Reprinted with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. Not for republication by Wyoming media.
The Interior Department over the next six months plans to remove more than 6,000 horses from federal lands and administer birth control to roughly 2,000 more in an effort to protect rangelands and reduce future herd growth.
The plan, which drew immediate criticism from horse advocates who argue the gathers are costly and inhumane, is required by law to balance herds with their habitat, the Bureau of Land Management said.
The gathers will emphasize the use of birth control to reduce the need for future removals, which saddle the agency with the long-term costs of caring for the horses in corrals.
Techniques will include injecting mares with the fertility vaccine PZP before the spring birthing season, increasing the male-to-female ratios of some herds and gelding some studs to prevent them from impregnating mares.
Fertility control is the cornerstone of BLM’s long-term plan to rein in costs, Dean Bolstad, the agency’s Nevada-based deputy division chief of wild horses, said last month.
“We clearly must change from our old mode of doing business, which was gather and remove,” Bolstad said. “It calls attention to the importance of controlling population growth. That’s the heart and core of this issue. … We have to do it, it has to be effective and we have to do more of it.”
The agency estimated that about 38,500 wild horses and burros — about 33,000 horses and 5,500 burros — roam BLM lands in 10 Western states, but that the range can support about 26,600. The population was last surveyed in February.
The tentative schedule calls for 16 gathers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. The agency removed about 8,400 horses and burros from the wild in fiscal 2011.
A recent decline in adoptions suggests many, if not most, of the next 6,338 horses to be removed will need to be placed in short- and long-term corrals, which eat up more than half the agency’s wild horse budget.
The agency said it will allow the public and media to observe the gathers in areas it deems safe for both viewers and animals. It also pledged to end helicopter-driven gathers by Feb. 28, roughly a month before normal foaling season.
The plan drew fire from the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a coalition of 40 groups that is calling for a halt to roundups and for BLM to allow more horses on the range.
“The BLM is misleading Congress and the public when it claims that it is reforming, because the agency continues to clear the land of mustangs to make room for commercial livestock grazing,” said the coalition’s Suzanne Roy.
The agency plan allows the removal of far more horses than the public is able to adopt and will result in higher long-term holding costs, Roy said. BLM last month said it was on track for about 3,000 adoptions in the fiscal year that ended in September. Future adoption numbers depend largely on the health of the economy.
“This mismanaged federal program is bankrupting American taxpayers and devastating our remaining wild horse herds,” Roy said.
A BLM spokesman was not available to respond this morning, as federal offices were closed for Columbus Day.
The agency said the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires the agency to “immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels” as soon as it determines the animals have overpopulated a certain area. Herds have few natural predators and can double every four years, the agency has argued.
In addition, the agency in the past has faced lawsuits when wild horses have wandered off public lands and onto neighboring private lands (Land Letter, Aug. 11).
But wild horse advocates have long questioned the methodology behind BLM’s determination of “appropriate management levels,” as well as its tally of wild horses currently on the range.
While a recent Government Accountability Office report suggested BLM was likely undercounting, the agency has commissioned a two-year National Academy of Sciences study to explore both issues, among several others.