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Wild Horse Roundups Undermined by New BLM Data

June 7, 2014

Vickery Eckhoff

Livestock vs. Wild Horses_BLM RAS 2013_Iron Beaver Counties


The facts are in: There are 10.6 times as many livestock as wild horses grazing public range lands in Utah’s Iron and Beaver Counties.

For anyone following the news about ranchers looking to round up 697 wild horses there on the taxpayers’ nickel, this is an auspicious (and overdue) piece of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) data. For everyone else, pay attention: that 10:6 to 1 ratio is significant to you as a U.S. taxpayer and citizen—and my latest article on AlterNet (“Ranchers Want Our Public Lands for Their Livestock, and Want the Govt. to Stick It to Wild Horses and Taxpayers”) explains why.

What’s auspicious about the figure of 10.6 to 1? Everything.

The story behind the story

The wild horse issue is a numbers story shaped by two taxpayer-supported federal programs: the BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros Program and the Federal Grazing program. Together, these two programs are responsible for the overgrazing by privately owned livestock of 245 million acres of public land. These programs are also responsible for the simultaneous blaming (and removal) of thousands of wild horses protected by an act of Congress. Both programs are huge money drains for U.S. taxpayers that exist to aid a declining population of ranchers in ten western states supplying two percent of the nation’s beef supply.

It’s a common misperception that the programs are justified because of what ranching contributes to western state economies. According to Western Watersheds founder Jon Marvel, however, these ranchers’ economic contributions are miniscule, both at the state level and within their own communities. In other words, neither program is justified on economic grounds. Neither are they justified on the basis of the ratios of cattle and sheep to wild horses and burros (which varies from area to area), nor on the basis of protecting wild horses, nor the range lands themselves.

The story I want to tell you here, however, is how I got that 10.6 ratio, and all the supporting BLM data that backs it up.

First of all, the BLM did not supply it. I asked BLM officials for it three weeks ago (Meghan Crandall, Lisa Reid and Elizabeth Burghard) and was stonewalled.

This explains how the media has so far put out story after story about wild horses overpopulating public lands—because this is the official BLM and rancher story and no data has so far existed to disprove it.

When the news therefore started breaking about Utah ranchers threatening to round up “overpopulating” wild horses unless the BLM did the job, I reached out to local reporters with a single question: “How many cattle and sheep are grazing those lands by comparison”?

Only one reporter got back to me. He said he’d asked the BLM, but not gotten an answer.

So I picked up the phone and called the BLM’s Cedar City Office.

Over the next few days, I contacted four different people, two of them in public and external affairs. These are the government folks that media people like me always get sent to when we come calling for information. It’s their stated job to guide the media—which generally means they supply what they want you to report on, not what you ask for.

Reporters, being hard-working people without the time or resources to go after data while on deadline, use what they can get their hands on. That set-up does not lend itself to factual, data-driven reporting on the wild horse issue, unsurprisingly.

I was told to email my questions to the BLM, and I did so. I asked for several bits of data: how many livestock in Iron and Beaver Counties vs. wild horses? How much does it cost to round up wild horses (per head), what method will be used, and who will pay the BLM’s bill (Utah or federal taxpayers)?

I asked these questions three weeks ago.

A week later, I was told by the BLM’s external affairs person, “we have pulled your numbers, but need to get them approved by our DC office.”

I’ve heard nothing since.

So I went looking elsewhere for data and found two groups willing to supply it. They actually mined the BLM’s Rangeland Administration System (RAS)to its depths —no easy task, but doable with a lot of patience and attention to detail. They examined every grazing allotment, every grazing permit holder, how many sheep and cattle they grazed, and on what rotation schedule for all the allotments overlapping herd management areas from which the wild horses were being targeted for removal in Iron and Beaver counties.

Their complete analysis is far deeper than anything I could fit into an article without overloading people with numbers. But these numbers demand to be looked at. They demand that similar numbers be provided for every area where the BLM is planning on rounding up wild horses for the coming months (and year) on the justification that “there’s an overpopulation of wild horses.”

Seen in light of how many cattle and sheep are out there, this story is provably false.

Please check out the data at The Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation sites (link tk) and keep checking back as more BLM round ups are planned, to see what those plans will do to the already outsized ratios of livestock outgrazing wild horses on public lands.

The BLM may not be willing to inform the public and the media about how government spends its tax dollars, but there are, fortunately, grassroots groups dedicated to providing that information.

If you know of a reporter or media outlet that are putting out a false “wild horse overpopulation story,” please educate them. Give them a link to the AlterNet story or provide them more detailed data available through the Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation sites.

And for more on this topic, please follow me on this blog and @viglet on Twitter or read my articles on

Thank you!


Post a comment
  1. Mary Ceglia #
    June 7, 2014

    Thank you for your persistence and for your information.

  2. Zig Pope #
    June 7, 2014

    A few weeks ago, I wondered onto this. I thought it an interesting read considering what is going on out there.

    Click to access Grazing%20Final%20Report.pdf

    • Maggie Frazier #
      June 9, 2014

      Zig – that certainly IS an interesting read – I admit I skimmed through about 1/2 of it – didn’t realize that ranchers from OUT OF STATE could lease these allotments. That seems not quite right! And of course the oil & gas & mining companies have the right to lease allotments! The fact that only 1/3 of the permittees returned completed forms asking for this information is par. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to, right?
      Once again – thanks be to Vickery! She seems to be the one voice out there of a journalist.

  3. Lisa LeBlanc #
    June 7, 2014

    Goodness, where to start…

    Let’s see: 40,605 wild horses and burros (per some data accrued through some unexplained methodology by the BLM).
    10 Western states (if equally divided, 4,061 animals per state).
    Acres: (depends on where you look) 29 Million to 31 Million acres (let’s go low and say 29M) = 1 horse or burro every 714 acres.
    What the heck: 31M acres = 1 animal every 763 acres.
    This is what is required (per some data accrued through some unexplained methodology by the BLM) to sustain a wild equine for a year.That’s a lot of grass for 1 critter.

    An example: Twin Peaks, my ‘home’ HMA, is slightly less than 800,000 acres. It is 51 miles long and 35 miles wide. It is 88%(ish) fenced grazing allotments. And it can support less than 1,000 horses and burros in total.
    The field office will tell you that with a straight face, too.

    They put these numbers out with an honest expectation that the data will be believed without question. I suppose if you hear a thing long enough and often enough, the meaning becomes lost. You can drive 300 miles around Twin Peaks and, if you’re lucky or have a companion who’s an expert, you’ll see perhaps a dozen scattered in minute pockets.

    It’s disheartening to realize that no matter how few are actually out there, there will ALWAYS be too many. The managers and users of Public lands are very good at what they do – a practiced maneuvering of rhetoric and misrepresentation.

  4. Jodi #
    June 7, 2014

    What can we do?

  5. June 7, 2014

    thank you Vickery for getting us this data and for continuing to be a real investigative journalist

  6. June 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on Pass the SAFE Act! and commented:
    This is a very important post, thank you again for hitting the proverbial nail on the head Ms. Eckhoff!

    • V Fisher #
      June 7, 2014

      Simple…9/10 Stakeholders on the Committee want the horses gone and each one gets to “recommend” what happens to the horses. One of those Stakeholders was also a Capture Permit holder, so in effect, voted for himself. Blatant conflict of interest. They don’t even try to hide it. The RCMP were recorded saying they want all the wild horses gone, cattle ranchers want them gone, hunters want them gone, forestry wants them gone and especially ESRD wants them gone. Only one voice on the Committee speaks for the wild horses, but the general public has had enough and we will not allow another capture and slaughter to occur. We are committed and already preparing for next year.

      • June 11, 2014

        Just so true, every word! Truly sad that we are fighting so many that have absolutely no clue as to their real value. Thank you for your comment.

      • June 23, 2014

        Damn fine points, thank you for that comment.

      • July 17, 2014

        Good to know, thank you for your wise comment.

      • July 20, 2014

        Utterly reprehensible the situation in Canada! STacked deck. Blatant devilishness by the wild horse enemies. Must be exposed and stopped!

      • July 23, 2014

        Thank you for that wise comment Craig, indeed you are right, always.

  7. V Fisher #
    June 7, 2014

    Same story up here in Canada too. Not one single unbiased study done on how many cattle/wildlife the Public Lands can support. Not one single study done on how many horses are too many horses…..YET keep issuing those Capture Permits to round up the wild horses and send them to slaughter, and NO MATTER WHAT, keep putting those cattle out there. Great work Vickery. We need you up here to investigate, as I’ve been asking for documents under the Freedom of Information Act for the last 5 months and have been sent in circle after circle with their BS about who will give it to me.

  8. June 7, 2014

    Thank-you for your vital research, work and great writing , bless your mission. You have a great gift, please keep on with getting the truth out. We who care will share your eyes and ears and your facts, Again thank-you.

  9. June 8, 2014

    Thank you for digging, and to your sources for THEIR digging — proof the BLM is ‘full of it’ on claiming too many wild horses. And for taxpayers that might not even care about the horses (shallow people indeed) they should think of it in terms of their hard-earned tax dollars being spent to round up & incarcerate horses, and dollars being GIVEN to those ranchers mooching off the taxpayers. Thank you!

  10. June 8, 2014

    Greatly appreciate this further expose on the gross unfairness in southern Utah by BLM and ranchers targeting the wild horses for blame when they only have themselves to blame for overgrazing. Their lies and their dense-skulled mayhem must continue to be exposed until it is eliminated!

  11. June 8, 2014

    Thank you, Vickery! What a breath of fresh air! I have just spent a whole lot of time posting comments on ill-informed and written stories about this subject. Now all I will need to do is post a link to your article! Thank you!

  12. NancyB #
    June 8, 2014

    Your continued excellent investigative reporting is much appreciated!

  13. LNorman #
    June 8, 2014

    It’s worth noting that grazing leases also include water rights. Mining/oil/gas companies need water to extract and process what they are stealing from our Public Lands. Barrick Gold holds grazing leases. They use obscene amounts of water to process truckloads of gold dust mixing cianide with the water leaving toxic waste in their wake. This is only one example of the rape of our Public Lands for private profit. These corporations don’t have to include wild horses (protected species)in their Environmental Assessments if there aren’t any wild horses. Kleptocracy: a government or state in which those in power exploit national resources and steal; rule by a thief or thieves.

    • June 9, 2014

      This is the disgusting case today: Klepocracy, indeed. Much the same as Corpocracy.

  14. Claudia Daigle #
    June 8, 2014

    Thank you, Vickery, for the clear information and your excellent research. Why isn’t anyone holding the BLM and the DOI accountable? I know Laura Leigh and other advocates are in the courts, which is very important, but, where is Congress? WHY?

  15. Linda #
    June 9, 2014

    Thank you Wild Horse Freedom Federation and The Cloud Foundation for preparing all the statistics (from BLM resources) for this article.

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  1. Vickery Eckhoff: Wild Horse Roundups Undermined by New BLM Data | Habitat For Horses

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