The federal government’s brutal and inhumane roundup and removal plan for the Onaqui herd is optional. We have a choice to spend millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to terrorize this cherished herd of wild horses by chasing them with helicopters, stampeding them into pens, separating them from their families and warehousing them for life in holding corrals — or we can manage them in the wild using humane, effective and cheaper alternatives such birth control.
Each and every wild horse that falls victim to this federal program is a lost icon of the freedom and untamed beauty that make this country great. We must demand an end to these practices before it’s too late. We must #SaveOnaqui.
Implement a Comprehensive Fertility Control Program
In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report which provides a roadmap for the BLM to move forward with a scientific approach to wild horse management that includes stopping the removal of wild horses from the range and starting to manage wild horses on the range with fertility control. The BLM must implement a comprehensive PZP fertility control program to humanely manage wild horses in the Onaqui HMA. This approach would reduce population growth rates and population numbers over time while maintaining the social structures of the herds.
In 2012, the BLM vaccinated just 57 mares with PZP-22 and returned them to the HMA. And, while AWHC applauds the BLM for partnering with the Wild Horses of America Foundation to administer the PZP vaccine in this HMA, in FY 2017, they delivered only 53 doses (primer and booster) for a total of 39 mares being fully treated. These numbers are far too few to make a difference in reproductive rates on the range.
The BLM must expand its partnership with the Wild Horses of America Foundation and other volunteers to assist the BLM in locating and treating an adequate number of mares with PZP. AWHC partnered with Wild Horses of America to offer a proposal for expansion of the Onaqui PZP program. The type of public-private partnership outlined has been very effective in managing wild horse population in other HMAs and is a model program.
The letter sent a letter to leadership at BLM Utah in March 2018, offered our resources to support the BLM in making their current fertility program a success. Specifically, we offered the following resources to support the Onaqui fertility control program:
● A qualified team of darters;
● Customized WHIMS database for identification and personnel to identify/catalogue horses in the data base; and
● Vaccine, guns, darts and other necessary equipment and supplies.
To date, the BLM has declined our offer, but we stand ready and able to follow through. This herd is highly accessible for darting with birth control. There is no excuse for BLM’s failure to adequately utilize this tool to manage the horses on the range.
Adjust Appropriate Management Level
In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences, in its report "Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward" evaluated the population limits -- misleadingly called "Appropriate" Management Levels, or AMLs -- imposed by BLM on wild horse and burro populations. The NAS concluded, "How Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) are established, monitored, and adjusted is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change. Standards for transparency, quality and equity are needed in establishing these levels, monitoring them and adjusting them."
Indeed the BLM's AML for the Onaqui Mountain herd is just 121-210 in a habitat that is 375 square miles in size. That's a density of one horse per nearly 2,000 acres at the low end of the population limit! This population limit is the result of a federal forage giveaway to subsidized livestock interests. In fact, the BLM allocates 83 percent of available forage in the Onaqui Mountains Herd Management Area to commercial livestock, while federally protected wild horses get just 17 percent.
Obviously, this public lands area can sustain a larger wild horse population, and the population limit (AML) must be re-evaluated in light of the Onaqui horses' historical significance, popularity with recreational users of the public lands, and eco-toursim benefits of this herd to the local community. This re-evaluation is in line with the NAS' recommendation that "standards for transparency, quality, and equity in AML establishment, adjustment, and monitoring" are necessary. (Emphasis added.)
Reduce Livestock Grazing
While the BLM has set arbitrarily low wild horse population limits, it authorizes a maximum of 12,840 AUMs for livestock in the 10 grazing allotments that lie partially or wholly within the HMAs. This is the grazing equivalent of about 1,070 cow/calf pairs or 5,350 sheep for one year. The BLM’s plan is to remove 80% of the Onaqui herd and not consider whether the reduction of livestock would help achieve the agency’s goal of preserving sage grouse habitat and restoring land damaged by wildfires. Once again, the BLM will be scapegoating wild horses for environmental damage caused by poor rangeland management and pandering to a special interest group – the livestock industry.
However, the BLM can make another decision: reduce livestock grazing to allow for larger numbers of wild horses on the Onaqui range and has a federal regulation that allows them to do just that. The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR § 4710.5 "Closure to Livestock Grazing") authorizes the BLM to close areas of the public lands to livestock grazing "If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury.... Closure may be temporary or permanent."
While the BLM claims that this provision is only utilized in cases of emergency, there is nothing in the regulation that restricts it to that purpose. The devastating consequences of the roundup to this wild horse population, to the recreational users of these public lands who enjoy viewing and photographing its members, and to the taxpayers who are being asked to pay for a federal action that could cost $10 million or more over the next 20 years, more than warrant use of this federal regulation to reduce livestock grazing on the Onaqui range.