Outgoing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and his illegally serving Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director William Perry Pendley will go down in history as the worst stewards of our nation’s public lands. The past four years have seen an unrelenting assault on the environment as Bernhardt and Pendley sought to overturn key environmental laws and deregulate activities of the oil, gas, mining and livestock industries on the public resources they exploit.

America’s wild horses and burros were not spared. Pendley famously called wild horses an “existential threat” to public lands, an absurd claim that laid the groundwork for his plan to round up 90,000 wild horses and burros over the next five years. The plan would decimate wild herds and cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion in its initial phase alone.

On Jan. 15, in a parting shot to wild horses and burros, Bernhardt and Pendley appointed Beaver County (Utah) Commissioner Tammy Pearson to represent the public interest on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. In addition to being a voice for the public on this board that weighs in on policy matters from roundups to adoption to slaughter, qualification for the public interest seat includes “special knowledge about equine behavior.”

Pearson is a 40-year public lands rancher whose allotments lie in wild horse Herd Management Areas in Utah. She has lobbied and testified for wild horse roundups, and in favor of horse slaughter. These “qualifications” make Pearson a flagrantly corrupt choice for the advisory board.

Her “special knowledge about equine behavior” is a view of these animals as ecological scourges. She discounts the strong opinion of the American public against slaughter of wild and domestic horses as “romanticizing” an animal that the “whole rest of the world” considers a “protein source.” In her 2017 testimony before the Utah legislature, she blamed horses for all the damage in areas where her cattle graze, and claimed that wild horses there were suffering from overpopulation and starvation. Yet she could offer no evidence to support her claims of wild horse starvation on the land where she lives, where her cattle share space with horses. Instead she pointed to a photo from two years prior of the Cold Creek roundup, 200 miles to the West, and one of the few actual documented instances of horses starving due to lack of forage.

As a member of the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, Pearson joined in a lawsuit against the BLM seeking the roundup and removal of most of the wild horses in the Sulphur Herd Management Area. Several years ago, an AWHC observer witnessed Pearson at a roundup in her area complaining to BLM about not only the wild horses, but the other wildlife (deer/elk) who were eating the forage she feels her cattle are entitled to.

As a self-described 40-year public lands rancher who holds permits to graze livestock in wild horse habitat areas, Pearson has a clear conflict of interest serving on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. Her appointment by the outgoing administration to represent the public interest on this board is not surprising given its level of corruption during Bernhardt’s tenure at the Interior Department. However, it is a slap in the face to the 80% of Americans who want wild horses and burros protected on our public lands.

The American Wild Horse Campaign is in the process of formally appealing Pearson’s appointment to the advisory board. We are hopeful the next Secretary of the Interior will recognize the inappropriate nature of Pearson’s appointment and move swiftly to replace her with someone qualified to represent the public interest in wild horse protection and management.

Suzanne Roy is the executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, a nonprofit organization working to ensure the future of America’s wild horses and burros and the public lands they roam.