A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has condemned the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over its wild horse and burro management practices, leaving wild horse advocates hopeful that the way things are being done will soon change for the better.
The lengthy report, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, is the result of two years of research and details the ways the BLM has failed to properly manage the thousands of wild horses and burros entrusted to it, concluding that “business as usual” can’t continue.
Wild horse advocates have long argued that rounding up wild horses in “gathers” and warehousing them at holding facilities is neither humane nor economically sustainable and in some cases unarguably and unnecessarily abusive. Horses are injured and run to the point of collapse, herds are broken up, foals are separated from their mothers and in some cases left behind. While some are euthanized by the BLM, others are left to cope with the stress of transport and captivity.
According to the BLM, there are an estimated 37,300 wild horses and burros currently roaming in 10 Western states, while nearly 50,000 additional horses and burros are stuck in short and long-term holding facilities.
Those numbers alone should be enough to indicate that what’s being done isn’t working and isn’t sustainable, but if they’re not the increasing costs of caring for these animals in holding should. While the gathers continue, costs of the program have continued to grow — rising from around $20 million in 2000 to $75 million in 2012, reports the New York Times.
The BLM continues to claim it’s managing the land for multiple uses, but opponents argue that the program has been unfairly slanted in favor of energy exploration and ranchers whose cattle by far outnumber wild horses and burros and are believed to cause far more damage to rangelands than horses.
Aside from highlighting the fact that there is no scientific basis for removing thousands of wild horses from the wild, a major point in the report noted that removing horses may, ironically, lead to greater population growth by removing competition for forage.
While the report was being completed, neither side had any idea what the result would be – whether it would be in favor of politics and ranchers, or whether it would draw conclusions based on science in favor of changing things in favor of horses and burros.
“The report is a powerful validation of what wild horse advocates have been saying for years,” Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), said in the Times. “The report delivers a strong case for an immediate halt to the roundup and removal of wild horses from the range, an increase in wild horse and burro population levels and implementation of in-the-wild management using available fertility control options.”
The report also noted that decades ago public attitudes played a major part in the development of the wild horse and burro program and should be considered today.
A poll released by AWHPC last month found that 72 percent of Americans favor protecting wild horses as “living symbols of the history and pioneer spirit of the West” while 66 percent think the BLM’s approach to wild horse management is an inefficient use of tax dollars (only 8% thought it was an efficient use).
Now, equine advocates are calling on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to step in and reform the program. This week the AWHPC presented an open letter signed by members of the public, Congressmen, advocacy groups and celebrities to the Department of the Interior as part of its Step in Sally campaign urging immediate actions to protect wild horses and burros in the wild as national treasures.
Jewell has yet to make a comment about the NAS report, but at this point the issue is at least impossible to ignore.
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