BLM releases wild horse and burro report
In a late April report to Congress, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) laid out detailed options for reducing the number of wild horses on western rangelands.
“Since receiving federal protection in 1971, wild horse and burro populations on public lands have dramatically increased, far exceeding what is healthy for the land and the animals,” read the report, titled, Management Options for a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program. “BLM is committed to finding solutions to achieve long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner.”
With wild horse and burro populations spreading across 26.9 million acres of public land West-wide, BLM is charged with managing herd numbers under the tools provided in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act.
“However, current congressional appropriation riders prohibit BLM from using all the authorities available in the Act,” BLM says. “Specifically, Congress blocks the sale of wild horses and burros without limitation and has limited the use of euthanasia.”
Options for control
BLM cites the potential for irreversible, severe damage across even larger acreages as wild horse and burro populations continue to grow.
“The damaging environmental effects may soon become irreversible and large die-offs of wild horses, burros and multiple species of plants and other animals could begin,” says BLM. “The groundwork for this unacceptable outcome has been developing for some time, and certain areas have already experienced damaging effects of overpopulation.”
As a result, the agency provides four detailed options to realistically address wild horse and burro overpopulation that would allow for improved management of both the animals and rangelands.
In their first detailed option, BLM would achieve appropriate management level (AML) in eight years, while also reducing off-range holding costs in the first four years.
“In addition, during the first four years, BLM would achieve AML in HMAs that overlap priority habitat for multiple species,” the report says. “This would require making use of all legal authorities contained in the Act – especially sale without limitation and euthanasia of un-adopted or unsold animals – including use of contraceptives and limited sterilization techniques.”
The option would achieve a national AML of 26,715 horses and burros by 2026.
The second option achieves the same AML by 2028, a 10-year plan, and emphasizes use of contraceptive fertility control and minimal permanent sterilization.
“Under this option, the off-range costs of caring for animals would significantly increase over current levels, because of increased reliance on off-range care,” BLM says. “Due to the large numbers of animals being held in off-range facilities, the cost of this option could be greatly affected by changes in the cost of contracting for off-range pastures, as the BLM would need more facility space than is currently available.”
Further, BLM notes they would be required to identify additional partners to provide low-cost off range housing. Additionally, they would strive to identify pasture-based holding facilities, rather than short-term corrals to control costs.
The most aggressive option of the set includes achieving AML in six years, targeting “an aggressive removal operation in conjunction with sterilization of 3,000 mares and stallions gathered annually and later returned to the range.”
BLM says, “Under this option, far fewer animals would be gathered and returned to the range than Option II, and all of those animals would be sterile upon reintroduction. Animals that are gathered and not sterilized would be moved to off-range facilities.”
At the same time, they would work to increase off-range pasture holding facilities, rather than corrals, and would keep corral populations at minimum levels, only to supply the adoption pipeline. To incentivize adoptions, Option III would provide a monetary incentive of $1,000 for horse adoptions, which, while initially expensive, would lower off-range holding expenditures.
“Current research on long-term contraceptives would continue, with the possibility of greater use of contraceptives in the future should a longer-acting agent prove to be effective,” says BLM, emphasizing this option achieves AML by 2024.
The final option would achieve AML by 2030 using aggressive gather and sterilization, after which horses and burros would be returned to the range.
“The BLM would hire veterinarians to sterilize and return approximately 18,000 animals per year in each of the first five years and 8,000 in year six,” the agency comments. “Under this option, off-range populations would begin to decrease almost immediately through natural mortality and continued efforts for private care placement.”
At the same time, BLM predicts by year 10, off-range populations would decline faster, as almost all animals held would begin to reach normal lifespan limits.
Additionally, fertility control would focus on permanent sterilization through 2024, where more than 80 percent of animals on the range would be sterilized.
“Finally, under this option, BLM would institute a program to increase adoptions by providing a monetary incentive to the adopter of up to $1,000,” they agency comments. “If the incentive proves to increase adoptions beyond the planned 5,000, the BLM could decrease the use of permanent sterilization and increase removals to match adoption and sale totals.”
With an imminent disaster predicted due to horse overpopulation, BLM emphasized the necessity of involvement from all stakeholders, including Congress, livestock operators, state and local governments and public interest organizations.
The agency comments, “BLM is open to working with partners on common sense solutions and will continue to pursue collaboration where possible.”
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from BLM’s report. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.