Ranchers And BLM Square Off In Utah Over Wild Horses As Beef Prices Skyrocket

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to make headlines over ongoing battles with ranchers in multiple states. The federal agency may be extremely unfamiliar to Americans in some regions of the country, but those living in western states are vividly aware of the power the officials at the BLM possess due to their frequent interactions with agents. Utah ranchers are concerned about possible destruction of public lands due to alleged overgrazing by wild horses.

A movement to round up the wild horses protected by federal laws has been initiated by the ranchers. Unchecked population growth coupled with low foliage growth due to the drought in the region are the reasons most often cited by the ranchers in Utah. Approximately 2,000 wild horses are roaming public lands in Iron County, Utah. The BLM previously determined the sustainable wild horse population in the nine designated herd management zones should be around 300 head.

Iron County officials contend that vegetation crucial to the life and health of the cattle Utah ranchers pay a fee to graze on the federal lands, is at risk. Iron County Commissioners had asked the BLM to reduce the herds of wild herds in anticipation of the drought, but the request was denied. Some wild horse preservation groups stated publicly that any effort to remove the animals would be a federal crime. Ranchers are often horse lovers too, and have not suggested euthanatizing the wild horses, the cattlemen have reportedly just urged the BLM to follow the 300 horses guidelines the federal agency itself established.

Late last week Iron County workers and some BLM agents set up portable metal corrals to round up and hold the wild horses on private land next to the federal range until they can be transported to a BLM facility. County officials drafted a letter to the BLM last month warning the federal agency that local authorities would act independently to remove the wild horses if overcrowding problems were not immediately addressed and mitigation efforts initiated. “We charge you to fulfill your responsibility. Inaction and no management practices pose an imminent threat to ranchers,” an excerpt from the letter reads.

Once the wild horses reach the BLM facility, they will reportedly be held until adoption. Horse lovers, many of which who have also supported Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Texas rancher Tommy Henderson’s fight against the BLM, want to see the horses released into less populated public lands or placed in a refuge instead of being adopted for domestication.

“There’s no management of the animals and they keep reproducing. The rangeland just can’t sustain it,” Iron County Commissioner David Miller said. The wild horses dispute is just the latest recent battle between the ranchers who have grazed cattle on public lands for generations and BLM land managers and environmental groups who have competing demands on the hundreds of thousands of acres of federal public lands in the West. Miller also added, “We’re going to see those horses starving to death out on the range. The humane thing is to get this going now.”

Katherine Meyer, an attorney for wild horse preservation groups, fired off this letter to the BLM in reference to the issues surrounding the Utah ranchers and public land grazing:

“The BLM must stop caving to the private financial interests of livestock owners whenever they complain about the protected wild horses using limited resources that are available on such lands.”

According to the BLM, wild horse and burro populations across in the West number at more than 40,600 head. The federal agency’s own figures note that the size of the roaming herds exceeds the number of animals which can “exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses” by 14,000. Whether or not the planned relocation of the wild horses benefits the Utah ranchers, it appears that a lack of vegetation and water issue would still exist for the horses and burros.

Bureau of Land Management officials also noted that the wild horse population has not been culled due to “budget constraints” and the population grows by approximately 20 percent each year. The BLM has “pressured” ranchers in the West to cut their cattle herds by 50 percent to help cope with the drought.

How do you feel about the BLM’s management of the wild horses and the impact the matter has had on Utah ranchers?

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