Letter to the Editor: NBC misrepresented wild horse situation

Dear Editor:
The recent stories by NBC News in regard to the “wild” horse issue misrepresented many facts and omitted the reality surrounding wild horses and burros on the Western range.
First of all, the horses and burros are feral animals that were turned out on the range when pioneers no longer needed them for transportation, farming and mining. The practice of turning domestic horses out on public lands continues today because people can no longer feed and care for them in these difficult economic times. In fact, the BLM was called to remove feral horses from private land in Northwest Colorado and two of the four were determined to be domestic horses that had been turned out on the range with the traditional herd of feral horses.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (The Act) was passed in 1971 to protect and manage the horses and their habitat, the rangelands. The act allows horses to be managed only in areas where they were found on the public lands in 1971. The act requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage for a thriving natural ecological balance because even Congress knew there would be no healthy horses, wildlife, livestock or watersheds without ecological balance on the rangelands.
The Wild Horse Program is costing you and me, the taxpayers, $78 million this year, and $47 million (60 percent) of that will be spent on feeding and caring for the 50,000 horses that have been removed from the range but have no other use under current practices. It is time we quit wasting taxpayer money and make these horses available for sale without limitation. Then that $47 million could be put to beneficial use.
The Herd Management Areas (HMAs) will sustain approximately 26,500 horses and burros. Additional numbers (excess) threaten the sustainability of the range. However, there were approximately 37,300 horses on the range as of February 2012.
Horses have no predators, so their population increases on the average of 20 percent per year. Because the holding facilities are now maxed-out at more than 50,000 excess horses, the BLM has stopped removing horses from the range except in “emergencies. Therefore, there will be significantly more excess horses on the range even though the West is in a significant drought. In areas where there are too many of them, the horses are decimating the range and will soon become an “emergency” because of lack of forage and/or water. As you can tell from these facts, the BLM is certainly not managing them to extinction!
NBC’s reporter wanted you to believe the horses are abused, mistreated and suffering in holding facilities. The activists have shown those same clips for many years. In fact, American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) Wild Horse and Burro Task Force report concluded, “the care, handling and management practices utilized by the agency are appropriate for this population of horses and generally support the safety, health status and welfare of the animal.” Accidents do happen when working with feral animals.
The NBC stories also wanted you to believe BLM “breaks up families” and separates the babies from their mothers. This is a case of advocates inappropriately placing human emotion on livestock. In fact, the babies are separated from the herd in working corrals and trailers for their safety. Dependent foals are reunited with their mothers shortly after being unloaded.
This is not a rancher-versus-horse issue. Ranchers I have talked with have great respect for the horses on the range within the appropriate numbers, and they are good stewards of the rangelands. The ranchers know horses, cattle, sheep and wildlife can all thrive only when there are healthy rangelands.
Leonard Thompson
White River Conservation District