With all this in mind, I caught up with Grijalva Wednesday afternoon as he was traveling by car through the Arizona desert, from Tuscon to Yuma. What follows is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.
I thought it would worthwhile to talk to you because a lot of the advocates on the wild horse side tell me that they think that your views on the subject are reasonable.
There are things that the BLM and this administration can be doing on this issue that aren't being done. I think that just aggravates the situation and makes this issue even more profound. There is a culture at BLM, God bless them, but there's a culture. Especially out in the West. BLM has a very strong ranching ethic with a lot of its personnel, particularly people from the states where we are dealing with this issue. Preservation of the cattle industry, the livestock industry, is prominent.
The wild horses are an anomaly in all that. And then they were classified as a threat to habitat and a threat to other species -- livestock being one of those "other species." Then the removal began. And then the loss of horses began. And the BLM has struggled ever since to come up with something humane. At this point, the issue continues to be the issue that it was when I got involved with it about six or seven years ago.
There have been published reports lately suggesting that the BLM is either selling wild horses to people associated with horse slaughter or was lax in its duty to avoid doing so. In response the BLM has promulgated new rules designed to reduce the risk of that. What's your impression of those new rules?
I think the new rules are a step toward reducing the risk. I think absent oversight, absent enforcement as part of the mechanism for the new rules, that involves real consequences -- I think that could make it stronger. Give it some teeth. And provide the public with some assurance that these rules have consequences to them.
Do you agree with the idea of giving Washington officials -- as
opposed to BLM officials on the ground near the horses -- more
discretion about those kinds of sales?
It's a difficult double-edged sword to say, "Let's remove the discretion from the local land managers and the local people on the ground." It goes against all my nature. But this issue demands transparency at the national level, so all parties involved can get information, and those of us in Congress can provide some direct oversight -- rather than [having the BLM deal with wild horse issues] incident by incident, section by section, region by region.
Let's talk a little bit more about that oversight. How hard is it for you to gain support from your colleagues in the House to advance the oversight over the BLM, to basically push to enforce the 1971 Act?
It's getting better. The 1971 Act is a national policy, and so oversight is important. One of the things lacking is that Congress has essentially not dealt with it. We tried to reform that law, strengthen that law -- and got it out of the House, but never got it out of the Senate. And I think the oversight also requires some independent analysis, so that we are making decisions not based solely on information we get from BLM, but also from an impartial non-party. It could be GAO [Government Accountability Office], or it could be a third party.