By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The tin ear of the federal Bureau of Land Management is clearly so out of tune to the desires of the American public and so in tune with the wants of corporate agriculture, hunting interests, and natural resource exploitation that the agency, and its titular head, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, has made appointments’ that not only mock public opinion but create a fetid cesspool of criticism where it now wallows – a pool of its own making.
Last week the BLM named three appointees to its toothless Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board after an earlier candidate had already caused controversy. The board is a rubber stamp for ill advised management policy rather than functioning as a quasi independent advisory body to safeguard the public’s interests in the 245 million acres of wilderness it manages.
The appointments fly directly in the face of, and run contrary to, the findings of the most recent poll on how Americans feel about the grisly practice of horse slaughter.
The poll was commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was conducted by Lake Research, a blue chip political research firm founded by Celinda Lake. The pollsters found that nothing has changed in the public’s opinion of horse slaughter. In fact, it has solidified, increasing previous findings by a full ten percentage points over a decade of previous polls on the issue that found the same thing.
Yet rather than take another look at how to handle management of the herds in ways different from capture and ultimately killing, Salazar completely ignored the wishes of the American people. In a agency that has endured three years of scandal and ridicule, the secretary piled fresh dung on the manure heap.
The BLM knew of those earlier polls when it appointed three commissioners to the WHBAB. Yet it again served the interests of ranchers who have often called America’s wild horses, “The cockroaches of the west.” These ranchers have been caught fencing off water holes where Mustangs go to sustain life. They have treated the public lands as their own. And yes, they have often captured wild horses and sold them off to killer buyers beyond the scrutiny of the agency.
The BLM has also fought any attempt by the press to serve as watchdogs of its actions. That abruptly came to an end last week when a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals demanded a Horseback Magazine journalist be allowed access to observe, photograph, and report freely on the practice of the capture of wild horses, a practice it benignly and ridiculously terms “gathers.” Instead, of the gentle herding of horses the term implies, the animals are madly stampeded by a roaring helicopter, the tips of its skits sometimes touching the back of a crippled animal to drive it toward a trap even though the creature is in terrible pain.
In fact, the findings of the polls are so imbedded in what has become established fact that literally nobody was surprised with the Lake firm’s most recent survey found that this time 80 percent opposed the practice of killing horses for their meat – and more importantly, the result came from virtually all demographic groups. That finding included all horses, wild as well as domesticated.
In the face of this, Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey ignored the strong feelings of the vast majority of Americans and appointed Callie Hendrickson, a Grand Junction, Colorado woman who has been outspoken in favor of horse killing to replace an Ohio trustee who opposes the practice. Despite the fact that the BLM manages 245 million acres of land, Hendrickson said at the time of her appointment “The rangeland can’t stain large numbers.” Well Callie, we say hogwash.
That’s an awful lot of land. Moreover, we are told 12 million acres originally designated in the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act for wild horses have been taken away over the years and not replaced.
James Stephenson, a consultant to The Yakama Nation, was appointed with the full knowledge of Salazar and Abbey that he is enthusiastic about killing horses as a population control measure.
And then there is Dr. Boyd Spratling, a Nevada vet, and past president of the National Cattlemen’s Association. He was re-appointed to another three year term in the wake of vast public criticism regarding how BLM vets allowed foals stampeded by agency helicopters to run to the point that they shed their hooves in an excruciating death agony – a callus, heartless, and frankly unforgivable act of veterinary irresponsibility that should cost somebody their license.
It seems the BLM likes to keep it in the family. It has appointed June C. Sewing of Cedar City, Utah, director of the obscure National Mustang Association, to serve on the board.
Her husband was a previous member.
Horseback Magazine has filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request asking for the names of all Americans who offered themselves for service on the board. The response should be interesting.
There have been calls in Congress, most notably by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) Louisiana, to sever the wild horse function from the BLM’s responsibilities. The time has come to act, Mary. These most recent appointments demonstrate that the agency, the secretary, and the BLM director have no interest in what the public has demanded. This rogue branch of government has continued to capture and sterilize horses in such enormous numbers to the point that slaughter will not be needed to eliminate the herds from our Western Lands because they will be genetically incapable of replicating themselves. Worse still, it has squandered our tax dollars to benefit a few western ranchers who pay a tiny $1.35 per cow and calf per month for the land. That’s an outrage.
It’s a national disgrace.