BLM recommends removal of restrictions on sale and adoption of wild horses and burros

The Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met Sept. 8-9, 2016, in Elko, Nev., to discuss issues relating to the management and protection of wild horses and burros on Western public rangelands. White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ Executive Director Callie Hendrickson attended the meeting and provided public comment on behalf of the districts and the National Association of Conservation Districts. Current statistics of the National BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program are that the range where the law allows the horses to roam in the 10 western states will support 27,000 horses and burros. The current estimated population is 67,000. Because horses have virtually no predators, their numbers double every four years (20 percent annual increase) and the only management tool available to the BLM is gather and remove. Why not just gather and remove the excess 40,000 horses? There are currently another 47,000 horses and burros in holding facilities costing the taxpayers more than $50 million per year until the day they die a natural death. BLM has estimated that caring for only the horses currently in holding would cost the taxpayers $1 billion. Hendrickson quoted the Senate Conference Report (92-242) which accompanies the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. “The principal goal of this legislation is not the single use management of areas for the benefit of wild free-roaming horses and burros. It is the intent of the committee that the wild free-roaming horses and burros be specifically incorporated as a component of the multiple-use plans governing the use of the public lands.” She stated, “the BLM is currently headed down the path of single use management by allowing horses to do irreparable harm to rangeland ecosystems at the expense of native and endangered species habitat and the suspension of livestock AUMs.” Following the tour and multiple comments such as those stated above, the advisory board made a strong and controversial recommendation to the Secretary of Interior stating; “The BLM should follow the stipulations of the Wild Horse and Burro Act by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible.” The board members have looked at all the options but finally realized there is no way for BLM to manage their way out of this disaster through adoptions and fertility control. On the same day the board made this recommendation, the BLM pulled the sterilization research on wild horses due to legal actions taken by activist groups. Because special interest groups oppose BLM at every turn as they attempt to implement some form of management that would help reduce numbers, BLM and Congress are being left with no alternative but to remove the restrictions on selling and euthanizing excess horses. The second recommendation to the Secretary of Interior is that “BLM should prioritize designated Sage Grouse Habitat for removal of excess animals. BLM should also use degree of range degradation as a criterion for prioritization for removal of excess animals. Consideration should be given to those rangelands that are most amenable to rehabilitation.” This recommendation certainly drives the point home that there are already areas of range that have passed the threshold and transitioned into a state which will not recover given the arid climate. At this point, BLM needs to focus on the areas that can recover and immediately remove the excess horses from those areas before it is too late for the land to recover. The ultimate goal should be to reduce the numbers of horses on the range to the Appropriate Management Level (AML) and then implement fertility control in a manner that keeps numbers in check so that the numbers gathered from the range would match the adoption rate. This would eliminate the need for sale and euthanization in the future. The majority of the board appears to recognize and appreciate the multiple use mandate of the BLM and that they are charged with sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the rangelands. Frustrated with the argument that BLM should just remove the livestock and allow the horses to graze in the herd management areas (HMAs), the board made the following recommendation; “BLM should develop partnerships with other agencies and departments to conduct environmental and socioeconomic effects of reduced animal unit months on HMAs due to range degradation resulting from overpopulation of wild horses and burros. Further analysis should be conducted regarding the effects of the potential removal of all livestock from HMAs.” For additional information about alternative management options, we encourage people to visit the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition’s website and review the Management Options Fact Sheet found on the front page.