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July 26, 2010

No More Horsing Around

Tell the government to manage wild horses responsibly

wild horses

The BLM thinks the best way to manage wild horses is to take them out the wild. Kayla Grams/The HSUS

by Stephanie Boyles

The federal government promised it would change the way it manages wild horses, but we won’t see anything new in the plan it intends to present to Congress in the fall unless we provide much-needed guidance on how to reform its broken program.

Despite some progress and a lot of promises, if it doesn't incorporate recommendations from The HSUS and our many supporters, the Bureau of Land Management will simply trot out the same strategies that have already caused horses to suffer and die needlessly and cost the taxpayer many millions of dollars unless. And if things keep going as planned, soon there will be nearly twice as many wild horses in captivity as in the wild. Here’s a little background: 

Taking horses off the range is expensive

Over the past 10 years, the costs of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Management program have skyrocketed; the agency keeps removing more horses from public lands, but fewer people are willing to adopt them. Illogically, the BLM hasn’t made controlling reproduction a part of its efforts to control the number of horses in the wild.

In 2008, the BLM spent more than $27 million caring for wild horses and burros in holding facilities. That’s almost 75 percent of the BLM’s total $36.2 million wild horse and burro management budget.

By September 3, speak up for wild horses.

That year the BLM announced that it might euthanize or sell for slaughter more than 10,000 wild horses housed in federal holding facilities to save money.

Let them ROAM

The public and congress were appalled. In July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Restore Our American Mustangs" (ROAM) Act, H.R. 1018, which would protect wild horses and burros from commercial sale and slaughter. ROAM would also implement management tools such as fertility control, which could save millions of tax dollars by diminishing the need for costly gathers and large-scale housing. Unfortunately, the Senate hasn't yet acted on this legislation.

Promises, promises

In October 2009, the Department of the Interior released a five-year strategy, promising it would transform the BLM’s wild horse and burro program from often inefficient, costly, and inhumane to technologically advanced, fiscally sound, and more humane. At that time, the BLM announced that it wouldn’t euthanize or sell wild horses to resolve its financial woes. Our hopes were high.

But just weeks later we found out that the BLM intended to remove another 12,000 wild horses from the range. If all goes as planned, by the end of 2011, there will be nearly twice as many wild horses in holding facilities (45,000 ) as are on the range (around 26,000). The BLM estimates that holding costs alone will rise to over $47 million annually. This is not a cost-effective way to manage wildlife.

More round-ups

In December 2009, the BLM removed more than 1,500 wild horses from the Calico Complex in Nevada. Several horses didn’t survive. We’re still urging to the BLM to release as many (if not all) of these horses back onto the range as possible, since the agency has no plan to keep the population in the wild from rebounding.

Then in July, the hottest month of the year in that region, the BLM removed more horses, this time in Elko County, Nevada. At least a dozen mustangs have died from dehydration, water intoxication, and related complications. The HSUS has called for a moratorium on roundups.

Tell them enough is enough

The BLM is accepting public comments on its latest plan through September 3. Tell the agency make good on the change it has promised in the past and steer the program in a new, sustainable, and more humane direction. (Because of difficulties with the BLM's online form, we have been given permission to use our own. If you had problems submitting your comment, please try again using our form.)

Stephanie Boyles is Wildlife Scientist, Wildlife and Habitat Protection, for The Humane Society of the United States
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