by Debbie Coffey

David Philipps’ New York Times article “A Mustang Crisis Looms in the West” (3/22/20) requires correction for falsely blaming degradation of public lands in the West on wild horses, in both the headline and the body of the article.

Data and maps from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conclusively show private livestock, not wild horses, are overwhelming public lands in the West, both in grazing territory and sheer numbers (relative to wild horses).

BLM Grazing Allotments                                     Wild Horse Herd Management Areas

Compare the green areas showing BLM livestock grazing allotments (on the left) to the light blue areas showing BLM wild horse Herd Management Areas (on the right).  This clearly shows that wild horses aren’t all over public lands in the West (as both Mr. Philipps and his sources claim), but cattle are.

On the Challis HMA referred to in Philipps’ article, 185 wild horses (BLM number) have at times been outnumbered by over 6,000 cows according to the BLM’s Rangeland Administration System (BLM grazing management reports).

The BLM counts a cow/calf pair as only ONE animal, so the graph below shows the ACTUAL number of cattle (both cows and calves) on the Challis HMA (in red), as compared to numbers of wild horses (in blue):

The numbers of cattle and grazing periods are from the BLM’s Rangeland Administration System (RAS).  The numbers of cattle have been reduced on these charts based on the percentage of the grazing allotment on the HMA.  The numbers of wild horses are based on BLM’s low AML (Apppropriate Management Level).

The BLM claims there are 177 Herd Management Areas in the West, but only 160 of these have any wild horses or burros on them.  The wild horses & burros on these HMAs are being squeezed out by livestock grazing and oil and gas leases.

The real crisis, and degradation to public lands, is caused by the BLM allowing huge numbers of privately owned livestock to graze on public lands.  Ranchers fiercely fight to not lower the numbers of their livestock, since many get bank loans based on their BLM grazing allotments (public lands).

According to a report by WildEarth Guardians titled Mortgaging Our Natural Heritage:

“Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has written that federal public lands livestock grazing ‘is the most damaging use of public land,’ and reams of scientific studies support that assertion.

Federal public lands grazing is also among the most expensive public lands boondoggles foisted on American taxpayers.  The Government Accountability Office determined that federal grazing programs cost at least $144 million annually (minus grazing fees).  A separate economic study conducted by independent and BLM economists found that the direct and indirect costs of BLM and Forest Service public lands grazing are probably much higher, between $500 million and $1 billion per year.”

Philipps quoted a rancher, Jackie Ingram, who “shared 168,700 acres of public land with the mustang herds for 46 years.”  (Note, ONE rancher has privately owned livestock grazing on 168,700 acres of public land.)

Philipps then adds “In some years, she said, the wild horses left so little grass to eat that other wildlife disappeared, and her family had to cut back their cattle herd.”

According to the BLM’s Rangeland Administration System (BLM’s records on livestock grazing on public lands that are available to the public online), authorization #1100700 for Gary and Jackie Ingram, there is no indication that any AUMs (forage allowed per animal per month) have been suspended.

Ingram grazes cattle on 2 allotments on this HMA.  On one allotment, the Warm Springs allotment, she grazes 490 cattle for three and a half months a year on 98% public land.  Since the BLM counts a cow/calf pair as only one animal, in actuality, Ingram likely grazes 980 cattle.

The BLM only allows 185-253 wild horses on the Challis Herd Management Area, so on 2 grazing allotments, Ingram’s privately owned cattle eat about as much, or more forage, than all of the wild horses eat on the entire HMA during the year.

The real “crisis” looming in the West is due to huge numbers of privately owned livestock grazing on public lands.