The following highlights are taken from the September 29, 2009
Challenges Facing the BLM in its Management of Wild Horses and Burros,"
prepared by the
Bureau of Land Management, Public Affairs Office, Washington, D.C.
The BLM’s goal is to manage healthy herds of wild horses and burros on
healthy Western rangelands. To do that, we must confront a number
of tough challenges.
Wild horses and burros, of which more than
37,000 freely roam BLM-managed lands, have virtually no natural
predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years.
As a result, the agency must remove thousands of animals from Western
public rangelands each year to ensure that herd sizes are consistent
with the land’s capacity to support them.
Off the range, there are nearly
32,000 removed (or “excess”) wild horses and burros that are fed and
cared for at short-term (corral) and long-term (pasture) holding
facilities. Currently, animals placed in long-term holding live
out the rest of their lives there, which can be from 10 to 25 years
depending on the age at which they enter long-term holding.
BLM faces difficult choices in the West’s wild horse and burro program.
Rising energy prices have increased feed and transportation costs (by $4
million from Fiscal Year 2007 to FY 2008), and it is clear that the
Bureau cannot continue its current removal and holding practices under
existing and projected budgets. Neither can the BLM allow horses
to multiply unchecked on the range without causing an environmental
disaster. The BLM is looking at all options at this point to
manage through the situation. We have not made any decisions about
which option to pursue, but we are in discussions with humane groups to
find an appropriate legal solution.
The BLM is authorized under a December
2004 amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to
sell “without limitation” wild horses and burros that are either over 10
years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times.
The BLM has thus far focused on sales only to those buyers whose
intention is to provide long-term care. As amended in 1978, the
1971 wild horse law also authorizes the BLM to euthanize excess wild
horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals
does not exist.
If the BLM were to try to hold down
budget costs by not removing excess horses from the range, the result
would be an ecological disaster for Western public rangelands:
overpopulation of herds, overgrazing of forage, eventual malnutrition
and starvation of horses and burros, damage to native vegetation and
riparian areas, damage to wildlife habitat, increased soil erosion, and
lower water quality.
Horses and burros that are unadopted or
unsold are kept in short- or long-term holding facilities. In
Fiscal Year 2008, the cost of holding and caring for these animals
exceeded $27 million -- accounting for three-fourths of the FY
2008 enacted funding level of $36.2 million for the total wild horse and
burro program*. If
current removal, holding, and restrictive sales practices are to be
continued, funding for the total wild horse and burro program would need
to rise to approximately $85 million by FY 2012.
Tom Gorey said the agency's budget to capture and hold mustangs is
strained. Care over a mustang's lifetime costs an average