If you ranch in the parts of Western Wyoming where there are wild horse herd management areas (HMA) or if you are next to one, you are undoubtedly feeling the overreach of the federal government. Call it overreach or bad management, ranchers, range managers and some Bureau of Land Management personnel realize there is a large problem.
Really, it is more than a large problem. It is a crisis in the western states where there are wild horses. The problem is now being discussed in venues ranging from the halls of Congress, Department of Interior and BLM to the Western Governor’s Conference and western state capital to businesses and ranches close to or on wild horse HMAs.
The one common fact is that everyone knows what the problem is – an overabundance of wild horses and nowhere to go with them, both on the range and in BLM holding facilities. BLM spends most of its wild horse budget caring for and feeding the horses in the holding facilities, where there are most likely more numbers than out on the range. The latest cost to roundup and care for one horse by the BLM is around $48,000.
The BLM stopped almost all horse roundups because they ran out of money and had no place to go with those gathered animals. Wild horse managers hoped that birth control vaccines were perhaps the silver bullet, but that has not happened. They were not effective, only lasted a couple of years and almost guaranteed a colt the year after it wore off. At the same time, the vaccine was owned by the Humane Society of the U.S. and was a great funding source for them. There has been talk about spaying the mares and castrating the studs, but wild horse enthusiasts will not even consider it. Spaying and castration are proven practices and would work for the long run, but what do we do in the short term?
The damage by wild horses to the resource is the concern by all. These horses got started on the range during the two World Wars when machinery replaced horsepower, and today, with the high cost of hay and nowhere to go with an unwanted horse, owners turn their animals out on the desert. Really, wild horses are just feral horses. To some, they an icon on the western range with a lot of emotion involved in their management. Almost everyone has an opinion on wild horses, and they attract a lot of money for the non-profits that want to see more horses on the ground, despite the resource damage they are creating.
That damage is hurting private lands, your state lands, your wildlife and especially the sage grouse. Some in the know, in some areas, are saying we have to choose between wild horses or sage grouse – there can’t be both.
I have seen excellent wild horse number projection using conservative population increases of 16 percent. With a current wild horse population of 40,000, numbers will increase to over 152,000 animals in 10 years and over 671,000 in 20 years. Realistically, we know wild horse herds really increase at closer to 20 percent annually. Our state, private and federal lands, as well as the wildlife in the areas where horses run, will be devastated.
The time is now to quit horsing around and do something.