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Posts tagged ‘livestock’

This week in ass-grabbing journalism (Part II): Wild horse lies, and the media that spreads them.

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False narratives on wild horses have spread widely in the media. Can Snopes, the definitive fact-checking site make it stop?

Despite the media’s present war on “fake news,” it fluorishes, particularly on the wild horse issue, a red-meat topic that trends quickly, necessitating fast turnaround by reporters with no experience on the topic (and no editors who have it, either); no multiple sourcing; no independent fact-finding or research; and zero accountability. They just grab other similar articles, edit them to avoid the whiff of plagiarism, slap their name on it, and hit “publish.”

I call it ass-grabbing journalism. Here’s my second piece on it: a letter I wrote to Snopes (below), asking it to factcheck errors in wild horse media coverage, much of it originating with the Associated Press but also including The Washington Post, Smithsonian, The New York Times and National Geographic, among many others.

Does Snopes debunk false information spread by the media, or only internet schemes spread by trolls on Facebook? Let’s find out.

 

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Dear Snopes,

I’d like you to fact-check a false story about wild horses destroying western public rangelands put out by the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that oversees wild horses and commercial livestock grazing leases on federal lands.

For years, this lie has been picked up and spread, primarily by the Associated Press, but also by other media. It is now being used to gin up support for an upcoming Senate Appropriations Committee vote to destroy wild horses in holding and also clear the way for more wild horse removals on public lands, just as it was used to help the same amendment pass the House subcommittee in July.

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke and Chris Stewart of Utah are the main proponents of the budget amendment, which purports to save taxpayers $10 million but is really a cover for continuing to fund the subsidized federal lease grazing program, estimated by numerous environmental groups to waste up to $1 billion of taxpayer funds a year.

Western public grass and forest lands are overgrazed; but they are being overgrazed by domestic livestock grazed under this wasteful leasing program — not wild horses. Cattle on public lands outnumber wild horses by anywhere from 50:1 to 60:1, depending on the specific BLM data used and method of calculation.

The BLM freely distributes wild horse estimates, but withholds livestock figures from reporters, keeping livestock grazing data safely hidden and the grazing program protected for numerous billionaires (Koch brothers, Walton heirs) and corporations (JR Simplot Co.) that hold the majority of leased lands.

Fact-checking by Snopes could expose the number of cattle and sheep vs. wild horses that are out there and how many hundreds of millions acres of public lands cattle graze compared to continually shrinking wild horse territory. Publish those ratios. They’ll show who’s destroying public rangelands: it ain’t the horses.

I, along with a handful of reporters, environmental groups and wild horse advocacy groups have done the hard work to collect this data and tell this story. If you want to save yourselves some time, and talk to me about it, I’ll share my data with you, or direct you to others working to educate the public.

These include the journalist Christopher Ketcham, the environmental writer Steve Nash (whose book on public lands was just published by University of California Press), and environmental groups like Western Watersheds Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, Wildearth Guardians, and PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), all of whom devote considerable resources to protecting western public lands — for the public’s use.

I’ve reported on this complex and misunderstood policy issue for Forbes, Alternet, Salon and The Daily Pitchfork. Please let me know if I can help.

Sincerely,

Vickery Eckhoff
New York, NY

 

 

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My response to “Wild Horses, BLM and Logical Solutions” FB page

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BLM Wild horses and burros programI got kicked off the Wild Horses, BLM and Logical Solutions FB page after posting James McWilliams’ article on Mustang-Safe beef labeling and sticking around to debate it with the group members there. Don’t lament this, folks. It’s their page. They make the rules. And one of the apparent guiding principles is to center every discussion (and solution) around bringing WHB populations down to appropriate management levels (AML). That is their idea of “logical solutions.” But it isn’t mine.

So I went on over to the BLM’s WHB Program FB page and posted this:

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“Let’s be real.

AML is all about preserving higher stocking numbers of cattle than wild horses, not about providing ecological balance under multiple uses. Livestock producers keep arguing that getting down to AML and adopting out a few WHB are necessary to reduce overgrazing, preserve public grass and forest land. But they don’t provide proof that it’s horses doing the damage.

There happens to be extensive proof on the other side: data showing the degree to which private livestock outnumber WHB. How long are those looking to remove more wild horses going to pretend this isn’t relevant, and keep trying to silence those who bring it up?

Yes, there are fewer livestock on public lands today compared to years past. This is obviously hard on ranchers. Yes, wild horses need to be managed on the range. But the constant drumbeat of “over AML” “adopt out WHB” “use PZP” and “join the WHB advisory board” won’t remove the giant gorilla in the room: the damage is on the livestock side.

Go look for research to the contrary (you can find a sample here on page 14). What little exists says that, because there’s no historical data on grazing by livestock in HMAs, that pinning damage on wild horses is impossible. Go seek out studies on the negative impact of livestock production, both in the US and globally. A search of Google Scholar turns up thousands of results. Read a sample of these studies (available here on page 13). They minimally mention other species (like wild horses) on the condition of public lands. There’s a reason for that.

The COP21 climate talks now going on in Paris will continue to escalate the discussion, and livestock production, as the public is becoming increasingly aware, has a carbon footprint to rival transportation’s, and a massive water footprint, to boot.

If you want to solve the environmental problems that keep getting threaded into the “over AML” argument, you are going to have to confront this preponderance of evidence.

The public is getting informed, albeit slowly.

Why not address the issue within the livestock sector honestly instead of kicking the can down the road? And part of that discussion needs to be the cost of public grazing allotments, which cost taxpayers much more than the WHB program. Frankly, both are burdens on taxpayers, but the federal grazing program is the biggest of all. There needs to be honest discussion on that. Who wants to participate?”

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I’m very interested to see who steps forward.

A note to newcomers: I am a writer and journalist published on Forbes.com, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Alternet, Salon, Laika and the site I run with James McWilliams, The Daily Pitchfork. I used to work for The New York Times, Forbes Inc., Dow Jones and spent some time at The New Yorker and Time Warner. So please do not call me a horse advocate. My only advocacy is to the public and its right to be correctly informed on important policy issues by the media. To this end, I seek out research on the federal grazing program, land use and climate change, as well as data missing from most MSM coverage because it is time-consuming to find and analyze. 

As usual, I welcome your comments. Please be careful with personal attacks, don’t publish long dissertations, and keep the focus on the issues or your comment won’t appear. I always appreciate people who provide specific examples and links when disputing a fact. Thank you for dropping by.

My letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Review Journal

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F. Martin_ Cattle_Wikimedia

On November 12, a Las Vegas Review Journal editorial (“Have some horse sense“) concluded that “humanely euthanizing” wild horses is using “horse sense” to solve the “wild horse problem” outlined by 20 GOP lawmakers in a letter to BLM Director, Neil Kornze. Here’s my response:

Dear Editors,

Your recent editorial, “Have some horse sense,” is missing an important piece of data: the number of private livestock on public range and forest lands compared to wild horses and burros (WHB).

2014 grazing receipts of $17.1 million dollars for both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) grazing permittees translate to 2.1 million cattle. That was the number on 251 million acres of public land managed for grazing by both agencies compared to 56,656 WHB last year. That’s a ratio of 37 cattle for every wild horse.

A side-by-side analysis of that and other BLM and USFS-sourced data is available at http://dailypitchfork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/BLM_USFS-grazing-analysis_2014_Daily-Pitchfork.pdf

Key findings of that analysis include that only 29.4 million acres (just 12%) of the 251 million acres contain WHB habitat. Cattle and sheep are allocated 97% of the total forage; wild horses just 3%.

Another key finding is the countless studies on the negative impact of commercial livestock production on overgrazing, fires, predator removal, damage to riparian areas and biodiversity, and climate change. Yet no comparable studies exist blaming wild horses. A logical deduction is that researchers don’t tend to study what isn’t a problem.

Further, have you checked what those federal livestock grazing leases lose US taxpayers each year? How does taking in $17.1 million dollars while losing $125 million constitute a wise use of taxpayer funds or “sustainable” land use policy?

Killing wild horses to solve what is essentially a cattle-caused problem isn’t using horse sense; it’s the antithesis of it.

Sincerely,

 

Vickery Eckhoff
Executive Editor
The Daily Pitchfork
Dailypitchfork.org