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BLM AMLs… And the Perilous Path to Extinction

Last week, I shared the wisdom of a couple of individuals who have significant insight into what is happening to America’s wild horse population. At the end of last week’s post, I teased you about the “BLM AMLs.” Before my eyes were opened about what is happening to America’s Mustangs, I had no idea about AMLs. What is an AML?

The BLM AML refers to what the Bureau of Land Management considers to be Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs). The BLM defines AML as follows:

The number of “wild” horses and burros that the BLM determines can exist in balance with other public rangeland species, resources, and uses in a given area. AML represents the point at which horse and burro herd populations are consistent with the land’s capacity to support them. The AML is a range of low to maximum levels that allows for population growth over a four- to five-year period without causing rangeland damage. 

The appropriate AML is established once it is determined that the essential habitat components are present in sufficient amounts to sustain healthy horse and burro populations and healthy rangelands over the long-term, the amount of sustainable forage available for horse and burro use is determined, and it is determined whether or not the project herd size is sufficient to maintain genetically diverse horse and burro populations. The U.S. AML determined by BLM is approximately 26,500. The current “free-roaming” population exceeds this by about 11,000.
In bed with the cattle industry

Be sure that you understand that the above paragraph is pulled from a website created by the National Wild Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. I was going to list the members of this coalition, but it makes more sense for you to follow this link and just see for yourself who is behind this website. What I will share right here is this statement:

Coalition members are a range of wildlife, sportsmen, livestock, industry, and land conservation organizations. Membership is open to any organization that shares a commitment to achieving sound management of horses and burros to promote healthy wildlife and rangelands. 

If you follow the link in the above quote, it takes you to a page where you can submit an application to join this coalition. It offers the following “mission statement”: The Coalition is focused on working together to identify proactive and comprehensive solutions to increase effective management of horse and burro populations and mitigate the adverse impacts to native fish, wildlife, and plants and the ecosystems on which they depend.

If you read my post last week, you will recall that I had an extensive conversation with Erik Molvar, the Executive Director of the Western Watersheds Project. Erik is a wildlife biologist, and his specific area of expertise relates to the use of public lands for domestic grazing. Rather than repeat what Erik shared with me, please read that post if you haven’t already.

What animal is doing the most damage to the ecosystem?

However, the point I want to make here is this… The Coalition website wants to control the wild horse and burro population because of “the adverse impacts to native fish, wildlife, and plants and the ecosystems on which they depend.” If you read what Erik told me, it is cattle that are creating the adverse impact. Note that the majority of Coalition members are directly or indirectly related to the cattle industry. What a surprise.

Erik’s assessment of BLM AMLs

Erik told me that the BLM AMLs are not tied to any scientific study. Apparently, they are essentially pulling numbers out of the air. An analysis of BLM AMLs done in 2013 showed that the numbers were not tied to science. Furthermore, the BLM refuses to be transparent about how they have determined their Appropriate Management Levels. They are, however, willing to go on the record to declare that if the horse population exceeds the arbitrary threshold set by the BLM, they are “overpopulated.”

According to Erik, the minimum AML to maintain genetic diversity is 278 animals if all are eligible to breed. If not all animals are able to reproduce, the number needs to be higher. Erik says that some BLM AMLs are as low as 100, or in some cases even 50 horses in a “herd!” This is far below what is necessary to maintain genetic diversity, disease resistance, and minimal birth defects.

The BLM responds to this criticism by claiming that they plan to “mix and mingle” the herds. Erik says, “Are these really wild animals if they are trucking them around?” Remember what I wrote last week, describing Cynthia Smoot’s description of horse families? How does “mixing and mingling” maintain appropriate herd dynamics and preserve established bonded groups? Wild horses are just that… wild horses. They need to be approached as wild animals, not as livestock.

The livestock industry’s view of wild horses

Erik states that the livestock industry’s approach to wild horses parallels its approach to prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, and any other animal that threatens its supreme reign over their “right” to graze public lands. Erik says,

The manifest destiny of the livestock industry is to sweep away every species of wildlife and plants that are not maximizing their profits. They don’t care about healthy native ecosystems. They embrace the idea of dominionism, to control, dominate, and subjugate nature. This is why we have a biodiversity crisis. It is possible to draw parallels between horses and elk, wolves, coyotes, and other species.

Erik Molvar
The Path Forward vs. the Path To Extinction

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) states on their homepage that “We are America’s leading voice on protecting wild mustangs & burros.” In March of 2020, they wrote a 2-blog series titled, Pulling Back the Curtain on the “Path Forward” Plan. These two blogs addressed the Congressional appropriation of a $21 million (26%) increase for the BLM budget to “manage” the wild horses. This Congressionally approved funding was based on a plan devised by the BLM and termed “The Path Forward.”

In the first blog, written March 18, 2020, AWHC states:

The plan, if implemented, would reduce wild horse and burro populations by 70 percent via the removal of up to 130,000 wild horses and burros (more than exist today) over the next ten years.

The 26% increase was because the BLM spends roughly two-thirds of its budget putting horses in “storage!” As they pull more and more horses off the range and stash them in overcrowded private pastures, they need more and more money to pay for it. Again, my post last week addressed the financial hijinks related to what the BLM is paid for each cow/calf pair versus what they have to pay to support the once-wild horse.

Remember how I stated above that Erik told me that BLM AMLs were not tied to any scientific evidence? Let me share a bit more from AWHC’s first blog:

In promoting the Path Forward, its proponents have characterized it as a “science-based” management plan for America’s wild horses and burros backed by “scientific evidence”.

However, the plan itself is authored by lobbying groups and Western officials with documented anti-wild horse positions, not scientists. In fact, the plan does not list a single credentialed scientist as a co-author. Proponents have publicly stated that the plan is based on models prepared by scientific consultants, however, the names of the consultants have not been disclosed and the models on which the plan is based have never been published or peer-reviewed.

I have mentioned in my blog series about equine slaughter that the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has stated that “75% of their members support equine slaughter.” Specifically, Keith Kleine, the Director of Industry Relations, made that statement to me. However, I have repeatedly and persistently asked for more information about that statistic and the poll which supposedly generated that result. Keith Kleine refuses to return my calls. The staff who answers the phone has been incredibly rude to me. Why? Why can’t they or won’t they support their “facts”?

Apparently, like the BLM, they are fond of pulling statistics out of the air that are not able to be verified. Anyone can make up anything to support the position they want to promote. If they can’t, or won’t, support their position with facts, studies, data, and transparency, they immediately lose their credibility with me. Their “facts” are meaningless.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences

Over ten years ago, the BLM commissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). This study cost taxpayers $2 million. In 2013, NAS issued a report titled,Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward.”  Note one of the key words here… science.

Even though this study was commissioned by the BLM, they have ignored the NAS report. AWHC states that, “It has also been ignored by the cattle industry, which did not like the NAS’ conclusions about roundups, population control via surgical sterilization, and the need for science, transparency, and equity in the process by which BLM sets population limits for wild horses and burros.” That’s right, there needs to be science, transparency, and equity in the process by which BLM AMLs are determined.

In the AWHC blog Part One, they provide a succinct and concise table that outlines the differences between the BLM “Path Forward” and the NAS Report of 2013. Check it out… you will see the profound discrepancies between the BLM approach and what was recommended by the NAS. There are many references to BLM AMLs and once again, the word equity appears. As many wild horse proponents have stated…

Humans don’t have a wild horse problem. Wild horses have a human problem.

The problem is what I shared from Erik Molvar at the beginning of this post… the livestock industry’s determination to eradicate every species of wildlife and plants that are not maximizing their profits.

I have started reading Wild Horse Country by David Philipps. There is so much information in that book… I have only read the first couple of chapters so far. It describes the evolution of the horse, and addresses the livestock industry’s position that wild horses are not native to the land, but instead are an “invasive species” which therefore must be eradicated.

I have more to share from Erik Molvar, but I believe I will insert a few posts that illuminate the incredible adaptations that horses have made that enable them to exist in a challenging environment. I will briefly discuss their evolution and address the notion that they are not native to our lands. See you next week!

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