Federal Grazing Program in Bundy Dispute Rips-Off Taxpayers, Wild Horses
Vickery once again tells it like it is. She explains how the habits of wild horses actually aids the drought ravaged lands of the Western United States, whereas the cattle do nothing more than make it worse. We need more facts presented to the public so they understand that the Bundys of the world are destroying what little we have left of an American treasure – the American Mustang. Thank you, Vickery. Be sure to go to Forbes and put your comments there as well! Let the public know you support the American wild horses and burros! ~ HfH
By: Vickery Eckhoff
Sean Hannity defended Cliven Bundy as a patriot. Harry Reid called Bundy a terrorist. Jon Stewart called him a “welfare rancher trying to pull off the world’s largest dine and dash.”
Before his stand-off last week with the Federal Government—staged, aptly, during tax time—Bundy was a Nevada rancher who illegally grazed his cattle for 20 years on thousands of acres of public land, owing $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
But when The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees the land, showed up to remove his 900 cattle, a modern-day whiskey rebellion broke out. Dozens of mounted Bundy supporters advanced on a handful of BLM agents in SUVs, guns at the ready, carrying banners. The BLM retreated and returned Bundy’s cattle, minus several killed during the round-up.
Dramatic as this was, the Bundy-BLM dustup shouldn’t obscure the underlying issue that’s at stake here for taxpayers: the huge costs of the grazing program into which Bundy refused to pay.
Across the west, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service manage 13.3 million AUMs (Animal Unit Months) on 250 million acres of public land. One month of grazing one cow/calf combination or five sheep (the definition of an AUM) costs $1.35—a fee that’s 92% below the present-day cost of $16.80 per month to graze livestock on private land. The direct loss to taxpayers, by contrast, is huge: at least $123 million a year. Indirect but related costs push the total to as much as $1 billion, all to produce less than 3% of the nation’s beef supply.
The ultimate losers in this equation are wild horses and the increasingly shrinking western lands they roam that belong to the public. To create space for this taxpayer-funded cattle program, the BLM deploys helicopters, rounding up 8,255 wild equines in 2012 and 4,288 in 2013. The roundups cost an average of $750 per head. Some equines are adopted out for $125; the others are warehoused at a cost of $1.35 a day. Total cost for last year’s Wild Horses and Burros program: $71.8 million.
The BLM undertakes this removal based on the claim—advanced by ranchers—that horses degrade the land upon which the cattle graze.
But nothing could be further from the truth. The BLM’s count of 33,780 free-roaming wild horses and 6,825 burros still pales in comparison to the millions of cattle and sheep that graze at the public’s expense. Furthermore, horses graze on a fraction of the land that cattle and sheep do (18% vs. 82%).
The rangeland is certainly suffering, but the reason is a historically devastating drought exacerbated by the overgrazing of cows and sheep. The only thing horses are harming is the ranchers’ boondoggle.
In fact, horses could be used to ameliorate the damage caused by welfare ranchers. Wild horses are flight animals that exist in family bands, ranging widely from diverse riparian areas, where they drink before moving on to forage in areas sometimes as many as 15 miles away, avoiding precisely the trampling that ranchers say causes so much damage in sensitive areas. There’s a reason helicopters are needed to round them up.
In addition to their environmentally efficient migratory patterns, wild horses repair western ecosystems by not lingering in riparian areas, consuming dry forage that would otherwise ignite destructive brush fires, and distributing undigested seeds through their manure, which reseed grassy plains, deserts and mountains. Additionally, their feces add significant humus to the soil, making it more nutrient-rich and water-absorptive.
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Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.