Friday ended an opportunity for the American public to speak their mind about the management of wild horses and burros in the west. Bureau Of Land Management, a bureau within the Interior Department, released it’s Wild Horse and Burro Strategy Development Document in early June and requested public comments through their online e-planning system. Unfortunately, the system proved faulty at best.
The initial August 3rd deadline was extended by 30 days shortly after receiving a letter of request written by a Wyoming congressional delegation. "The summer months are some of the busiest for key stake holders in Wyoming...” wrote a delegation known for their anti- wild horse platforms. The letter goes on to say,”This will ensure that the department is able to collect the type of diverse stake holder comment that is necessary to encourage an open, positive dialogue with the public on this matter.” Although BLM made an e-mail address and a mailing address available for comment submissions about the same time, the information was not widely publicized.
When asked if the 30 day extension was in direct response to the Wyoming delegation request, Tom Gorey, national spokesman for the wild horse and burro program, stated, “ That was a factor, yes, in our extending the deadline , there would have been others that would have made the request too. But yes, we respected the input from the Wyoming congressional delegation to extend the comment period.”
BLM issued the Strategy Development Document and request for public comment in preparation for a September 30th deadline to submit a management strategy to Congress. According to Gorey, “ That deadline is not going to be met. “
“We did extend the comment period for an additional 30 days so it was a total of 90 days. What we plan to do once we have come up with our proposed final strategy is to put that out again for public comment. That would be another 30 day comment period once we’ve done that. Given that schedule we will not be able to meet a Sept. 30 deadline. The goal would be to get something done by the end of the year . Whether that’s feasible, is debatable though. We may have to do it the next calendar year.” Gorey explained.
With BLM’s fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and appropriations for FY 2011 not yet approved, it is unclear how the need to extend the deadline will effect the program’s 2011 budget.
A recent letter from the Arizona Game and Fish Department requesting the Bureau take a closer look at euthanasia and “sale without limitation” along with the resurfacing of a 2009 BLM internal communications document that discuss detailed planning for euthanasia has brought both subjects into public venues once more.
Gorey restated BLM's position that these alternatives are off the table and offered his explanation as to why. “When the government accountability office put out its report in Oct. 2008, they noted the fact that we were not in compliance with the 1971 law , the provision mandating the euthanasia of excess healthy animals for which there is no adoption demand and we were not in compliance with the so called Burns amendment that directs us to sell without limitation. We don't want to go in that direction. "
"Moreover, Congress itself has indicated tremendous ambivalence about its support for those provisions," Gorey continued. “ From FY 1988-FY 2004 Congress, actually through the appropriations process, barred the expenditure of funds for euthanasia of excess healthy animals. So it tells you that Congress itself doesn’t seem have much support for that provision . Though it is the law, it has not been removed, as is the case with the burns amendment. We think there are better ways and the administration has made it clear that these are not options for us to exercise.”
While Congress and the public await a sustainable strategy for managing America’s wild horses and burros, the animals are being removed from western ranges literally by the thousands. The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, and 54 members of the U.S. Congress, not to mention countless animal advocacy organizations are calling for a halt to the roundups. Both BLM Director Bob Abbey, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have repeatedly affirmed their decision that current roundup and removal schedules will not change.
See also: Moratorium on horse gathers is essential