On Wyoming's Wild Horses, the BLM Unambitiously Responds

Andrew Cohen has served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News and won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators.

This is the fourth in a series of articles in the Atlantic exposing the BLM and its illegal decimating of our wild horse herds.

Please read and send to your representatives in Washington. This is an utter farce. The BLM is NOT above the law - they just think they are.
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On Wyoming's Wild Horses, the BLM Unambitiously Responds

Aug 22 2011, 3:00 PM ET
The Department of the Interior defends its ongoing roundup of herds, but its response is filled with shallow arguments and misinformation
A helicopter is used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to gather wild horses in the Conger Mountains near Border in Utah September 7, 2010 / Reuters
Here is Wyoming's pitch-pure tourism advertisement now playing on television. It's called "Don't Fence Me In" and it features beautiful natural scenes, including a herd of horses running upon the open prairie. Before I dive briefly back into the story of what the Bureau of Land Management, state officials, and ranching industry executives are doing right now, today, to two Wyoming wild horse herds, I ask you to please spend 30 seconds watching this video. It animates the issues at hand more than I ever could with words. 
I love this commercial. As a proud citizen of the West, it evokes in me the pride I feel about living in a place that still has big skies and wide, open spaces. It makes me think of the scenic drive from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park, through some of the most gorgeous country America offers to the world. And to me, anyway, it's brilliant marketing by the Wyoming Tourism Board, whose members obviously understand the value that millions of Americans place upon the wild horse as a symbol of the nation's heritage.
This is the fourth time in the past month or so I have written about the wild horses of Wyoming. Starting yesterday, as much as 70 percent of two free-ranging herds in and around Sweetwater County, in the southwestern part of the state, are being rounded up and taken away by BLM personnel and contractors. Approximately 700 wild horses will be taken from the wild and held in pens pending adoption or sale (or worse). "Don't Fence me In" may be the state's tourism slogan. Yet these very symbols of the state, the very symbols of the West, will soon be fenced in, probably forever.
First, I wrote about a BLM roundup plan that also included castrating the stallions of these herds and then returning the geldings back to the range. Then I wrote about the BLM's decision to back away from that part of its plan under public pressure from horse advocacy groups and the public. Finally, about 10 days or so ago, I wrote about the hypocrisy inherent in Wyoming's attitude toward its horses; it is marketing the herds as tourist attractions even as it is plotting with ranchers and the BLM to undermine the horses. 
It was this last piece which garnered more attention than its predecessors. In it, I suggested that the federal agency in charge of the wild horses, the Department of the Interior, through its BLM, has not often shown itself to be a neutral player when evaluating the vested interests that compete for Western public lands. The ranchers almost always win. The wild horses almost always lose. And the Interior Department is run by a rancher, Ken Salazar, whose former subordinate, Sylvia Baca, is alleged to have encouraged ranchers to sue her own department to get their way. Now comes an official response from the Bureau of Land Management. I rebut some of its main components below. 
Here is the full text of the response I received late Friday afternoon from Tom Gorey, Senior Public Affairs Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.
Contrary to what is alleged in this latest wild horse column of Mr. Cohen for The Atlantic, the Bureau of Land Management is not waging a "war" against wild horses, nor is it "managing for extinction," as other critics have similarly charged. In fact, the current on-the-range population of wild horses and burros (approximately 38,500) is greater than the number found roaming in 1971 (about 25,300), when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The BLM is seeking to achieve the appropriate management level of 26,600 wild horses and burros on Western public rangelands, or nearly 12,000 fewer than the current West-wide population. The ecosystems of public rangelands are simply not able to withstand the impacts resulting from overpopulated herds, and that is why the 1971 law, as amended, directs the Interior Secretary to remove wild horses and burros in circumstances where the animals exceed the range's capacity to sustain them.
As for the claim that some wild horses "may even be slaughtered for meat," this is a disingenuous assertion, as the BLM screens both adopters and buyers of wild horses and burros. It is a legal reality, of course, that once the title of ownership to a wild horse or burro passes from the Federal government to an adopter or buyer that the animal becomes private property, but the BLM makes every effort through its screening process and the terms of adoption agreements and sale contracts to prevent the slaughter of former wild horses and burros. These documents both contain a clause that adopters and purchasers agree to, declaring that they have no intent to sell the animal(s) for processing into commercial products.
The comparison of the amount of BLM-managed land used for livestock grazing (157 million acres) to the amount used by wild horses and burros (26.9 million acres) ignores the fact that the 1971 law cited above confines the management of wild horses and burros to areas inside the boundaries of where the animals were found roaming on BLM and Forest Service-managed land in 1971. That's the law -- letter and spirit.
Regarding the Wyoming-related wild horse litigation, the BLM cannot comment on pending cases, but it can be said that neither the Interior Department nor the BLM view litigation as the way to go in resolving public land issues.
The big picture is that the BLM carries out a multiple-use mission, which is principally defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. This job requires our agency to accommodate various uses of the public land while preserving resources -- a complex mission, to be sure, but one that Congress has set forth as our mandate in law. While this multiple-use mission cannot compete with lurid headlines like "The Quiet War Against Wyoming's Wild Horses," The Atlantic's readership deserves to know the full scope of the BLM's responsibilities, which include the humane and cost-effective management of America's wild horses and burros, both on and off the range.
As a general matter, this was a disappointing official response on many levels. Rather than respond to the specific points my article raised, the BLM simply regurgitated in much of the same bureaucratese the talking points it has offered before when this topic comes up. Here was a chance for the BLM to really engage with wild horse advocates, on a topic a lot of people seem to be talking about, and the Bureau simply bailed. You bail, I guess, when you have the power but not the argument. The BLM has the authority. The roundup now is underway. Why go into the messy details?
Here are some of those details. 
1. Leaving aside for another day the Bureau's "extinction" comment, the BLM first says there are roughly 13,000 more wild horses in America today than there were in 1971, when they were formally protected by federal statute. I'm not sure this is right. First, there were evidently far more than 25,000 wild horses in 1971, as the BLM now claims. In fact, the BLM's own figures (Appendix C, Page 37) indicate that in 1974 there were at least 42,666 wild horses on the range. If you believe those figures, there are fewer wild horses today, on less public land, than there were 40 years ago. Having caused this situation, the BLM should take responsibility for it.
2. The BLM next says that the "ecosystems" of "public lands" cannot withstand more than 26,000 or so wild horses. Here we are at the heart of the matter. Even though cattle and sheep outnumber wild horses on public lands by at least a ten-to-one margin, the BLM largely blames the horses for roiling the resources of the range. By doing so, the Bureau justifies the imposition of this arbitrary 26,000-horse figure even though there are millions of acres of public land where more horses could safely roam. So long as the BLM continues to make this claim and defend it in court, wild horse advocates will have a hard time protecting the herds.
This is the single most important aspect of the fight between horse advocates and ranchers. The BLM grades the wild horses harshly for their impact on the range. But it does not appear to grade the cattle and sheep for the impact they bear upon it. It's very much like the debt and deficit battle we just witnessed in Washington. The BLM is focusing upon the two percent that is relatively easy to fix rather than upon the 98 percent which is not. The reason is not hard to fathom. The ranchers have a powerful lobby. The horses do not. And the Interior Department doesn't want to tick off one of the industries it is supposed to regulate.
Interestingly, in its response the BLM failed to rebut, or even mention, the new claims made against it by Robert Edwards, a range scientist who worked at the BLM for 30 years before becoming an independent consultant. Just recently, as part of a lawsuit over the Wyoming horses, Edwards challenged the BLM over its claim that it is the horses, and not the livestock, which are ruining the range. Anyone interested in this topic should read the Edwards Report. At a minimum, it creates a disputed issue of material fact about whether wild horses deplete as many natural resources as the BLM says they do.
3. The BLM next calls me "disingenuous" for writing that some of the wild horses that are rounded up are sold to slaughter. Now, if I had accused BLM officials of selling wild horses for slaughter perhaps I might have deserved the label. But I did not. What I implied is that some of the horses the BLM takes off the range end up in the wrong hands and on their way to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. This should be an undisputed fact. Just two weeks ago, for example, the BLM seized 64 wild horses in Utah in a sting operation against alleged smugglers.
The BLM defends the status quo on slaughter by arguing that it does the best it can when it sells or allows out for adoption wild horses. It's a neat argument on paper but it doesn't wash in the real world. In this grim video, for example, the pro-slaughter crowd earlier this year in plain view discussed how easy it is, in practice, for once-wild American horses to be slaughtered in Canada or Mexico. The BLM shouldn't pretend otherwise by claiming it is making "every effort" to stop this practice. If it were, federal inspectors would be performing brand inspections all across the borders to prevent wild horses from being rendered abroad.
Don't just blame the BLM for these sins of omission. Blame Congress and the White House, too. In 2004, for example, then Montana senator Conrad Burns, a Republican who once called ranchers "the best stewards of public lands," snuck into federal legislation what's known as the Burns Amendment. Signed into law by that great ersatz scion of the West, George W. Bush, the law effectively gutted protections for wild horses by allowing the BLM to private sell older and unadoptable mustangs to private buyers.
Like Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, and Wyoming's lone delegate to the House of Representatives Cynthia Loomis, Conrad Burns has ties to the ranching industry. Seven years after his amendment, and nearly three years after the Obama Administration came into power promising to restore the balance of power over the nation's land, air and water, no one in Washington has stepped up to restore protection for the wild horses of the American West. Not the White House. Not Congress. And not the courts.
The current slaughterhouse rule has created a dynamic problem that is only going to get worse as the BLM rounds up more wild horses it cannot afford to keep in captivity. Since the Bureau rounds up far more horses each year than can be adopted out or legitimately sold to honest buyers, and since the cost of housing the wild horses in "holding facilities" is high (tens of millions of dollars), the economics favor the slaughterhouse operators and their agents. Having created the supply-and-demand problem in the first place, the BLM should own up to its responsibilities to ensure the wild horses don't soon find their way to rendering plants.
4. The BLM next takes issue with my assertion that it is not allocating enough public land for the benefit of wild horses. Here again, the BLM has forcefully countered a point no one is trying to make. No one, including me, is asking the Bureau the BLM to open up all of its land to wild horses. But the fact is that the BLM and ranchers have pushed out wild horse herds even from those relatively small areas of public land that was specifically designated for the horses back in 1971. Citing these statistics and maps, wild horse advocates claim that the herds have been removed (zeroed-out) from perhaps as much as half of the area initially granted to the horses by statute. Tens of millions of acres of former wild-horse country now are off limits to horses -- but still open to livestock, these advocates say.
5. Unsurprisingly, the BLM didn't want to comment directly on the points I made about the way in which Wyoming is using its wild horses as marketing tools even as it conspires to get rid of them. I don't blame the Bureau for that. The fact is that the BLM is often sued by both sides in the battle -- by the wild horse groups who seek more protection for the animals and by ranchers who seek more decisive action by the government to get rid of the animals. In this respect, the BLM is not unlike any other government agency seeking to balance out competing interests. The point of my last piece was to suggest that there isn't really a great deal of balance between those interests. One wins. The other loses.
6. Finally, the BLM reminds readers that its function in life is not just to protect wild horses but also to properly manage the federal lands over which it has jurisdiction. Fair enough. Here's what Suzanne Roy, of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, says about that:
Multiple use does not require livestock grazing. Again, Congress deemed wild horses to be worthy of protection as national symbols of freedom whose presence on Western public lands is an important part of our history and heritage. The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act designated the lands where wild horses were found in 1971 as habitat to be managed principally but not exclusively for wild horses. The BLM has turned this mandate on it head by allocating the majority of resources in federally designated wild horse areas to private livestock and not wild horses. The multiple use mandate does not require livestock grazing and it certainly does not require the imbalance of resource allocation that exists today.
If the BLM wants to live up to its mandate to protect and preserve America's wild horses then it will begin to address the inequities of resource allocation on the small amount of BLM lands on which wild horses reside. It will also shift resources away from the current costly and cruel roundup, remove and stockpile strategy toward on-the-range management of wild horses, utilizing cost-effective and humane fertility control strategies where necessary.
As I have written before, it's not just what the BLM is doing to these wild horses that disturbs a great many people. It is the way in which the deed is being done. Consistently backing ranching interests over horse advocacy groups, annually squeezing the horses out of more and more public land, the BLM nonetheless wants to maintain the public pretense that it is an honest broker when it comes to the fate of the horses -- that its officials are doing what they can, within the narrow confines of federal law, to protect and manage the herds. But this is a false pretense. Literally and figuratively these days, America's wild horses are on the run; suitable for marketing but otherwise harassed by their human stewards.

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The Quiet War Against Wyoming's Wild Horses

Andrew Cohen - continued...

Andrew Cohen - Andrew Cohen has served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News and won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators. More Andrew Cohen is a Murrow Award-winning legal analyst and commentator. He covers legal events and issues for CBS Radio News and its hundreds of affiliates around the country and is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of the nation's leading newspapers and online sites. From 2000-2009, Andrew served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News and contributed to the network's coverage of the Supreme Court, the war on terrorism, and every high-profile civil or criminal trial of the decade. He is also a single dad of a great kid, a racehorse owner and breeder, and the winner of several awards for writing about horse racing, including the 2010 John Hervey Award for distinguished commentary and the 2010 O'Brien Award for Media Excellence. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @CBSAndrew.
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The Quiet War Against Wyoming's Wild Horses

By Andrew Cohen

Aug 11 2011, 12:00 PM ET

How can a state promote its wild horses as a tourist attraction while it seeks to decimate herds?

wild horse reuters- Jim Urquhart - Reuters-body.jpg

Listen for the sound of hooves pounding. Look for manes flying in the wind. Feel the rush of awe at the sight of these creatures. The Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour is something you and your family will never forget because Sweetwater County's cherished wild horses are living examples of a wide-open landscape and untamed frontier spirit.
--Wyoming Tourism Board

The Wyoming Tourism Board wants you and your family to come see the wild horses in Sweetwater County, but you better go quick. Beginning next month, federal officials and local contractors will roundup and remove approximately 700 of those horses (about 70 percent of the herd) to satisfy the complaints of the cattle and sheep ranchers in the area who don't want to share land with federally-protected horses. The "cherished," "living examples" of Wyoming's western heritage will be penned in and then given up for adoption or sold at auction. Many will soon die. Some may even be slaughtered for meat. All will likely be gone from view in Sweetwater County. You and your family, having traveled to southwestern Wyoming, may be plum out of luck.

This is my third take on these Wyoming horses in just the past few weeks, and I again beg your indulgence. First, I wrote about a failed federal plan to round up the horses, geld the stallions, and return some back to the herds to decrease natural procreation cycles. When the government was sued in federal court in Washington to stop the removal and castration, the feds backed off and came forward with a new pitch. The horses would leave, but none of the stallions would be castrated. This plan appears to be going forward. I wrote about that, too. The number of horses in two vast "herd management areas," located in a desolate part of the state, would again dip below 300, making it much less likely that a tourist family would see a wild horse in Sweetwater County.

The reason for my persistence isn't difficult to explain. Each time I write something about these horses, I learn something more about the politics of their plight that is worth sharing to a broader audience. This time, the story is not just about the hypocrisy evident in Wyoming's attitude toward these horses -- the state is both marketing them as tourist attractions and actively conspiring to get rid of them. It's also about the curious conduct of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which, again, has done the bidding of an industry that it is supposed to regulate. With friends like the BLM and Wyoming state officials, the horses and their human supporters don't need any enemies.

The cattle and sheep industries want the horses gone from the rangeland -- even though the ranchers reap the benefits of having their herds graze upon public land at low cost. To support their position, the ranchers cite a 1981 consent decree, overseen by a local federal judge, which limits the number of wild horses that are to be left in the Little Colorado and White Mountain herd areas to approximately 300. To the ranchers, the horses are a nuisance, not an asset, a point Wyoming doesn't happen to mention in its breathless tourism campaigns, which feature television ads of thundering herds.

"That our government is unwilling to find these horses room -- or even consider doing so -- contradicts the spirit, if not the letter, of federal law"

Meanwhile, the BLM and Wyoming seem more intent on justifying ways to get rid of the horses rather than upon figuring out how to preserve and protect them. Wyoming cites a 2003 agreement between state officials and the Bush-era Department of the Interior, which places legal pressure on the BLM to rid Wyoming of excess wild horses -- and the BLM itself gets to determine what constitutes "excess." These officials say they have history and the law on their side. But the facts seem to support those who support the horses. When you have the law going one way and the facts going another, it's typically time to go to court. And that's not the worst thing that could happen here.


Earlier this week, I asked Chuck Coon, Media Relations Manager at the Wyoming Office of Tourism, how he squared the evident contradiction of Wyoming's policies. How can you be advertising to tourists to come see the wild horses of Sweetwater Country while Wyoming's lawyers are in federal court endorsing the BLM policy to rid the area of most of its horses? Here is Coon's response:
As you know, management of wild horse herd sizes in Wyoming is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. No matter what decision is rendered in terms of herd reductions there will remain ample opportunities for visitors to see wild horses in several parts of this state. And we'll continue to help local tourism entities in the open landscapes where those horses still roam in Sweetwater County, Park County, Carbon County and Big Horn County as part of our overall marketing of the state as a tourism destination.

Coon understandably wants to reassure Wyoming's tourists that they still have "ample opportunities" to see the horses of Sweetwater County. We'll see. But the state didn't merely defer the question to the BLM, as Coon suggests. Instead, Wyoming weighed in heavily via litigation on behalf of its ranchers, one of whom, Matt Mead, happens to be the state's governor. No small wonder. The ranching lobby in Wyoming (and Washington) is powerful. The wild horse lobby is not. When it comes to these horses, might makes right under cover of law.

Through a spokesman, and via email, Gov. Mead dodged the question of how Wyoming could market its wild horses with one hand and decimate its wild horse herds with the other. "The Governor's approach, which follows the approach of past governors, is to ensure there is balance on the range and right now with the number of wild horses in this herd there is an imbalance." When pushed, the spokesman wrote: "The State of Wyoming has an interest in defending its consent decree. That agreement allows for horses on the range, but also prevents overpopulation that damages the public lands for other uses, which are equally important for tourism and other industries, like ranching and hunting."

When the governor's office uses the word "balance" to describe how Wyoming's vast range lands ought to be used, what it really means is "imbalance." Cattle and sheep dominate the Wyoming range when compared to wild horses. And when the governor's office uses the word "imbalance" to describe the current situation, what it really means is the growing "balance" between and among species when wild animals are left to their own devices. Meanwhile, as you will see below, reasonable people disagree about what constitutes an "overpopulation" of wild horses in or near Sweetwater County.

According to statistics compiled by Jonathan Ratner, of the Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs who initially filed suit to block the Wyoming removal/castration plan, Wyoming and the BLM currently allocate nine times more forage for livestock than for wild horses in the two herd management areas from which the horses soon will be taken. There are approximately 850,000 acres of public land in those two areas -- and the ranchers won't tolerate more than approximately 300 wild horses there. You do the math. There is plenty of room for all of Wyoming's four-legged creatures.


If Wyoming is not a neutral player here, state actors like Gov. Mead have plenty of company. The BLM, the statutorily-mandated stewards of the horses, also have made clear on which side of the saddle they sit. Even the new plan to remove Wyoming's wild horses is full of circular logic and unanswered questions. What justifies such a low limit for wild horses on the wide expanses of the two herd management areas? Don't wild horses affect grazing lands far less than livestock do? Has the federal government asked the ranchers, benefits of so much public land use, to ease off their pursuit of the wild horses?

More than that, now there are now allegations -- made by the ranchers themselves -- that the Bureau of Land Management actually advised them on how best to maximize their position vis-a-vis the horse groups. The solution? The BLM told the ranchers to sue the federal government (advice, I am sure, that is simply appalling to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department has to defend those lawsuits). Here are the specific allegations contained in a complaint filed on July 27th by the Rock Springs Grazing Association (the RSGA) which acts on behalf of ranching interests in the area:

69. RSGA also met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Sylvia Baca to deliver its demand that BLM remove all of the wild horses on RSGA lands, to explain its rights under the 1981 order, and to formally request removal of all of the stray wild horses. RSGA also presented a copy of its letter to the U.S. Marshal officially asking for removal of all wild horses that have strayed onto the RSGA lands in light of repeated failure on the part of BLM to manage and control the wild horse numbers.

70. The Assistant Secretary attributed the failure to comply with external influences on the Department and Congress, and the lack of funding due to the need to contract for sanctuaries. The Assistant Secretary stated that litigation would be necessary to secure additional funding for wild horse gathers (my emphasis).

I have asked the BLM to comment upon these allegations, but I don't expect the Bureau's lawyers to allow anyone to say anything insightful about the topic. Assuming these allegations are true, they are another black mark upon the Interior Department. Here is a federal official, sworn under at least two federal statutes to guard the welfare of the wild horses, telling ranchers to sue the federal government to prompt quicker political action against the horses. And even if the BLM now backs away from Baca -- "she wasn't authorized to make those representations" -- the allegation itself is compelling insight into the atmosphere that surrounds the BLM's attitude toward these horses. Like the ranchers, the BLM seems to consider them pests and certainly not "cherished" symbols protected by law.

The BLM is part of the Interior Department. The Secretary of the Interior is a man named Ken Salazar and, although his Wikipedia entry strangely is silent on the matter, he is part of a long-time ranching family from Colorado. Salazar's brother, John, who recently represented Colorado's 3rd Congressional District (it's Western Slope), also is a rancher. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R), who alone represents Wyoming in the House of Representatives, evidently raised Heifers when she was younger. These are some of the people who are judging the competing interests that clash over the fate of the herds. What chances do you reckon those horses have?

The Facts On The Ground

If Wyoming were the size of Delaware, a battle over what to do with federal land might make more sense. But Wyoming contains vast tracts of land owned by the federal government and, to a lesser extent, by the state. If we were talking about a huge number of wild horses and a relatively small number of sheep and cattle then the dynamic of the argument might differ as well. But the number of sheep and livestock in Wyoming now grazing on public land is far greater, orders of magnitude greater, than the number of wild horses who cross over between public and private land. And if the horses were, indeed, as destructive to the rangelands as the ranchers assert, perhaps the mass expulsions might be justified. But the horses aren't nearly as destructive as the cattle and sheep who roam the range.

If you don't believe me, just ask the BLM. The Bureau's own statistics tell the story of the "imbalance" the government and the ranchers want to maintain. Livestock grazing in the United States is authorized on 157 million acres of BLM land. For wild horses, it is restricted to 26.9 million acres of that land (and, as we have seen, there are limits within the limits). There may be over one million cattle and sheep now grazing public land in many western states. At the same time, there are approximately 38,000 wild horses and burros stuffed into only 11 percent of all BLM land. And even this relatively small figure is too high for the BLM; the feds say only about 26,000 wild horses should remain on public land.

Focusing upon Wyoming alone, the "imbalance" between land uses is pronounced. A 2007 article in the Wyoming Business Report indicated that the Rock Springs Grazing Association alone had between 50,000-70,000 sheep and 5,000 head of cattle on its grazing lands (that figure may be more or less four years later). By contrast, the BLM allows only 2,100 wild horses total in the five herd management areas of interest to the RSGA, a swath of land that encompasses thousands of square miles. But, again, even that relatively small number of horses is too great for the ranchers. While the horse advocates were suing the BLM for being too quick to get rid of the herd, the RSGA was suing the BLM for being too slow to remove the horses.

There are costs incurred by the federal government in allowing ranchers to use public lands (at low costs). From a 2008 Congressional Report on grazing fees:

BLM and the FS typically spend far more managing their grazing programs than they collect in grazing fees. For example, the GAO determined that in FY2004, the agencies spent about $132.5 million on grazing management, comprised of $58.3 million for the BLM and $74.2 million for the FS. These figures include expenditures for direct costs, such as managing permits, as well as indirect costs, such as personnel. The agencies collected $17.5 million, comprised of $11.8 million in BLM receipts and $5.7 million in FS receipts. Receipts for both agencies have been relatively low in recent years, apparently because western drought has contributed to reduced livestock grazing.

Other estimates of the cost of livestock grazing on federal lands are much higher. For instance, a 2002 study by the Center for Biological Diversity estimated the federal cost of an array of BLM, FS, and other agency programs that benefit grazing or compensate for impacts of grazing at roughly $500 million annually. Together with the nonfederal cost, the total cost of livestock grazing could be as high as $1 billion annually, according to the study.

Finally, in just the past few days, questions have arisen about the factual bases for the most commonly-stated reason given for removing the horses -- that they mess up the range lands for other users and uses. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, another one of the plaintiffs fighting wild horse removals all over the West, recently commissioned a study from Robert Edwards, a range scientist who worked for 30 years for the BLM before becoming an independent consultant.

With the legal battle joined in Washington over the fate of the herds, the horse advocacy group asked Edwards to go to the two Wyoming range lands in question, check out the horses, and evaluate the impact they have upon the land (and the impact the land has upon them. Here is a link to the Edwards's August 4th Report. It's main findings:

All areas observed and/or documented were found to be in only fair grazing range condition, which is typical of what is found on BLM range lands throughout the west.

Removing a large percentage of the wild horses is not likely to result in an improvement of range condition since the percentage of forage allocated to wild horses is very small compared to the amount of forage allocated to livestock (the forage allocation for wild horse use is only 2% to 3% of the total forage allocation for the [two herd management areas].

Information from the BLM indicates that there are well water sources in these HMAs which are turned on and off to accommodate livestock use. If true, this would reduce the number of water sources available for wild horse use in the summer months.

Limiting the number of water sources forces the wild horses to congregate in areas where water is available, and consequently increases the negative impact they are having on the range areas they are using.

There is no emergency situation in the area that would cause significant damage to the range or harm to the wild horses if they are not removed.

The forage resources needed to support the wild horse population are more than adequate and the horses observed are in good condition.

In other words, the land can sustain a much larger number of wild horses than the BLM, Wyoming, or the ranchers have been willing to admit. Not only that, but the land (the water, actually) is evidently being manipulated by ranchers and/or the BLM in a way that is detrimental to the horses (by denying them water and by pushing the herds toward livestock areas, which which gets them in more trouble with the ranchers). Soon, the BLM, Wyoming, and the RSGA will unleash their own experts to discount Edwards' conclusions. They will likely say that the BLM's calculations are reasonable, supported by evidence, and that the law is settled by consent decree.

This war is eternal and the horses almost always lose. Even if Edwards' conclusions don't hold up in court -- federal judges are required by law to give deferences to the findings of administrative agencies like the BLM -- they have common sense on their side. Blaming the relatively tiny number of wild horses in Wyoming for tearing up the trail, when there are tens of thousands of sheep and cattle roaming around, is like blaming the lifeboats for the sinking of the Titanic. It was a weak argument even before Edwards' findings cast doubt upon it.

As I wrote in my first piece on this topic, I recognize that this is a complicated issue; that the ranchers and government officials don't always wear the black hats in our western tale. There should be reasonable limits on the number of wild horses on public land. What strikes me about this story, however, is how little protection the wild horses of Wyoming really have, despite federal laws and regulations designed to protect them. What jolts me, too, is the strength and ferocity of the political forces arrayed against the horses. There are millions of acres upon which these horses can roam without materially interfering with livestock. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of such room in Sweetwater County alone.

That our government is unwilling to find these horses room -- or even consider doing so -- contradicts the spirit, if not the letter, of federal law. The governor of Wyoming is a rancher. The Secretary of the Interior is a rancher. The lone member of the House of Representatives grew up around cattle. And today ranching interests are routing the wild horses of Sweetwater County. That's an angle you won't see pitched anytime soon by Wyoming's tourism board. It wants you to come to Wyoming to see all the pretty horses, for sure, but it wants you to remain oblivious to what is being done to those horses, and why, in your name.

Read more at www.theatlantic.com
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Wild Horses Are (Again) Losing Their Home on the Range By Andrew Cohen - The Atlantic

Wild Horses Are (Again) Losing Their Home on the Range - Andrew Cohen - National - The Atlantic
Wild Horses Are (Again) Losing Their Home on the Range
By Andrew Cohen

Jul 28 2011, 10:30 AM ET 40
America's wild horses are in trouble, and the federal government isn't helping

Wild Horses - Cohen
Rachel Reeves

Why did this animal that had prospered so in the Colorado desert leave his amiable homeland for Siberia? There is no answer. We know that when the horse negotiated the land bridge... he found on the other end an opportunity for varied development that is one of the bright aspects of animal history. He wandered into France and became the mighty Percheron, and into Arabia, where he developed into a lovely poem of a horse, and into Africa where he became the brilliant zebra, and into Scotland, where he bred selectively to form the massive Clydesdale. He would also journey into Spain, where his very name would become the designation for gentleman, a caballero, a man of the horse. There he would flourish mightily and serve the armies that would conquer much of the known world.
-- James Michener

It's been a hot, stormy summer on the Red Desert range in southern Wyoming, around Rock Springs and the state's southern boundary with Colorado, where Interstate 80 takes long-haul truckers and tourists through one of America's least hospitable landscapes. The desolate land even includes Sweetwater County, one of those romantic cowboyesque names that mockingly crop up from place to place in the Rocky Mountain West, more an aspiration than a reality when you consider that there isn't much water there and what there is isn't so sweet.

In this forlorn place are two "herd management areas" called "White Mountain" and "Little Colorado," places were some of America's wild horses roam free pursuant to federal rule and regulation. According to Bureau of Land Management statistics, the federal government owns or controls 849,033 acres of land in the area, Wyoming owns another 15,877 acres, and private entities own 149,647 more. BLM officials estimate that, after the 2011 foaling season, there are approximately 970 wild horses on White Mountain and Little Colorado lands.

If you do the math, based only upon the federal land figure, it comes to 875.29 acres per horse. Do a little more math and you learn that 875 acres equals approximately 1.37 square miles. Ask any horse owner you know if she could get by on that horse-to-land ratio and the answer is an immediate and emphatic "Yes!" At first glance, it seems like a perfectly harmonic arrangement; our nation's wild horses peaceably tending to our nation's less desirable lands out of the way of most human traffic. The symbol of our nation's history and growth simply left alone to graze land most of us would never see if we were to live a hundred lifetimes.

But alas it's a lot more complicated than that. Intertwined private ownership of lands within the management areas, differing land-use priorities, a lack of bureaucratic courage and creativity, and a 30-year-old deal between ranchers and a long-gone horse group, all have eliminated the possibility of simply working the acreage numbers for the benefit of the horses. The herd areas themselves are part of a "checkerboard" pattern of public and private land (the ratio is close to 50-50, say ranchers) and the horses themselves haven't helped their own cause. During the winter, they often migrate from public land onto private land, where they are considered a nuisance to some property owners.

This natural pattern has persisted for generations and it's been closely monitored by the feds for at least the past 30 years. With this history, geography, and horse biology in mind, the BLM announced last month that there were, again, too many wild horses on the two Wyoming ranges. Wildlife officials now plan in mid-August to begin to cull roughly 70 percent of the herds out of Little Colorado and White Mountain in a particularly controversial way. And, in response, wild horse advocacy groups and others filed a federal lawsuit Monday in Washington, D.C. seeking a restraining order that would halt the roundup.

All the time and all over the West, horse advocacy groups battle the federal government over the fate of wild horses. The story is almost always the same. The "horse lobby" cannot compete politically (i.e. financially) with the cattle or ranching industries. Invariably, it's the wild horses which lose out to the cattle or to the sheep or to other business interests. And invariably, its the federal government, acting through regulators who are captive to the industries they are supposed to regulate, which helps ensure that this occurs. In this case, for example, we see the federal agency responsible for protecting wild horses struggling to justify a decision that undoubtedly will harm a great many of those horses and, indeed, the future of those herds.

Sell the cow, buy the sheep, but never be without the horse. -- Irish Proverb

On June 14th, the BLM announced a plan to remove all of the wild horses on Little Colorado and White Mountain and to then return a small number of castrated or spayed horses to the range. Here is how the Bureau describes how the roundup occurs:

Multiple capture sites (traps) would be used to capture wild horses within the White Mountain and Little Colorado HMAs... Capture techniques would include the helicopter-drive trapping method and/or helicopter-roping from horseback. Bait trapping may also be utilized on a limited basis, as needed.

(These roundups can be so disturbing that they warrant their own treatment in a future article. I will try to get to it later this summer). Just one week later, however, under heavy fire from mortified advocacy groups, the Bureau partially changed its tune. It increased the number of horses that would be returned to the lands and decided not to spay the mares. Still, nearly 700 of 970 or so horses now on the Little Colorado and White Mountain range will soon be gone if the BLM gets its way. Here's how Interior Department officials described their new plan:

This modified decision returns about 177 geldings to the two HMAs to reach appropriate management level (AML). AML is the point at which the herd's population is consistent with the land's capacity to support wild horses in balance with other public rangeland uses and resources. The projected wild horse population remaining on the range following the gather would be about 205 in the White Mountain HMA and about 69 in the Little Colorado HMA.

There is no evidence that the horses are harming each other. And no factual detail about how their population has created an "imbalance" upon the vast range lands. Instead, Lance Porter, Field Manager at the Rock Springs office of the BLM, justified the "modified" decision" by writing that he had "concluded that gathering the excess horses is necessary to preserve and maintain a thriving ecological balance and multiple-use relationship" on the land. By bringing back only castrated stallions to the two Wyoming herds, Porter's plan was meant to "prevent the necessity to gather more frequently due to lower population increases over time."

Going forward, the two herds will be genetically limited in ways the government has not yet fully evaluated. This is perhaps the most significant part of the new BLM plan. It doesn't just purport to addres the current "overcrowding" it sees on these ranges. It seeks to impact the ability of these herds in the future to breed the way wild horses have bred for thousands of years. It's a sort of genetic engineering which horse advocate groups say needs a lot more scientific review before it can be implemented in the wild.

Among the many options that were considered and rejected by the BLM was the concept of revising the existing "management level" so that more than 205-300 horses would be considered an "appropriate" number to graze on the hundreds of thousands of empty acres. Those figures (205-300) arose in 1981 as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit over the fate of the horses. The party that sought (and obtained) the drastic limitation on the number of wild horses on the lands is an organization known as the Rock Springs Grazing Association. In 2007, according to the Wyoming Business Report, the Association celebrated "100 years of unity."

Here's what else the business paper had to say about the group:

Today, the grazing association has about 50,000 to 70,000 sheep and about 5,000 cattle using its deeded and leased lands. That's compared to 200,000 to 300,000 sheep when the grazing association was first formed. The numbers have not increased in recent years due to seven years of drought and conservative management. Charging fees for surface use, the RSGA generates revenue for its shareholders while welcoming the energy industry. From trona, coal and natural gas, to pipelines and energy transmission lines, RSGA shares its property

Shares its property with the energy industry, that is, but not with a relatively small number of the nation's wild horses. Although the federal government frequently asserts itself to reshape land use disputes out West, the Interior Department evidently wanted no part of revising the old limits endorsed by the RSGA. In its June "Environmental Assessment" of the matter, the one which is now used to justify the looming roundup, the Agency wrote:

Deviating from existing policy, planning decisions, and agreements reached pursuant to the District Court Order are not considered options nor are they within the scope of this EA. Without the cooperation of private landowners, there is a possibility that this HMA could be eliminated or boundaries redefined. Therefore, this alternative was considered by (sic) eliminated from detailed analysis.

In other words, the Agency spent no "detailed" time evaluating whether the RSGA would cooperate more fully with the government to allow more horses to stay on site-- even though the government says it owns more than 80 percent of the land of the Little Colorado and White Mountain ranges. This is hardly a neutral or objective position for an administrative agency to take-- and perhaps a judge will even doom it as arbitrary and capricious. And here is the most revealing portion of the BLM's circular rationale for removing so many horses at once and then precluding the herd (through the gelding of its sires) from recovering as nature intended.

An alternative considered but not carried forward for detailed analysis was the incremental approach of removing excess wild horses from the HMAs over a period of time. This alternative does not meet the purpose and need to maintain the AMLs, as the existing population of wild horses within the HMAs is currently above the established AMLs and excess wild horses need to be removed in compliance with applicable regulations described in Section 1.3. Due to the number of excess wild horses to be removed and the large geographic area of the HMAs, this technique would be ineffective and impractical to meet the purpose and need.

This passage tells us that, for the BLM, the most important factor here was to reduce the horse population to fit it within the range established 30 years ago. That goal, we learn here, overrode consideration of a number of other factors, including the current health of the horses and the future of the herd. The Agency didn't even reach out to the RSGA to see whether there was any room for compromise. The potential solution of removing fewer horses simply "did not meet the purpose and need" to maintain the 30-year-old deal, the Agency determined, and the BLM sure wasn't going to stick its neck out for a bunch of wild horses it is by law sworn to protect.

"I'd rather have a goddamn horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake."
-- J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

On Monday, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) and other advocates filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt the roundup before it begins. While you were worrying about offending the good burghers of Rock Springs, the complaint tells the officials at the Interior Department, you were violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act as well as the procedural guidelines contained in the Administrative Procedure Act.

Here is how the complaint describes the ways in which one of the named plaintiffs would be harmed by the current roundup plan.

Donna Duckworth visits the White Mountain and Little Colorado HMAs nearly every day, photographing the wild horses and scenery, walking, and otherwise enjoying the beauty of the area. She visits the horses so regularly that she now recognizes individual wild horses and their family groups... Based on her frequent visits to the HMAs, she can also accurately predict where the wild horses will be found based on the weather and the time of the day. She observes that many other people share her interest in the wild horses. Nearly every night she goes out to the HMAs, she sees people looking for and watching the wild horses. Ms. Duckworth experiences great aesthetic enjoyment in viewing wild horses engaging in natural social behaviors in these HMAs - such as mothers caring for their young and other young horses, and stallions protecting mares and foals as they nurse.

As for the legal allegations, the plaintiffs say that the Bureau violated both the letter and spirit of federal law, as well as its own rules, by issuing its "modified decision" without affording the public an opportunity to comment upon the new plan and by failing to adequately protect the "viability" of the two wild horse herds. Federal law, the plaintiffs say, requires the BLM to undertake its "management activities" at "the minimal feasible level" and not en masse as contemplated by the removal of nearly 70 percent of the existing herd. To the extent that the 1981 court order contradicts federal law, the horse groups say, federal law must prevail.

Here's one passage from the complaint that offers some flavor as to what the plaintiffs say is at stake in the case:

The BLM's decision to roundup large numbers of wild horses from these herds and return only castrated stallions harms AWHPC's organizational interest and the interests of its coalition members in protecting and preserving viable free-roaming herds of wild horses on public lands for generations to come. The decision to create "minimally reproducing" herds of wild horses in Wyoming is inconsistent with AWHPC's goal of protecting viable, free-roaming herds of wild horses and will set a precedent for wild horse management in other HMAs that would allow the BLM to pursue actions that alter the horses' natural behaviors, change their social dynamics, and harm the integrity and genetic viability of their herds on a broad scale.

Tom Gorey, senior public affairs specialist at the BLM in Washington, said Tuesday that the Agency has no comment about the pending litigation. It is likely, however, in the next few days, that the BLM will move to dismiss the complaint by arguing that the Agency complied with all procedural requirements and that the federal courts are mandated by law to afford great deference to the decisions made by administrative officials.

I asked Cindy Wertz, a public affairs specialist at the BLM's Wyoming State Office, whether the BLM had contacted the Rock Springs Grazing Association to see if there were wiggle room on the horse limit in the White Mountain and Little Colorado areas. She blew off my question. "We're always having discussions with various public land users, partners and permittees," she told me via email. "I couldn't comment on what is actually discussed during them." Meanwhile, Wyoming, wake up! You advertise the "wild horses" of Sweetwater County in your online tourist material but if you don't chime in soon on this fight there won't be any horses left in Sweetwater County for tourists to sightsee.

The horses paw and prance and neigh
Fillies and colts like kittens play
And dance and toss their rippled manes
Shining and soft as silken skeins
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Everyone but the most ardent zealots agree that wild horses do have to be "managed" from time to time by the Bureau of Land Management. Reasonable people on both side of the wild-horse divide understand that the occasional culling of herds has benefits both to the horses themselves and to the neighboring flora and fauna. And the federal judges over the decades, over the centuries even, have approved herd culls. Horses may be the great American symbol but when it comes to animal control they are often treated like many other wild animals.

Some people who count even see them as pests. Not surprisingly, when you talk to the ranching people, they offer a same planet/different world sense of the problem. Don Schramm, the office manager of the Rock Springs Grazing Association, has his own complaints about the BLM. He told me Wednesday that the Agency "has not been able to do its job" of culling out more wild horses from public and private ranch lands because of a "revolving door" of horse groups who have challenged the BLM's actions at every turn. The White Mountain and Little Colorado herds, Schramm says, mostly graze on private lands.

"No," he told me, the BLM did not contact the Grazing Association to see whether the group would be amenable to revising the limit on wild horses in the two Wyoming herd management areas. But it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. "We are not going to allow any more than what's there," Schramm said. Thousands of wild horses have already been taken from the range over the past decades, he told me, and thousands more will have to be taken in the future. "It's complicated," he said, referring to the diversity of interests which coalesce around this arid, windswept country.

Schramm told me that his group has worked in concert with the BLM for decades, usually together on one side of the fight against wild horse advocates. "The horse numbers" out West today "are obnoxious," Schramm said. "They are so far out of management perspective and prescription that they are conflicting with wildlife. You've heard of the Australian rabbit? Well, we are on our way with the wild horse." Schramm said that his group had just learned of the federal lawsuit and he offered no comment on it.

Wyoming may officially be called the "Equality State" and its motto may be "Forever West" but no one should be fooled into thinking that the wild horses there get equal treatment or that a bunch of castrated stallions tending to a genetically unnatural herd is what Americans think about when they think of the heritage of the Wild West. Instead, the story of these two herds is a story of the federal government, steward of America's wild horses, consistently taking sides against the interests of those horses. In this case, it seems to me, the feds didn't even bother to fully justify what they had already decided to do. All that public land and the government can't figure out a way to better protect those horses? Please. A decision by U.S. District Judge Amy Birman Jackson is expected soon.

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Undercover Investigation Underscores USDA - Documented Brutality

I doubt anyone is surprised at the outcome of this investigation - not even the pro-slaughter lairs who insist we reopen domestic "regulated" horse slaughter plants for the good of the horses. As I know from personal experience in Texas the US plants were no better than the ones in Canada and the EU certified ones in Mexico.

After mountains of evidence just like this anyone who says they believe horse slaughter is "humane" or "euthanasia" is either in deep denial or is a lying SOB who should be tarred and feathered. This abuse is REAL and UNACCEPTABLE.
Amplify’d from www.prweb.com

Undercover Investigation Underscores USDA - Documented Brutality

30 month long investigation proves worst-case scenario is ongoing
Westminster, MD (PRWEB) August 6, 2009
Slaughter horses in Shelby, MT

Quote startIt takes inhumane treatment to make the economics workQuote end

Westminster, MD (PRWEB) August 6, 2009
A thirty month long investigation into the plight of horses who have been sold for slaughter has revealed the worst levels of inhumane treatment. The abuse and neglect of these horses, sometimes referred to as 'kill horses,' was uncovered during the investigation and is consistent with findings and photographs contained in a 906 page document released by the USDA last year.

The investigation and report by Animals' Angels, a Maryland based animal welfare organization, confirmed that injuries and inhumane treatment documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 2005 continue.

Both USDA and Animals' Angels (AA) documents show horses severely injured, left medically untreated, ill, trampled to death and worse on their way to and at slaughter.

Executive Director of Animals' Angels, Sonja Meadows said their investigations quickly revealed that, "Both government records and our report show that being on U.S. soil was not then and is not now the slightest guarantee of humane treatment."

The slaughter of horses in the U.S., which stopped with plant closures in 2007, continues in Canada and Mexico. Groups advocating the slaughter of American horses have called for the reopening of U.S. horse slaughter plants, saying horses are better protected by U.S. humane laws than by laws in Canada and Mexico. However, during the 30 month long investigation that included repeated visits to auctions, feedlots and slaughter plants, AA investigators concluded abuse and inhumane treatment are inherent to the horse slaughter industry.

"It takes inhumane treatment to make the economics work," said Meadows. "We found the cruelty starts well before horses arrive at the slaughter plant."

The AA report documents available veterinary care withheld from horses severely injured or near death. Undercover investigators were routinely told, 'That horse is going to slaughter anyway,' or the horses were 'just passing through.'

Treatment of horses designated for slaughter ranged from beating horses and jabbing them in the eyes, to using a cable winch to drag downed horses with a wire wrapped around a back leg.

Investigators observed horses being injured or killed after being forced into dangerously crowded pens where they were kicked or trampled. Others were found frozen to the ground after overnight temperatures dropped well below freezing.

Young and small horses, as well as horses injured or weak were trampled to death in trailers crowded with 40 horses. Workers failed to separate stallions, ensuring fierce fighting in close quarters during transport.

Making conditions worse is the issue of stolen horses, according to Debi Metcalfe, founder of Stolen Horse International, Inc., which operates http://www.NetPosse.com, a horse theft recovery network that averages 80,000 unique visitors per month. "We have dealt with cases where horses were stolen," said Metcalf. "We later found out that these innocent pets had been slaughtered."

Investigators also discovered at both Canadian and Mexican slaughter plants horses left in bloody 'kill boxes,' used to restrain horses as they are being killed, during lunch breaks. According to the report, the horses were 'shaking violently as if they might fall down.' Plant management told investigators the horses 'aren't bothered by it.'

AA investigators documented injured and dead horses at every stop along the horse slaughter pipeline. At feedlots and export pens horses had no food and water troughs were empty. An export facility veterinarian informed investigators horses too weak for transport would be left behind to die in the pens.

"The public has been duped into thinking horse slaughter has ended, but it just moved a few hours further down the road," Meadows pointed out. "It hasn't somehow changed into something it is not. It is the same terrible suffering it was in 2005."

"By the time the horse finally stands in the kill box at the slaughter plant, it is often not the worst thing that has happened to it since this dreadful journey began," said Meadows.

For a copy of the investigative report, click here...

The documents including photos released by the USDA can be found here...

About Animals Angels

Animals' Angels is a 501 (c)(3) non profit organization with fulltime investigators in the United States and Canada. We work with law enforcement and government agencies to end animal cruelty and improve conditions for farm animals. We are in the field every week, trailing livestock trucks, visiting markets, collecting stations and slaughter plants. For more information please go to http://www.animals-angels.com

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Canadian Horse breeders oppose ID plan

I can't blame the breeders for not being happy with this program, but that's the price they're going to have to pay if they want to continue to sell their "culls" off to slaughter. They have been warned for three years.

Check the part where Canadian breeder Arnold McKee wants the government to "keep American slaughter animals out of Canada (YES!) because the horse market is glutted." What does this do to Sue Wallis and her horse-eating buddies' claim that lack of slaughter is why the American horse market is glutted? My god.

The market is glutted because of over breeding and and the worst recession the US has seen since the Great Depression!! Sue, you people have rebuilt the American horse market to DEPEND on slaughter, so now if our horses are banned by either Canada and/or the EU - which will include Mexico too - whatcha gonna do? Call ghost busters?

Just don't say we didn't warn you.
Amplify’d from www.producer.com

Horse breeders oppose ID plan

By Barbara Duckworth, Calgary bureau

June 17, 2010
A national requirement for health records and identification is like a burr under the saddle for some horse owners.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will require horse owners to have an equine identification document by July 31 to record health records when animals go for meat processing.

Alberta horse breeder Arnold McKee said the system is poorly conceived and he does not plan to comply because of the added cost and work. He is leading a petition asking the federal government to drop the program and keep American slaughter animals out of Canada because the horse market is glutted.

McKee said he cannot afford to have a veterinarian certify his horses as drug free or get them microchipped or tattooed.

“We all keep track of our horses,” he said. “We all have health records.”

He said those breeder records should be enough.

He also wants to know who is liable if a horse is condemned at a slaughter plant because drug residues are detected. The original owner is not likely responsible if the horse had multiple owners, he said.

He also questioned the fate of horses that are placed in feedlots for six months waiting for drugs to clear their systems. He said they are more likely to get sick and require more treatment if they are in a confined space.

The industry is working on individual identification as part of a larger traceability program, but Teresa van Bryce of the Horse Industry Association of Alberta said there is little support from horse owners.

“Most of our horses don’t go for processing and they don’t really see the importance of it,” she said.

“It will have to be sold to horse owners in a way that they can see there is a benefit to them. At this point they would see it as a hassle.”

The industry has discussed unique animal identification for a decade. Equine Canada is developing a nine digit unique number in a program called CanEquid.

The ID number will include animal name, pedigree, registration number, a Coggins disease style description of the horse and microchip, tattoo and brand information. It would also be used to track movement and horse health.

A radio frequency tattoo is the most promising identifier.

The technology was developed in the United States by Somark Innovations, which shelved it when the U.S. decided not to proceed with
its national animal identification system.

The Canadian industry wants to pursue it and is looking for funding for further research.

The tattoo would be like a bar code applied anywhere on the horse, through the hair. It is only visible by scanner and the developers promise it can be scanned and read from a distance of more than a metre.

Claude Boissonneault, a non-ruminant species specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, welcomes an easy-to-read identifier for horses.

“In the best of worlds, you would have equine that are identified with a unique number for life, which would allow the full traceability and you would know where the horse has been in its life,” he said.

Until then, horse owners are en-couraged to use the identification document that identifies the horse by markings and photos, and records past illnesses and medications.

“Right now, we are asking for history in the past six months of the life of the animals,” he said.

This is in response to a request from the European Union for full traceability within three years, he added.

“We have made the EU requirements a Canadian requirement.”

The CFIA has developed a list of prohibited drugs in food animals and is working on withdrawal periods for other medications.

“The withdrawal period will be developed as we go,” Boissonneault said. “All over the world horses are not raised as meat, so there are a number of veterinary drugs used that would not be approved in food producing animals.”

Drug residue tests are already conducted at federal meat plants.

CFIA veterinarians who suspect horses have been treated will hold them for testing. If the test is positive, a health risk assessment is done with Health Canada to see if the residue levels are acceptable or if the animal should be condemned.

Buyers at auctions in Canada and the United States have not always known a horse’s origins.

“We are telling them now if they are going to be bought for the Canadian market, they have to have paperwork,” Boissonneault said.

“It would not be a surprise to see the number of horses overall slaughtered going down.”

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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra