their numbers and direct conflicts with wildlife, recreation, livestock and most other uses of public lands. If S. 1579 is striving for “a thriving ecological balance” as stated in Sec.4, Definitions, (6) (g), this is undeniably not the way to achieve it.
Sec. 5, Inventory and Determinations, of S.1579 proposes to add a paragraph (7) that states, “ensure that, to the extent practicable, the acreage available for wild and free-roaming horses and burros shall never be less than the acreage where wild and free-roaming horses and burros were found in 1971.” The finality of “shall never” creates a potential impediment for future management options, which could include the establishment of a National Wild Horse Range(s), the redesign of the existing 199 HMAs and other options that more appropriately are focused on available forage rather than acreage.
There are a variety of opinions of how many wild horses the government should have. However, there is no legitimate argument that the thousands of horses making up the current Appropriate Management Levels are suggestive of a population either threatened or endangered of being lost. Portions of proposed legislation intended to increase the acreage devoted to wild horses and to increase their numbers is clearly the wrong fix at the wrong time.
PLF believes that amending the 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act as proposed will drastically alter multiple-use management on public lands and threaten “a thriving natural ecological balance.” Instead of new legislation, PLF strongly recommends, as it did to Congressman Rahall regarding H.R. 1018, focusing on solutions to the immediate problems of 30,000 horses being held in holding facilities and management of another nearly 30,000 out on the range. The cost of maintaining these animals is spiraling out of control and accounts for three-fourths of BLM’s $37 million budget for the program. As the GAO report correctly states, BLM finds itself in a difficult position and has limited options for dealing with unadopted and unsold animals within its finite budget. There is a need to reconcile the difference between the tools given to BLM by Congress to manage excess horse numbers and the apparent reluctance of BLM to use them out of concern that they lack congressional support.
There is no doubt, that instead of amending the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act, it is imperative that discussions with Congress be initiated to address BLM’s reluctance to use the tools in the 1971 Act, as amended, and seek solutions to this crisis.
/s/ George Lea
George Lea, President
Cc: Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Office
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510