Friday, January 22, 2021

Bringing Accuracy and Context
to Animal Journalism

CORRECTIONS WATCH

Fact-checking 9 errors in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and Houston Chronicle

What happens when editors don't factcheck a reporter and her sources and won't correct? The public is disinformed and put at risk.

Rated: F

Article Review:

"“The Wild Horse Wars” "

The Washington Post, Seattle Times, Houston Chronicle  -  Nov 18, 2020

Sent to the Washington Post magazine features editor, WaPo corrections, Star-Tribune corrections and Chron.com help and reader representatives on December 1, 2020. No response.

Dear Editors:

I’m writing to request corrections for errors (underlined below) in Britta Lokting’s article,   “The Wild Horse Wars” (Washington Post Magazine — Nov. 18). 

In the West, wild horses are an out-of-control problem

“ranchers and animal rights activists are locked in conflict over their fate”

“the debate between ranchers and animal rights activists”

“the…Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which owns the majority of the country’s wild horses” 

an emotional battle over livelihood, … ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes. Animal rights activists see an icon of the American West that deserves better protection.” 

There are over 100,000 wild horses and burros on … BLM land, according to the agency.”

“though widely taboo, eating horsemeat is technically legal federally; some consider it a cheap source of protein”

“wild horses and burros are still the only species under [the BLM’s] jurisdiction”

“Lisa Jacobson, an equine veterinarian in Colorado…”

Photos/photo captions in article are more than eleven years old.

I’m a journalist specializing in wild horse policies and politics; public lands ranching; and the horse slaughter industry — three of the topics intersecting in Ms. Lokting’s reporting. 

Errors and documentation:

“In the West, wild horses are an out-of-control problem”

By government definition, “the West” is made up of 753 million acres in 11 states in the lower 48 (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY), 346 million of them public-owned.  Wild horses are present on just 4% (31.6 million acres) of that acreage. 
(Sources: Ballotopedia; BLM “Wild Horse and Burro Program” web page)

4% does not equal “the West.” It does not represent “an out-of-control problem.” That is a mathematical impossibility.

“ranchers and animal rights activists are locked in conflict over their fate”; “the debate between ranchers and animal rights activists”

Data on the BLM’s Livestock Grazing Program is a much-needed fact-check of false and unsupported claims driving the conflict (debate, battle etc.) reported on in “The Wild Horse Wars.” The Livestock Grazing Program is the conjoined but hidden twin to the Wild Horse and Burro (WHB) Program on the BLM’s website. Here’s what program data shows:  


WESTERN PUBLIC LANDS OVERSEEN BY 10 GOV’T AGENCIES: 346 million acres

  • Twenty-five times more private livestock (2.5 million) than est. WHB (100,000)
  • 250 million+ acres (72%) dedicated to livestock grazing
  • 87% has ZERO wild horses 
  • Three times more livestock than wild horses on the remaining 13% (31.6 million acres)

BLM-MANAGED PUBLIC LANDS: 245 million acres 

  • Seventeen times more beef cattle (1.6 million) than est. WHB (95,114)
  • 155 million acres (63%) dedicated to livestock grazing
  • 83% has ZERO wild horses.
  • Eighteen times more beef cattle than wild horses on the remaining 26.9 million acres (17%). 


It’s biologically impossible for a single wild horse to outgraze 25 head of beef cattle. It’s also absurd for a handful of ranchers and wild horse advocates (or, as “The Wild Horse Wars” calls them more than 20 times: “activists” “animal activists” “animal rights activists”) to be singled out as main stakeholders to an issue on public lands that the public pays for. The public’s interest — all 382 million Americans — isn’t even acknowledged on its own lands in the Washington Post’s reporting. That interest overrides every other. But the public doesn’t know what it owns or how much it’s costing them.  The Washington Post has a duty to inform. 

“the…Bureau of Land Management  (BLM), which owns the majority of the country’s wild horses

Per the BLM website: “The Bureau of Land Management manages, protects, and controls wild horses and burros” … but does not own them. 

“an emotional battle over livelihood, … ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes. Animal rights activists see an icon of the American West that deserves better protection.” 

Yes, it’s an emotional battle over livelihood — but it’s the public’s, not the ranchers’, that matters. Every year, the Federal Grazing subsidy program loses $120 million in direct costs while expanding Kevin Borba’s Fish Creek Ranch (a primary source for the article) to over 300,000 acres and providing water rights to Ramona Hage Morrison (a secondary source) on the public’s land and dime so she can cheaply water her cattle. Losses due to indirect costs are many times higher. 

Lokting doesn’t divulge why Borba and Morrison — two of her sources — have a voice at all on wild horses: those cheap grazing allotments costing them $1.35 per month to feed a cow and her calf — less than the cost to feed a hamster. 

Other perks come with it: the ability to collateralize their grazing leases to secure bank loans; a boost in value of their base ranching property; half of the $1.35 they pay per calf/cow returned to them to fund rangeland improvements; removal of endangered species (wolf dens and pups, bison). Add to that the ability to monetize wild horses under propositions that Dave Duquette, another source, is pushing: spaying fillies; selling to slaughter; opening/operating slaughterhouses to dispose of unsaleable breed stock.  

Taxpayers fund all of it, but have no clue. The Washington Post has a duty to inform.

“There are over 100,000 wild horses and burros on … BLM land, according to the agency.”

BLM press release cites: “more than 95,000” estimated WHBs on 11/19/20. 
BLM website cites: “95,114” WHBs. (79,568 wild horses / 15,546 burros) on 11/29/20. 

though widely taboo, eating horsemeat is technically legal federally; some consider it a cheap source of protein”

While it is technically legal to eat horsemeat, Congress banned it from inspection that would allow it to be legally sold and eaten. The reason is food-safety (not taboos). Formally designated as non-food livestock, horses are legally allowed to take all the drugs deemed hazardous to human health that are prohibited in food-livestock (cattle, hogs, etc). An instruction memorandum on the BLM website (“Wild Horse and Burro Vaccinations in Short-Term Holding Facilities”) details the vaccinations and deworming of wild horses after roundup including foals. None of them are food-safe protein. 

The ban on USDA inspections (and by extension, the production, distribution, sale and service of horsemeat), keeps a food product that failed the government’s drug protocol out of the food chain.  The health risks of eating horsemeat are unreported by the media and unknown to the public. The Washington Post has a duty to inform.

wild horses and burros are still the only species under [the BLM’s] jurisdiction”

Obviously, cattle are also under its jurisdiction — and also 3000 species of wildlife. 

Per the BLM’s Fish and Wildlife web page:

“The BLM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation provides national leadership to promote restoration, enhancement, and protection of fish, wildlife, and invertebrate species and their habitats.  This includes supporting a diversity of fish, wildlife and plants, including threatened, endangered, “at risk”, migratory, and game species.  In fact, the BLM manages more fish, wildlife and plant habitat than any other federal or state agency in the country; more than 3,000 species of wildlife live on BLM-managed public lands.” 

Lisa Jacobson, an equine veterinarian in Colorado…” 

Her title is Dr. Lisa Jacobson.

Photos/photo captions] are from February 2009 National Geographic feature: MUSTANGS — SPIRIT OF THE SHRINKING WEST. 

This story’s complicated and misreported by the media. The Livestock Grazing Program data isn’t publicized by the BLM (the way WHB Program data is) and the roadmap to finding it gets journalists lost rather than leads them to fact-based conclusions — all the more reason for an esteemed outlet like the Washington Post to publish a factually correct account that informs the public, and to keep reporting on it. This will lead other media outlets to do so, as well. 

Please call me with any questions you may have and let me know what you plan to do.

Thanks so much for your time.

Sincerely,

Vickery Eckhoff
contact info, etc.

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About Vickery Eckhoff (15 Articles)
Vickery Eckhoff is the co-founder and executive editor of The Daily Pitchfork. Her articles on wild horses, public lands grazing and the meat industry have been published in Forbes, the Huffington Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Alternet and Salon.
Contact: Website

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