Proposal could improve wild horse management strategies
The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) has been working quietly for months with a number of other groups to formulate a plan for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to more efficiently manage wild horse and burro populations across the West, according to Executive Director of the Public Lands Council and the NCBA’s Federal Lands committee Ethan Lane.
Lane was featured on NCBA’s Beltway Beef podcast on April 26 to discuss the landmark wild horse proposal. The podcast focuses on current issues affecting the beef cattle industry.
Lane explained the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act assigns management of the wild horses and burros of the range to BLM. However, a congressional rider associated with the act forbids BLM from selling horses to anyone with the intent of commercially processing the horses.
“This is not to be confused with the existing ban on horse slaughter in the United States,” Lane said. “Though related somewhat, these are separate issues.”
“The limit of sale of these horses prevent the BLM from properly managing these populations,” Lane said. “Over the years, no matter if it was a Democratic or Republican majority in Congress there has been a complete lack of political courage when it comes to managing horses.”
Lane expressed the inability of BLM to manage wild horses has been catastrophic for rangelands as the populations continue to grow unchecked on habitats that are unable to support them.
“This plan is a compromise in the truest sense of the word,” said Lane. “We have groups on all ends of the political and ideological spectrum supporting this.”
Lane noted some of the groups that have endorsed the plan have historically been against all things agriculture, but they were still able to work together to formulate an effective plan, despite their historic differences.
“There were some parts of this plan we didn’t particularly like and some parts that the animal rights-type groups didn’t like, but we had to compromise because something had to be done,” said Lane. “Considering the limitations of the law as it’s written, anything is better than nothing.”
While there was a host of groups ranging from agriculture supporters to animal rights groups, some of the more far-flung animal groups had negative feedback about the plan, according to Lane.
“These groups are so far removed from the reality of the situation with wild horses and burros and how damaging they can be in such large numbers,” said Lane.
He explained the conversations surrounding this plan began at the state level and started as simple roundtable type conversations and progressed into a compromise that fit many groups’ interests.
“If they were going to have any hope in having something broadly endorsed by stakeholders there had to be compromise,” said Lane.
“The focus of this plan is increasing gather numbers,” said Lane. “Last year, BLM was able to gather 11,000 horses and burros, which was huge. We are hoping to gather at least 20,000 this year, a huge increase to an already big year.”
Lane explained the groups also want to focus on fertility control. The current method, Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) has an 18 percent success rate and is not optimized for range use.
“PZP has become the standard for fertility control and has been a failure,” Lane said. “Most of the time, it’s administered with darts and anyone who has managed in a range environment knows darting isn’t optimal.”
“Permanent surgical fertility management options have also been considered,” said Lane. “We are also looking at moving some of the horses off the range to pastures.”
“This plan doesn’t create any new authority within the existing Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act,” Lane explained. “Our goal was to establish a new direction, so BLM is able to manage these horses despite the limitations within the law.”
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.