Who holds the chips after showdown at the Stockmen’s Hotel & Casino?
Part I of a two-part series. See also: “Can’t fix wild horses? Kill ’em,” say BLM advisors
ELKO, Nevada––Will the Bureau of Land Management really kill all 45,000 wild horses now in off-range holding facilities, as recommended on September 9, 2016 by the BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board?
That all depends on who called whose bluff that afternoon at the Stockmen’s Hotel & Casino. How the vote went was announced right away. How it will influence U.S. wild horse management and horse slaughter policy is much less clear.
Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Tom Gorey told MSN Los Angeles bureau reporter Alex Dobuzinskis on September 14, 2016 that the BLM will “continue its current policy of caring for unadopted or unsold wild horses and burros” and will “not sell or send any animals to slaughter,” at least for the time being.
“It is becoming increasingly possible that this recommendation is a ‘barometer check,'” KBR Horse founder Willis Lamm suggested to ANIMALS 24-7 five days after the vote, “testing the public’s reaction to such proposals, at the same time as putting pressure on the advocates and other stakeholders to get serious about working together to develop effective herd management strategies.”
Lamm, of Stagecoach, Nevada, has closely followed wild horse issues in California, Nevada, and elsewhere for several decades.
Whatever the BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board intended, the outcome may be a wild card, pending two political developments.
The BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board did not actually recommend selling the 45,000 wild horses whose fate is in question to slaughter, but having 45,000 federally owned horses to dispose of could prove to be a powerful incentive to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., and would create jobs here, whereas simply killing the horses where they stand and bulldozing their carcasses into pits would not.
Reopening horse slaughterhouses would gain political support from the horse industry, which itself has more than 100,000 horses per year to dispose of after use in racing, riding, and breeding; merely killing the horses would only stir outrage from horse lovers on the one hand and fiscal conservatives upset by the perceived waste of an economic resource on the other.
“Stalking horse” for horse slaughter?
Might theBLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board impel horse slaughter to resume?
Maybe. Within the next two weeks Congress must finalize and pass the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture appropriation bill, called the Farm Bill for short.
The present USDA appropriation expires on September 30, 2016. All pending federal appropriation bills must be passed, or temporary appropriations to keep the government running, before Congress recesses to give members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives time to campaign ahead of the November 8, 2016 national election.
Farm Bill language
The 2016 Farm Bill included language prohibiting the use of USDA funds to inspect horse slaughterhouses. This in effect prohibits slaughtering horses for human consumption within the U.S.
Similar language has been included in almost every annual edition of the Farm Bill since 2007, when Congress closed the last three horse slaughterhouses operating in the U.S.
The exception was the 2012 Farm Bill, which encouraged entrepreneurs in several states to try to start horse slaughtering businesses. None succeeded.
Language has already been written into both the House and Senate versions of the 2017 Farm Bill to continue the ban on USDA inspections of horse slaughterhouses.
But last-minute stealth riders have been attached before to must-pass appropriation bills to facilitate selling wild horses to slaughter.
Most notoriously, former Montana Senator Conrad Burns just before the 2004 Thanksgiving recess slipped wording into an urgent appropriations bill which mandated that wild horses and burros must be sold “without reservation…if the excess animal is more than 10 years of age, or the excess animal has been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least three times.”
The urgency of passing the 2017 Farm Bill is such that, with Republicans holding majorities in both the House and Senate, U.S. President Barack Obama cannot realistically be expected to veto the whole bill on behalf of wild horses, if language similar to the Burns amendment is introduced again.
Meanwhile, even if the language banning USDA inspections of horse slaughterhouses is kept in the 2017 Farm Bill, the BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board has in effect recommended that the language be dropped from the 2018 Farm Bill.
The present Republican majorities in the House and Senate might enjoy the opportunity to pass such a political hot potato along to a Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and a possible Democratic majority Senate.
No candidate “for the horses”
The second political development which will inevitably influence the fate of the 45,000 wild horses in Bureau of Land Management holding facilities will be the outcome of the November 7, 2016 election.
As significant as whether Clinton or Republican candidate Donald Trump wins may be whether the Democrats recapture the Senate from Republican control.
Five of the 10 western states with the most BLM land and the most wild horses––North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho––have two U.S. Senators each, as does every state, but have only one U.S. Representative each. This means that Senators representing less than 1% of the total U.S. population hold 10% of the Senate seats, and gives ranchers in the five states hugely disproportionate political clout.
Should Donald Trump win and the Republican Party hold the Senate, that the 45,000 horses will be slaughtered or sold to slaughter would appear to be practically a given: the House, Senate, and Presidency would be in alignment. While some Republican Representatives and Senators have defended wild horses, most have favored selling the horses––as per the 2004 Burns amendment––as a cost-cutting measure.
Should Trump win and the Republicans lose the Senate to the Democrats, the influence of ranchers in the western wild horse range states would probably still prevail.
What if Clinton wins?
Should Hillary Clinton win the White House but the Republicans hold the Senate, she will be having to negotiate every item of legislation with Republican House and Senate majorities, and cannot realistically be expected to make defending wild horses a priority, regardless of whatever she thinks of killing them.
Should Hillary Clinton win the White House and the Democrats win the Senate majority, she will have much more negotiating clout.
But Clinton meanwhile has already named former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to head her transition team if she is elected.
Salazar, heavily criticized for his alleged lack of oversight of the Bureau of Land Management wild horse program during his tenure as Interior Secretary, 2009-2013, was embarrassed in October 2015 when the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior found that the BLM did little or nothing to prevent livestock hauler Tom Davis from acquiring nearly 1,800 wild horses and burros between 2008 and 2012. The horses were relayed through middlemen to Mexico for slaughter.
The Office of Inspector General found that Davis allegedly “had farming and trucking connections” with Salazar. Salazar subsequently told Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Dave Philipps, who questioned him about the relationship, “If you do that to me again, I’ll punch you out.”
Salazar later apologized for making the threat.
67,000 horses on the range; 67,000 horses
The Bureau of Land Management in May 2016 estimated that the current U.S. wild horse and bureau population had increased to 67,000, 15% more than in 2015. This is about 2.5 times more wild horses and burros than roamed BLM land when the Wild & Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act won passage in 1971.
The BLM wild horse management budget has doubled from about $40 million to more than $80 million since 2009, BLM director Neil Korzne told Scott Sonner of Associated Press.
Take one away & feed her hay…
“There’s a very real impact on the range when the herds are overpopulated,” Korzne said, “but it costs us $50,000 per horse if the horse lives out its whole life in holding. Every time BLM goes out and gathers 1,000 horses, we are talking about potentially a $50 million commitment on behalf of American taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, with the opportunity to profitably adopt wild horses and then sell them to slaughter substantially diminished, adoption demand has fallen from about 8,000 a year when U.S. horse slaughterhouses were open, to 2,500 or fewer.
45,000 horses in pens
Wild horse advocates nonetheless maintain that wild horses should be allowed to expand their range and occupy more habitat.
“Wild horses are present on just 12% of federal rangelands, which they share with livestock, and their habitat has shrunk by over 40% over the last four decades,” American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign director Suzanne Roy told Sonner. “The feds consider 67,000 wild horses and burros to be overpopulated,” Roy pointed out, “yet there are 70,000 big horn sheep remaining in the West and they are [considered] highly endangered.”