Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.
-Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971
At the end of February, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its Proposed Strategy for Future Management of Wild Horses and Burros in an effort to fast-track reform of their wild horse and burro program.
It’s a nice way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which was established to ensure wild horses and burros a place on our public lands and granted them protection on 53.5 million acres of land managed by the BLM and the Forest Service. Since then, they’ve lost 19.2 million acres due to new laws, regulations and land use planning decisions. See also: welfare ranching and Big Oil.
Numerous suggestions have been made in previous public comment sessions, some of which include letting horses self-regulate their populations, reallocating land for their use, removing livestock grazing permits and providing food and water in the wild in the event of an emergency. There were also conflicting opinions about the use of preserves, some felt it was the same as long-term holding. Others suggested euthanizing excess and unadoptable horses or selling them without limitation.
While the BLM does appear to be attempting to make some changes in a positive direction, they still plan on removing an additional 32,800 wild horses from the land over the next five years, which would bring the number of horses in holding to over 50,000, almost twice the amount of animals left on the range.
The proposed strategy is also expected to cost $76 million annually over the next four years. Their new plans call for increased fertility control, an increase the demand for wild horses to boost adoptions (despite the fact that there is already an excess of domestic horses), developing an animal welfare program, exploring eco-tourism, establishing cost effective sanctuaries and using social media for public outreach.
Soon, you too can be friends with the BLM on Facebook.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will also perform a review of previous management studies and make recommendations on how the BLM should proceed. However, the study will not be done until 2013. Many people, including members of Congress, have requested a moratorium on roundups until the study is finished, but the BLM says that’s not feasible as populations will spiral out of control. However, previous NAS studies have found that the BLM is using population growth estimates that are double the actual number.
The NAS study will also examine whether horses can self-regulate by natural means and predation, although predators are fairly scarce thanks to development, hunting and Wildlife Services.
Some organizations still don’t think the BLM is doing enough to protect horses in the wild or to save money. Public outcry over the disruption of herd dynamics and the use of helicopters to round up horses also had no effect. They consider this to be a perfectly acceptable method to “gather” horses and burros despite chasing them to the point of collapse and running them on frozen ground hard enough to tear off their hooves off, which some people consider to be blatant animal cruelty.
“It seems that BLM has not yet gotten the message that taxpayers can no longer afford this mass mustang removal scheme. In reality, the BLM has at its disposal the tools necessary to keep wild horses on the range, where taxpayers do not have to pay to feed and care for them. These tools include the ability to adjust the resource allocations and stop prioritizing private livestock grazing over wild horses on the small percent of BLM lands designated as wild horse and burro habitat,” stated the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
“Americans want our wild horses and burros to remain free in the wild with their families. We know there is no immediate danger to them on the range, as the horses being rounded up are fit and healthy, not starving as BLM would have us believe.”
Various organizations are now calling for the BLM to step up their plans by asking them to increase transparency even more, stop roundups and readjust forage allocations, reducing livestock grazing and cooperating with non-profits, among other things.
The BLM is taking public comments until March 30.
Please take a minute to weigh in on the options for future wild horse and burro management with suggestions to improve their plans or send an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Comments on the Strategy” in the subject line.