“Complete scam on the American taxpayer” – CBS Denver

(CBS4) – Roundups and kidnappings of feral horses continue to be controversial, with Gov. Jared Polis even calling for a pause in roundups on Thursday, following a week-long equine flu outbreak at a detention facility in Cañon City, killing over 140 horses. CBS4 Investigates found that one reason for these roundups is because private breeders hold breeding licenses on the same public lands where wild horses are designated to roam freely, and there aren’t enough of resources in these areas for horse and cattle to co-exist – causing the mustangs to lose.

The Sand Wash Basin in northwest Colorado is one of the few designated wild horse herding areas in the state where wild horses roam freely. In 2021, nearly 700 horses have been rounded up and removed from this land, and sent to holding facilities to live out the rest of their lives in captivity.

The BLM said at the time that there were not enough resources for horses.

But just two months later, more than 2,000 domesticated sheep were grazing on that same land. Public records obtained by CBS4 show that the rancher who owned these sheep signed a report to the BLM that the sheep grazed throughout November in a pasture where wild horses are designated to roam.

The breeder did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

Wildlife biologist Erik Molvar says the dragging and grazing of sheep can be far more degrading to the land than feral horses.

“When you drag sheep through an area, they mow down all the vegetation in their path,” Molvar said. “It’s almost like an invasion of locusts striding through the land and clearing every stick of new vegetation and growth.”

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Molvar is also executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. He says his research on sage grouse led him to discover the breeding problems threatening wild horses.

“Livestock graze 50-65% of the annual forage production…and that leaves less than half of the scraps for wild horses, for elk, for mule deer to have shelter for sage-grouse, for grasshoppers for hares,” Molvar said. “Then at the end of the day, you still have to have enough growth for that herb to survive until next year, and it just doesn’t survive, and the reason is that the Bureau of Land Management chronically allows a level of livestock grazing that constitutes overgrazing, there is no question.

CBS4 Investigates analyzed livestock grazing permits in three of Colorado’s feral horse herding areas: the Sand Wash Basin, West Douglas Creek, and East Douglas Creek.

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Although there are currently only around 1,510 feral horses left in these three areas, 44,089 cattle and sheep are allowed to graze on these same lands. That’s nearly 30 times more cattle and sheep than horses in land designated for wild horses.

CBS4 Investigates also discovered that the 10 breeders holding these licenses in these three wild horse areas pay the BLM $1.35 per animal unit per month. That’s just over $57,463.55 total per month to graze their cattle there, meaning if ranchers use their permits during their allotted six months of the year, they’ll pay the BLM a total of only $344,781.90 per year.

In contrast, the BLM spent approximately $3,469,592 in taxpayer dollars to round up and care for horses in Colorado last year, and this year the BLM will spend an additional $3,308,250 to round up East Douglas and caring for horses at a short-term holding facility in Cañon City.

“I think the BLM’s wild horse and donkey program is a total rip off for the American taxpayer,” Molvar said, “It’s a huge drain on federal coffers; all to put more livestock back on western public lands where the taxpayer gets very little return for the damage done.

Analysis of public records from CBS4 Investigates found that ranchers were getting a decent deal. The BLM’s $1.35 per cow per month fee is the same as in the 1980s, with no adjustment for inflation, and it costs a rancher up to $2.80 a day to feed a cow with hay.

Livestock grazing permits last for 10 years at a time, and many ranchers have held them for several decades.

Through an analysis of public records, CBS4 Investigates found that all but one permit in the Sand Wash, East Douglas and West Douglas herd areas had been re-approved in the past 10 years without an environmental assessment of the impacts that cattle and the sheep would have. on the ground.

It’s totally legal thanks to a 2015 law to keep breeders on track.

Molvar says it’s not unique to Colorado.

“That means you don’t have a thorough review of environmental impacts, you don’t have any public input,” Molvar said. “We found that almost 70% of cattle grazing permits in the west that are inside a wild horse herd management area are re-authorized under this right.”

CBS4 Investigates asked a BLM rep if the agency favors ranchers over horses.

“It’s not a problem of cattle grazing against a wild horse and a burro out there,” said BLM’s John Neill. “If there is no fodder due to drought, herders will not be able to produce much of it, if at all, depending on range conditions. The horses will always be there. Even during drought situations, the horses will still be there, but there will also not be enough fodder available to keep these animals healthy. So they also need to be removed, for BLM to be good stewards of the range; it is our main objective, it is to have sustainable resources, for the years to come.

The tanners agree.

Deirdre Macnab is co-owner of 4M Ranch in Meeker, Colorado, which holds a grazing license on a parcel of land in the East Douglas herd area.

She says if the land isn’t suitable, she won’t put her cows on it, and she says the BLM meets with her once a year to make sure her cows aren’t overgrazing. She says last year she only used around 25 per cent of her pasture permit in the East Douglas area because the horses had degraded the land too much.

“They had pretty much eaten it all up, and it was down to dust, so we weren’t able to use these very, very mustang-trafficked areas,” Macnab said.

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She says her ranch has been recognized for its regenerative farming techniques, which are more climate friendly in the face of persistent drought and warmer temperatures, saying it’s important to her to help manage and protect the earth, so that it can be used for years. road.

“It really comes back to nature, and it mimics the way wild herds would graze,” Macnab said. “They’ll take the best parts of the top and they’ll move on to the next section…we use electric fencing to always keep the animals on tall, fresh grass. So they’re pretty much constantly moving, like they would in nature, and isn’t it a miracle, moving cows like nature really helps create the best soil and ecosystem.

This summer, the BLM plans to remove 750 horses from East Douglas, a move Macnab considers critical.

“I think 100 per cent think it’s necessary and frankly I wish they would do it sooner because we’ve had some rain which gives this lineup a chance to do it, and I’m really worried. while I’m driving,” Macnab said. “We very much appreciate that the BLM has moved forward with this plan, and we support it, absolutely, 100%, we think it’s in the best interests of the line, and frankly, the horses as well.”

The BLM says it is updating its policies for livestock grazing permits in response to growing threats from climate change, saying it plans to provide “increased grazing permit flexibilities” to support conservation, and in several landscapes, the agency implements the virtual fence technique used by Macnab. , saying livestock can be used to “selectively remove invasive annual grasses early in the growing season to reduce competition from perennial grasses”, and the BLM expects “this practice will promote perennial seeding “, claiming that “prescribed livestock grazing is also used to create fire fuel breaks.

But Molvar is pushing for legislative reforms that would allow conservationists to buy out grazing permits, so livestock grazing activities could decline more significantly.

“Cattle grazing is probably the most severe ecological impact on western public lands for the vast majority of land,” Molvar said. “What we need is legislation that allows grazing licenses to be voluntarily bought out and then permanently withdrawn, so conservation buyers know what they’re buying is going to stay, and we’re going to have the ecological rebound that occurs when you remove cattle and sheep for long years.

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