Letter to the Editor: BLM not living up to word on horses

Dear Editor:
In response to the article in last week’s Herald Times titled “Court may rid Wyoming of wild horses,” the Douglas Creek and White River conservation districts would like to provide some basic factual information.
The national excess “wild” horse crisis:
There are currently 50,000 horses in government-funded holding facilities at the cost of more than $43 million per year to the American taxpayer.
As of February 2012, there were more than 37,300 horses on rangelands that will sustain only 26,500 on a long-term basis. That equates to 11,000 excess horses plus last year’s foal crop and an upcoming foal crop.
The western portion of the United States is in a long-term drought. One third of the “wild” horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) overlap Greater Sage Grouse critical habitat.
The holding facilities are very close to full capacity and BLM has not been able to secure additional holding facilities. Therefore, the BLM has indicated it will be leaving the excess horses on the range even though the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRHB Act) requires BLM to remove all excess horses.
The Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) Situation:
The Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) is made up of about half BLM land and the other half is privately owned or leased by the RSGA. More than 30 years ago, the BLM adopted an agreement negotiated between two wild horse organizations and the RSGA, calling for a maximum of 1,600 horses, including 500 that the RSGA would “tolerate” on their private and leased lands.
The current estimated number of horses exceeds the agreement numbers by more than 250 percent.
In 2012, the Secretary of Interior’s proposed strategy reduces the number of horses to be removed from the range by 25 percent for the foreseeable future.
The RSGA has unsuccessfully requested that the BLM to follow the law, adhere to the agreement they signed in 1981, and abide by court orders.
The article, “Court may rid Wyoming of wild horses,” appears to be a continuation of these groups’ tactics trying to lead the general public to believe the BLM is managing the horses to extinction. If this was the case, why are the American taxpayers having to pay for feed and care of 50,000 horses at the cost of $43-plus million and why are there more than 11,000 excess horses still on the range? Why are horse numbers 250 percent above the Appropriate Management Level (AML) in the Rock Springs area?
The WFRHB Act requires the BLM to protect and manage the horse and burro populations on the range and remove any excess horses, “to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands.”
Horse populations increase an average of 20 percent per year. Therefore, they double their populations within five years if left unmanaged. If the BLM was to leave all 37,000 unmanaged horses on the range, there would be 74,000 in five years ,and the range simply cannot sustain this type of population.
West wide, many ranchers are working with the BLM to monitor the rangelands and determine if there is enough forage to graze livestock this year. If not, livestock will not be turned out on the range until later in the year or permittees may even take nonuse in an effort to protect the rangelands.
The problem with the horses is that they can’t be managed on an annual basis to protect the rangelands like the livestock. Even if the BLM chose to remove some of the horses because of the drought, there are no holding facilities available.
With all the facts, you can see there is no possibility of the horses becoming extinct. But there is a real possibility of our rangelands being degraded to the point of no return if the horses are not managed within the AML.
Healthy rangelands provide us with a variety of uses including recreation, beautiful open space, wildlife habitat, livestock grazing, etc. We often get caught up in focusing on the uses of the range and forget healthy rangelands also provide us with good air and water quality along with food, if we manage them appropriately.
We cannot afford to allow the rangelands to be degraded.
Leonard Thompson
White River & Douglas Creek Conservation Districts