Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials are working on a new count of wild horses in Nevada and Oregon. A joint aerial census of four million acres of federal land began Monday. The primary survey area is around the Sheldon and Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuges.
A conservation organization cautioned an independent survey is also needed because they say the federal government has a tendency to overestimate the population of wild horses. Reportedly the overestimate is done intentionally to justify the habitual roundups of wild mustangs that have been taking place.
The numbers matter because to some ranchers and sheepherders the horses take up land they could use, and eat plants their livestock could have. To conservationists and animals lovers they are magnificent creatures and symbolic of an ever-diminishing wilderness.
A study by the U.S. Government Accounting Office reported, “Wild horse behavior patterns make them somewhat less damaging than cattle to especially vulnerable range areas.”
The BLM’s approach has been criticized for overzealousness. Just recently the FBI received a complaint from a Nevada citizen. The complaint resulted from the BLM’s removal of nearly 2,000 wild mustangs from lands in Nevada. Apparently they said they left 600-900 of the wild animals in the area, but the local citizen said there weren’t nearly that many remaining.
The BLM says they are in compliance with the law. “The program is intended to reduce what they consider an overpopulation of wild horses that is harming not only the environmental health of the range and wildlife species, but the horses themselves,” a BLM official said.
It would seem both rational and logical that an independent count would be needed, because it appears the BLM believes the horses are a danger to the lands. Such a belief would seem to only lead to overestimating, in order to remove as many wild horses as possible.
Image Credit: Kjell