Conservation districts push horse gather

RBC I The White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts provided public comment at the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in Redmond, Ore., on April 13-14.

While BLM has not released the 2016 estimated number of horses and burros on the range, the most recent estimate available is 58,150 as of March 2015. With the roughly 20 percent annual population increase, we can anticipate 2016 numbers to be roughly 69,000 when the range will support 27,000.
During the meeting, the BLM provided updates on the budget, research, on-range and off-range programs. The FY2015 budget was $77 million with $52.5 million in holding cost for the roughly 47,000 horses that are in long- and short-term holding. The BLM states they can only remove 3,500 per year due to holding costs and the lack of interest in adoptions.
The Oregon BLM Horse and Burro co-leads provided a great presentation about “Why Manage?” They covered the good, the bad and the ugly by showing how the range, horses and wildlife could look when well managed, what it looks like as it begins to deteriorate due to lack of management and, finally, the ugly being starving and dehydrated horses on severely degraded lands.
The research update included the BLM’s efforts to evaluate spay and neuter effects, improve WH&B contraception, improve population models, improve burro survey methods, gauge public opinion, improve marketing and improve understanding of ecology and genetics.
White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ Executive Director Callie Hendrickson spoke on behalf of the districts and the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and offered the districts’ support of fertility control and adoption programs.
However, Hendrickson emphasized the strong need for removals, stating: “Without a monumental increase in the number of excess horses directly removed, all fertility control research and adoption discussions are simply a distraction from the real issue of just how significantly the excess horses are degrading the land.”
The National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, American Farm Bureau Federation, The Wildlife Society, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and several ranchers also called for the removal of the excess horses.
Written comments submitted by the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition stated; “The lack of adequate management of this activity (i.e. horse and burro grazing) has resulted in a situation where horse and burro populations are exceeding their allocated use of the rangeland. As a result, the horse and burro populations are unduly impacting all other uses of public lands and greatly impacting the rangeland ecosystem.”
The coalition also noted, “The BLM has stated that rangelands could only support roughly 85,000 horses and burros even if all livestock were removed. This number will be surpassed within two years if the BLM continues with the same management practices.”
Although many requested the focus be on rangeland health and the removal of excess horses, much of the board’s meeting and recommendations focused on fertility control and adoption.