First, it's clear from the Secretary's responses that her thinking did not evolve in any meaningful way from July to October. In both instances, she ignored the NAS's pointed criticism of the BLM's wild horse policies. In both instances, she focused upon the assertion that wild horse populations can increase by 20 percent annually without acknowledging, as the NAS did, that the BLM's faulty "management practices are facilitating high rates of population growth." Both Rep. Grijalva, and the Press Club questioner, asked her whether and to what extent the BLM would implement reforms based upon the NAS report. In each case, the Secretary of the Interior simply ignored that part of the question.
Also telling was the Secretary's comment, at the National Press Club, that she had caucused with previous secretaries of the Interior about the problem and that they all agreed that it's a tough one. Included in this group is Ken Salazar, Jewell's immediate predecessor at Interior, who is part of a prominent Colorado ranching family. Salazar is the bureaucrat who most recently expedited the current removal of the horses from public grazing lands out West at the request of corporate interests. No fair and independent analysis of the NAS report, and the BLM's current practices, would include such a biased perspective.
But perhaps the most egregious failure by Jewell was her response about wild horses and birth control. In her response at the National Press Club, she made it seem as though there was no reasonable birth control product, or method, available to limit the size of the herds so that so many horses would not have to be displaced so often. She made it seem as though the science of birth control for horses had not yet fully developed. But that simply isn't true. The NAS Report itself concluded that such methods are currently available—but are not being used by the BLM. From the Report (emphasis added by me):
Most promising fertility-control methods for free-ranging horses or burros are porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccines and GonaCon™ vaccine for females and chemical vasectomy for males. This conclusion is based on criteria such as delivery method, availability, efficacy, duration of effect, and potential for side effects.
Although applying these methods usually requires gathering horses and burros, that process is no more disruptive than the current method of population control — gathering and removal — without the further disruption of removing animals. Considering all the current options, these three methods, either alone or in combination, offer the most acceptable alternative to removing animals for managing population numbers.
Secretary Jewell is right that there are no easy answers in the conflict over the nation's wild horses. But there is no chance that federal officials are going to find any answer if they blithely ignore the findings made by NAS scientists. If, since June, the BLM has implemented any substantive reforms as a result of the NAS Report I am not aware of them. And if Jewell, the scientist, has ever publicly acknowledged the seriousness of the BLM's scientific failures with respect to wild horses policies I have not heard it. She certainly had a clear opportunity last week to say something profound, and serious, about the problem and she chose instead to make jokes about stallions.