I am from Wyoming, a State that has many wild horses on its public lands. I also have a degree in animal science, and I may be the only Member of this body who has ridden a BLM wild horse. My sister adopted two. This bill is not respectful of the grass resource.
Let's talk about the ecology and the environment of the plains of this great country. Wild horses graze differently than cattle, sheep, elk, and deer. And the reason is they have a solid hoof; whereas, buffalo, elk, deer, and cattle have a split hoof. When a solid-hoofed animal is pounding our fragile soils in the West, they are tamping or compacting that soil so it does not accept water that is needed to sustain very shallow, very fragile topsoil and the important diversity of grass species that are supported and are needed by every animal that grazes those lands and every endangered and threatened species that uses those same lands.
Furthermore, wild horses are there year-round. Livestock is only there at certain times of the year. Wild horses that were not native to these lands, in the spring, create tremendous damage when the thawing occurs that creates great rises and disruptions of the soil.
Furthermore, when they graze, they pull plants out from the roots. Some of these species are, themselves, threatened and endangered grass and flowering plant species. That is why the Wyoming Nature Conservancy has opposed this bill.
Let me read you what the Wyoming Nature Conservancy has to say: H.R. 1018 is an affront to efforts that have united conservation and ranch interests to achieve real, on-the-ground results throughout the West. Western rangeland supports population of native plants, wildlife, livestock, and wild horses. It is our position that effective management of this rangeland must be based on science, not emotion.
This bill is based on emotion and not science.
Furthermore, when flies congregate on wild horses in the summer, the horses tend to gather closely and try to roll to prevent the flies from staying on them and laying their eggs. Consequently, they're destroying sage grass habitat.
Sage grass is a threatened species that is headed for the endangered species status if we do not control the activity of species that interfere with the recovery of the sage grass.
In other words, this bill is elevating wild horses above threatened and endangered species, above all the plant and animal species that share the same habitat in the West, and this is inappropriate land management, grass management. It creates an unsustainable situation. That is why Wyoming's Democrat Governor has also opposed the bill.
Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming: H.R. 1018, to be frank, props up a program in need of sweeping reform. The current adoption program is full and is not responsive to the real issues of wild horse management. By increasing expensive holding facilities where many of these animals live out their lives because they are unadoptable, H.R. 1018 ignores the reality that wild horse and burro populations are out of control and doesn't get to the real problems that cripple our ability to truly manage these animals.
Furthermore, Wyoming's highly respected premier Game and Fish Department: Simply put, we are very concerned that expanding the management of free-roaming horses and burros to all public lands would have devastating impacts to the long-term sustainability of the public's fish and wildlife resources and their habitats in the West.
The list goes on and on of opponents. These opponents are people that manage fish and wildlife. These are people who manage grass resources. These are people who have boots-on-the-ground experience and know that you cannot elevate one nonnative species over native species of plants and animals and have an ecologically sustainable grass resource and prairie system.
Chairman Rahall, I have great respect for your knowledge of the mining laws that are so important to my State and your State, but I can tell you respectfully, Mr. Chairman, that wild horses are a problem in Wyoming, and I'm very hopeful that you will choose not to import the problem to your State of West Virginia. But if you do, you will find, of course, that you can sustain mammals in terms of a number of mammals per acre. In Wyoming, it's the number of acres per mammal, and it can vary anywhere from 35 acres to sustain one mammal to over 100. Because of that, the consequences of overgrazing are enormous.
Today's population of wild horses stands at approximately 36,000, and we know that the wild horse program stipulates that the total population of wild horses on public land should not exceed about 28,000 in order to promote a thriving ecological balance.
Mr. Chairman, we are talking about ecological balance. Yes, this is an expensive program, and I concur with the remarks of my ranking member from Washington. But I want to emphasize the disrespect that this bill places on our sensitive, fragile grass resources in the West that, during times of drought and during times of heavy pressure, are unavailable to sustain this feral horse population, nonnative, that is in need of control.
155 Congr. Rec. 8320. (2009). https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/volume-155/issue-108/house-section/article/H8316-1