Kornze outlines BLM’s wild horse plans during meeting
Washington, D.C. – As members of the Public Lands Council gathered in Washington, D.C. for their annual legislative meeting, the organization heard from a variety of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“I’ve been with BLM for five years, and for three of that, I’ve been director,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze on April 11. “This is a complicated organization. We do everything including the most intense development of the largest transmission lines, the largest coalmines and the largest gold mines. At BLM, our duty is for multiple use and sustained yield.”
From sage grouse to land use management, Kornze noted that BLM has tackled a number of challenges over the past several years, but he added that wild horse and burro management is at the top of BLM’s priority list.
Wild horse plans
“There’s a lot of coverage on wild horses and burros, and we need ranchers’ help,” Kornze said.
He explained that 15 years ago, the U.S. Congress directed BLM to start warehousing horses as a means of control.
“So we started taking them off the range and sticking them on ranches and other properties, mostly in the Midwest,” he said. “It felt like a solution for a while because we had enough money to feed that program.”
However, during the Obama Administration alone, BLM has doubled the amount of money spent on maintaining wild horses in long-term confinement.
“We went from $40 million to $80 million a year that is spent on the wild horse and burro program,” Kornze emphasizes. “It is absolutely unsustainable. It has huge impacts on the rancher, and we are at a point that we can’t absorb any more costs into our system.”
However, horses continue to proliferate, Kornze said, adding that discovering solutions to the problem has been more than challenging.
Solving the challenge
“We need new approaches, and one of the things I’m hoping we can work together on is creating a table and showing folks working in this arena that it is not the third rail of natural resource politics,” Kornze said. “Very few people are willing to step forward and into the arena of wild horses and burros for fear of what might come out of it.”
The fear to work on wild horse issues extends beyond partisan politics, and Kornze noted that solutions moving forward must be bipartisan, common-sense answers to help the horses, range and wildlife.
Currently, nearly 50,000 wild horses are present on western rangelands, according to Kornze. Appropriate management levels (AML) establish that fewer than 30,000 should be present.
“We also have 50,000 horses that we have taken off the range that are sitting in long-term holding,” he continued. “We have 15,000 horses in corrals, as well, where we are paying five to six dollars a day to feed them.”
Each horse in long-term holding costs $50,000 to support through its lifetime.
“It’s a serious issue,” Kornze said.
Kornze noted that one area of interest is in birth control and population control research.
“When I asked our team about the status of birth control research, they said we’ve got well-intentioned folks we’re working with, but they’re working on a very small scale,” he said, adding that BLM hopes to establish more widespread research.
“We went out to the universities, pharmaceutical companies and research communities and said, help us set a baseline that we can build from,” he said. “If we are going to start a significant research program to really find out how to limit the population, how do we do that?”
BLM then launched a call for proposals, and currently, 15 different population control projects costing $11 million are being funded.
“I have committed every spare dollar we had last year to fund these projects,” Kornze said.
Kornze further added that additional efforts should also be made to focus on adopting out wild horses.
In 2002-03, BLM adopted 8,000 to 9,000 horses per year. Now, they struggle to adopt 2,000 horses out each year.
“My guess is that it’s related to the prohibition of slaughter plants because there are 60,000 to 70,000 domestic horses on the market for adoption,” Kornze said. “Folks are finding it easier to take a domestic horse rather than an untrained wild horse.”
Spay and neuter
Kornze also said that robust discussions about spaying and neutering wild horses are being pursued with the general public.
“We can’t wait for those drugs to come into the market. With a five- to 10-year wait for those research projects, we’re going to have to take some interim steps,” he said. “We have folks who are doing serious research on spay and neuter.”
He also encouraged people to utilize the terms “spay” and “neuter” because the general public is familiar with the language.
“Every fourth grader in American can deal with the fact that their cat and dog gets spayed and neutered,” Kornze commented. “What we are doing to horses is, in fact, the exact same thing that many families have done smartly, carefully and thoughtfully to their family pet.”
With the question of wild horse and burro management looming, Kornze added, “We need to have these conversations together.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.