RBC I The National Association of Conservation Districts made the voice of conservation heard at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing June 22 on the issue of wild horse and burro overpopulation on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
Callie Hendrickson, executive director for the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts in Rio Blanco County, told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands that excess wild horses and burros have caused considerable ecosystem degradation on the Western range, shrinking available acreage for livestock grazing, complicating native wildlife management and costing the taxpayers a small fortune.
“The BLM is responsible for the management and protection of public lands,” Hendrickson said in her opening statement. “We appreciate BLM’s verbal commitment to manage healthy horses on healthy range, but there’s a lot of talk with little action that moves us in that direction.”
According to the latest numbers from the agency, there are more than 67,000 wild horses and burros living on BLM land across 10 states today, when by law—the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971—there should be fewer than half of that number.
These feral and non-native horses are suffering because they don’t have any natural predators to cull their herds or enough food or water to keep them healthy at their present numbers.
The government has even had to conduct emergency gathers to save horses from dying of dehydration and starvation in the West, Hendrickson testified.
Every year, BLM gathers around 3,500 wild horses and houses them in paddocks on the range—feeding them hay, providing them water and charging up an annual bill in excess of $50 million.
Right now, some 50,000 wild horses are housed in these pens because only a fraction are adopted out (2,631 in 2015) or sold (267 in 2015) to buyers that agree to not sell the animals for slaughter each year, she said.
“Excess horses are devastating the Western rangelands in many locations,” said Hendrickson, who served a three-year term on the BLM’s wild horse and burro advisory board from 2012 to 2014. “Fertility control is a part of the solution, but it will do nothing to keep the land from (degrading) without first removing the excess horses.”
Hendrickson recommended that the House panel provide BLM with direction and additional tools to remove 40,000 excess wild horses and burros from the range.
“From the conservation district side of the world, we have looked at every alternative,” she testified. “In order to remove the number of horses that need to be removed off of the range, we need to be able to sell horses with unrestricted sale.”
The National Association of Conservation Districts is the non-profit organization that represents the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts, their state associations and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards.