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RBC | President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal has created no shortage of controversies, however the budget’s impact on the Wild Horse and Burro Program is receiving support both locally and nationally.
The budget includes a $10 million cut to the Wild Horse and Burro program, a program that has been steadily growing for the last few decades. In the past eight years alone the program’s budget has more than doubled, rising from $36.2 million in 2008 to $80.4 million in 2017, with the bulk of that increase going to house and feed the overpopulated horses in holding facilities. There are currently more than 45,000 un-adopted wild horses and burros in holding facilities, costing taxpayers nearly $50 million per year.
Historically adoption demand has not been high. The process is also considered fairly demanding. Horses are sold via online auction and those desiring to bid must first submit an application which includes a map of the area the horses will be housed and evidence of sufficient space and shelter. There are also limitations on the number of horses owned along with specific requirements on fencing height and materials used. Adoptees must make themselves available for potential inspection both before receiving the horse and after until the point when the title is issued, a process which typically takes a year.
Additionally, the budget calls for the removal of appropriation language which limited the horse management options available to the Bureau of Land Management, who are tasked with managing the horses. Specifically, the budget provides language allowing for the increased and streamlined adoption process and the ability for the BLM to conduct sales without limitation.
The BLM’s appropriates request states that funds directed towards gathers and birth control measures will also be reduced. “The long-term goal is to realign program costs and animal populations to more manageable levels, enabling BLM to reorient the WHB program back to these traditional management strategies.”
In a statement the National Horse and Burro Management Coalition said, “The Coalition acknowledges the removal of the management restrictions as a critical step to ensure wild horses and burros can continue to thrive alongside our native wildlife on healthy public rangelands. Healthy rangelands allow native wildlife to thrive, livestock to graze to support local communities, wild horses and burros to live healthy lives, and water quantity and quality to be sustained. Healthy rangelands are essential to the Western way of life. Removal of the appropriations language removes roadblocks to the effective management of on-range populations of wild horses and burros.”
Locally the White River and Douglas Conservation Districts are also expressing support for the measures. Director Callie Hendrickson said, “Unfortunately, we can not adopt or fertility control our way out of this unsustainable Program. While spending approximately $7 million a year trying to adopt horses, BLM is only successful at adopting 2,500 per year. Annual fertility control is only successful in areas with small numbers of horses that are relatively gentle so they can be darted every year.
Rio Blanco County is home to two wild horse herds. The Piceance/East Douglas Herd Management Area covers 190,130 acres and has a stated Appropriate Management Level of 135-235 horses. The current population is estimated at 480 horses, double the maximum carrying capacity.
On the west side of Highway 139 is the West Douglas Herd. These horses are located outside any designated Horse Management Area. When the Piceance/East Douglas HMA was created in 1980 is was determined that the West Douglas area does not contain a sustainable ecosystem for the horses and therefore should not house any. It is currently estimated that there are 254 horses in the area, a population which doubles every four to five years. During a recent Wild Horse Tour conducted by the White River BLM Field Office, Regional Wild Horse Manager Ben Smith stated that removal of the West Douglas Horses would be a priority for local BLM.
Hendrickson is concerned about what will happen locally if the changes in horse management are not implemented. “The rangelands are still relatively healthy in most areas in Rio Blanco County but if Congress does not implement the requested changes and BLM leaves the horses on the range, we will have 1,500-plus horses in the county by 2021. The rangeland ecosystem will be degraded throughout the county impacting wildlife habitat, livestock grazing and recreation.”
While rangeland advocates at both the national and local level push their support for President Trump’s budget and its implications to the Wild Horse and Burro Program only time will tell if the removal of appropriations language and budget cuts will make it beyond the desk of the President.