Paper outlines wild horse solutions
According to Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper, the idea that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cut back to a realistic wild horse population has been around for some time, but there’s been no political courage to actually do it.
“The program over the years has simply gotten progressively worse, as far as the number of horses and the ability of the public to take the surplus,” says Loper. “The BLM is drowning in a problem they don’t have the willingness to fix.”
To address the issue Loper has prepared a paper detailing the numbers relating to the issue – including present populations and costs and those projected 30 years out. He says H.R. 1018, which was introduced to Congress last winter, inspired the project.
“When that bill was developed I got to thinking we ought to have a much more reasonable idea that would actually work and solve the problem,” notes Loper. “This bill would just aggravate the problem and the paper is in response to that effort to do something really bad.”
The information has been sent for review to technical personnel in the BLM, people involved with rangeland science in both the university system and private consulting firms and those in the livestock industry at both the national and state level.
“A number of suggestions were incorporated into the paper, and it was a team effort including a lot of people that know a lot about the horse program,” says Loper, adding that his main role was to crunch the numbers, which came from the BLM and the federal accounting office.
“It’s an astronomical sum of money, once someone sits down and goes through it,” says Loper. “I hope the paper will get people to recognize we have a problem that’s out of control.”
A few of the figures in the paper include a $1,207,425,000 price tag over the next 25 years for holding horses long-term, based on three percent inflation.
“Unfortunately the BLM and Congress want to look at things in the year or two right in front of them, but we’ve proposed a long-term solution to a problem that took us 30 years to get to,” says Loper. “We need a program that puts into place a process to bring us back to reality over some length of time.”
Loper says the proposal to reduce wild horse numbers is gaining support from other groups apart from grazing interests. “The competition with wildlife is getting to be extreme, and the wildlife people are starting to recognize this. Our Wyoming Game and Fish Department is in support of bringing horse numbers down to reality.”
The paper states, “We recommend that the maximum number of horses in a West-wide AML should be the number of adult horses that produce an annual increase number that the public is willing to adopt or purchase. A West-wide AML range of between 15,000 to 17,000 horses with a reproductive rate of 20 percent will produce an annual colt crop of from 3,000 to 3,400 horses, which is a realistic estimate of the current and future demand from the public for adoption and direct sales.”
At its current pace of 36,000 horses on the range, the paper states over the next 25 years long-term holding will increase to 107,000 horses. The reproduction rate of 36,000 animals is approximately 7,200 foals each spring.
Loper says if the current bill moving through Congress, H.R. 1018, the “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act,” passes, the new terms would dictate that the BLM couldn’t round up any more horses in a year than it can adopt out, and currently the public will only accept a few more than 3,000 horses annually.
“Right now it doesn’t have a companion bill in the Senate, and if the House bill does not receive attention in the Senate, that would be the best scenario,” says Loper. “If there is a bill in the Senate, we hope our idea would become the basis.”
He says the hands of Republicans on the Senate side are tied. “It’s become so extremely political that if you’re a Republican and you have a good idea it won’t even receive a hearing,” he says. “A good idea will have to be carried by someone on the Democrat side.”
He says Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) did what she could in the House and was able to get a few amendments in the bill.
In a prepared statement, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said, “The Restore Our American Mustangs Act has an enormous price tag and it’s an insult to rural America. This bill has its priorities wrong. It says wild horses are more important than the people of Wyoming. As our country falls deeper into debt, we must focus on how to get back on track instead of spending another $700 million on government welfare for wild horses.”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association calls the bill “problematic” and “ill-conceived.”
Overall, Loper says it will take many interest groups gathered together to oppose the bill. “We’re hoping the wildlife people will step up even more than they already have, because that’s the only way the horse problem will be solved. There’s no way the public or Congress will solve it because of the adverse impact to ranchers, which it obviously is. That’s not going to be the reason the issue will be fixed – it’ll be negative effects on water quality, endangered species, wildlife and land.”
To request a copy of the entire wild horse population discussion paper, contact Dick Loper at 307-332-2601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.