Starving on the plains?

A Burns spokesman tells why the senator changed the Wild Horse Act

James Pendleton, who’s called “J.P.” and is a spokesman for Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, responded to our questions about the Burns Amendment. The transcript has been edited for space and the questions have been reworded.

Why did Senator Burns introduce his amendment allowing BLM to sell some wild horses?

What we’re seeing here are animals that have outgrown their range. What this boils down to is a management issue—a resource management issue. They’re starving to death out on the plains, which is horrible—it’s a horrible way for an animal to go, and it’s definitely not in the spirit of the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Or, the surplus animals are being rounded up, ostensibly for adoption. But the adoption process is a lengthy one. We’re ending up with wild animals that had been running free being corralled up in nearly feedlot-like conditions for a lengthy period of time. That is also not in the spirit of the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Senator Burns wanted to provide an option that would speed up the process of getting these animals out of these pens, and it’s one more tool for the Bureau of Land Management to manage these animals.

A lot of people say these horses will be slaughtered and sent to France.

Yes, a lot of people are saying that, and Senator Burns doesn’t agree. He thinks that a large portion of the animals that would be sold would be purchased by, well, for lack of a better term, good, old-fashioned horse buyers who don’t want to go through the lengthy adoption process. They just want to lay cash on the barrelhead and buy the animal. A lot less hoops to jump through—good, old-fashioned horse traders.

Is the senator supporting any of the bills that would make it illegal to slaughter horses?

He’s willing to look at all options, but something had to be done because what we had was not working.

Was this done to please the cattle industry?

I don’t know that it would have any overly positive … I mean, let’s go to a case of extreme, where you take all the wild horses off the plains. I don’t think that’s going to have any major positive impact on a cattle rancher. I think it would be negligible, because it wouldn’t give them any more AUMs [animal unit months; an AUM is the amount of land a cow needs for a month’s grazing]. The way it was explained to me was that it wouldn’t allow them to change the formula for more AUMs just because there were no horses on there. So that argument is merely speculation.

What it boils down to is what I said earlier. These animals are faced with either starving to death or being herded up into corrals, and neither of those things is good for the wild horse. And the bottom line is all these people who are complaining about this auction of surplus animals, who I would add have to go up to auction and fail or be over the age of 10 years, if every one of those people would go adopt one, we wouldn’t have a problem. Put your money where your mouth is.

Does the senator eat horses himself?

No, he rides horses. He’s a cowboy. He came to Montana and was a cowboy. He wrangled cattle, is a horse owner, has been riding horses. He’s a Shriner in the Black Horse Patrol here in Billings, and that’s what they do, they ride black horses. He’s been a horse lover all his life—not to eat, but to ride and to enjoy. He’s very fond of the animals and feels that the way things were going was disrespectful and went against the intent of—who was it? Wild Horse Annie? Is that what her name was? She would absolutely be disgusted at the thought of the animals starving to death or being herded up and kept in corrals.

Going back to my earlier question, is the senator supporting legislation that would outlaw the slaughter of wild horses?

He’s willing to look at everything to find some way to take care of these animals. But I mean the bottom line is, what you’re hearing from these so-called horse lovers is nothing but a bunch of scare tactics and rhetoric. There are ignoring the fact that the animals need to be managed properly.

He’s willing to look at all options, but what they had wasn’t working and something had to be done. And the argument they’ve been saying, that this was done as a backroom deal in the dark of night at the 11th hour and all sorts of metaphors—it’s a bunch of hooey. This was in the Interior appropriations spending bill, which controls the spending for the BLM, so it was completely legitimate for it to be in this section of the bill. It was definitely germane, and beyond that, this was vetted with other senators. They knew about this, they discussed this, Senator Burns worked closely with Senator Reid of Nevada on this. The idea that this was a one-man operation done in the dead of night is ludicrous.

Where did the senator hear that wild horses were starving to death?

I never said they were starving to death. I said they were running the risk of starving to death.

You said they were starving to death. Where does that information come from?

I’m not sure where that specific information comes from. I’ll have to get back to you on that…

—Josh Indar