Sierra Club Calls for End to Livestock Grazing on All Wild Horse Range
Last week the American Wild Horse Campaign sent out a press release lamenting that wild mustangs in northern Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin had been replaced by 3,000 domestic sheep trailing to their winter range just two months after some 630 wild horses had been rounded up and removed from the area. The horse advocates noted that the Sierra Club has joined in their calls to rid wild horse herd management areas of domestic sheep and cattle.
What the horse advocates failed to mention in the Colorado case is that the appropriate management level (the number of horses the range can sustainably support in conjunction with other animals and resource uses) for wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin is a maximum of 363 horses, and before the roundup, the horse herd numbered nearly 900.
According to the Colorado Wool Growers Association’s Bonnie Brown, “The permittee trailing through Sand Wash has over 8,000 aums that he should be able to graze through the winter; but for over a decade, because of overgrazing by wild horses, he has not used his authorized aums to graze livestock through the winter.”
That the Sierra Club has joined with wild horse advocates demonstrates the changing policy position of this oldest of America’s national environmental organizations. In 1981, the Sierra Club adopted a nationwide policy that called wild horses and burros “feral horses and burros” that the organization advocated “should be eliminated from key wildlife habitat, and “carefully regulated to minimize conflict with wildlife, livestock and other range values.”
But in May 2021, the Sierra Club’s 15-member Board of Directors adopted a new policy that likens wild horses and burros to wildlife, and advocates for livestock to be eliminated from herd management areas administered by the federal government. With an annual revenue stream of more than $156 million, the Sierra Club has the financial backing to push its agenda.
In a September letter to Interior Secretary Debra Haaland, Sierra Club’s Athan Manuel called for “an immediate initiation of the processes necessary to end all cattle/sheep grazing on all horse-occupied BLM herd management area lands.”
Just how big of an ask is that? The BLM manages wild horses and burros in 177 herd management areas across nearly 27 million acres in 10 western states.
Manuel’s letter noted the role these HMAs could play in Biden’s 30×30 plan. He wrote: “Addressing livestock-induced-ecological problems within BLM Herd Management Areas would potentially restore the ability of these lands to sequester carbon, help climate stabilization efforts, improve riparian conditions and water quality, and also address biodiversity issues. If successfully implemented (and augmented further through permanent protection), such an initiative may qualify wild horse HMAs for inclusion in the 30×30 effort.”
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