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Toiyabe Chapter
Nevada and Eastern California
PO Box 8096
Reno, NV 89507

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TOIYABE CHAPTER OF THE SIERRA CLUB POLICY ON WILD HORSES AND BURROS

Chapter Findings
Chapter Resolves
Background
References

APRIL, 2011

Resolution

Whereas, the Toiyabe Chapter supports multiple use of public lands within the context of "the continued existence of diverse natural ecosystems and the preservation of native biodiversity. The Sierra Club is committed to maintaining the world's remaining natural ecosystems, and, where feasible to the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Wildlife, plants, and their ecosystems have value in their own right, as well as value to humans and to the health of the biosphere."(1)

Whereas, the Sierra Club recognizes that habitat simplification, fragmentation, degradation, and elimination pose the greatest threats to the continued well-being of healthy and diverse wildlife and plant ecosystems and biodiversity. (2)

Whereas, the Toiyabe Chapter strongly values our public lands, our wildlife, our wildlands, and our wild horses,

Whereas, the Toiyabe Chapter also strongly supports the humane treatment of wild horses and strongly opposes death by starvation or thirst on public lands,

Whereas, the Toiyabe Chapter is strongly committed to finding ecologically and financially sound solutions to current problems of managing the nations' wild horses and burros and  public lands and resources,

Whereas, Nevada public lands and their ecosystem health are subject to the impacts of overuse, overgrazing, droughts, wildfires, invasive species, development, and a generally warming climate,

Whereas, Nevada hosts the largest number of wild horses in the nation; horses utilize public lands 365 days a year and currently undergo a BLM-estimated population growth of approximately 20% per year,

Whereas, the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for management of wild horses and burros to maintain a "thriving natural ecological balance"(3) i.e. ensure the maintenance of healthy ecosystems,

Whereas, current controversies over management of wild horses have lead to reviews of BLM's program (4),

THEREFORE, THE TOIYABE CHAPTER SUPPORTS:

a. Multiple uses of public lands, including wild horses and burros, while preserving healthy ecosystems;

b. Regular reevaluation of the suitability of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) designated Herd Management Areas (HMA) as well as sustainability of Appropriate Management Levels (AML), using updated monitoring data;

c. BLM's multiple use planning process which incorporates sustainable horse and burro populations, healthy ecosystems, and other factors, such as restoration of burned, overgrazed, or weed infested lands;

d. Timely adjustments of horses populations in HMAs to "achieve a thriving natural ecological balance;"

e. Slowing the rate of growth of herds through an enhanced adoption program, including (but not limited to) expanding the use of prison training programs and The Mustang Heritage Foundation program, and the use of safe and cost-effective population reduction techniques with minimal interference from handling;

f. Increased research to improve effectiveness, longevity, and safety in fertility control methods;

g. Proactive wild horse management to meet standards and guidelines for healthy rangelands, including the use of non-reproducing herds;

h. Contract for wild horse preserves on private lands for the purpose of maintaining wild horse and burro AMLs within HMAs on public lands with an accelerated role for private support;

i. Assess proposals for wild horse preserves which include the use of public lands through an open, public process, meeting guidelines and standards for healthy rangelands and in compliance with professional range management and requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);

j. Acquisition of water sufficient to support BLM public lands and resources, including wild horses, wildlife habitat, recreation, wetlands, and riparian areas;

k. Development of an Environmental Impact Statement on the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program (WH&B) program, including the establishment of a criteria for defining "thriving natural ecological balance" on public lands, scientific basis for wild horse management procedures as well as assessment of the impacts of wild horses on public lands and resources, including threatened, endangered, sensitive, and candidate species (such as Greater Sage Grouse).

Footnotes


1. Sierra Club Policy "Wildlife and Native Plants" 1957
2. Same as above
3. 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act as amended
4. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council study on BLM's WH&B policy and practices: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2010/august/NV_8_27_2010.html

Background Information:

The Wild Horse and Burro Act of l971 placed management and responsibility for preserving wild horses and burros on public lands under the BLM. Under this law, wild horses and burros are living legends and free from capture, branding, harassment, or death. The Secretary is mandated to manage wild free-roaming horses and burros in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple use relationship on the public lands. In l978, the law was amended to require BLM to remove excess animals to restore a thriving ecological balance (including lethal control). Prior to passage of the 1971 law, horses and burros were subject to county disposition. Periodic roundups of horses for work or food, helped to maintain lower numbers.

The State of Nevada through the Nevada Department of Agriculture is responsible for "estray" (privately-owned but not controlled) horses on private and public lands. There may be an estimated 1,000 horses, for instance in Storey County, which is 90% private land. There are also wild horses and burros on tribal lands, national forests, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service administered lands (i.e., Sheldon NWR).

BLM, through its planning process estimates that public lands in Nevada can support approximately 12,688 wild horses and burros of the estimated 18,688 population total. Appropriate Management Levels are based on forage available in Herd Management Areas, considering permitted livestock use and wildlife habitat needs. Horses can weigh up to 1,000 pounds (versus a pronghorn antelope at 125) and must consume approximately 26 pounds of native grasses and shrubs per day. Current controversies have lead to delays and BLM inability to conduct roundups to keep wild horses and burros in a thriving natural ecological balance on public lands.

Congress has prohibited BLM from the option of using lethal control. With at least 6,000 horses and burros which must be removed each year and adoption rates currently only half that number, fertility control to reduce annual population increases and wild horse preserves for captured animals are currently the only other feasible options. Currently, the BLM holds 34,500 horses and burros in long-term care nationwide which takes up over 75% of the total horse program budget.

Supporting References and Data:

1. The best site for up to date information is the BLM Wild Horse and Burro website http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram.html. The internet includes many wild horse advocate group websites.

2. The Toiyabe Chapter website includes information on the chapter's work on wild horses: http://toiyabe.sierraclub.org/.

3.  Photo essay of impacts from wild horses.


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