The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) yesterday announced the acceleration of proposed changes to the management of wild horses and burros on public lands.
BLM estimates that more than 30,000 wild horses and burros currently roam on BLM managed rangelands across the U.S.
But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act declared these “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” to be “fast disappearing” and mandated their protection by the BLM.
Were overpopulation to occur in a given area, the Act instructed the Interior Secretary to “immediately remove excess animals from the range.” But so successful were the BLM’s protection efforts that five years later Congress had to amend the Act to authorize BLM’s use of helicopters to gather all the “excess” animals. As wild burros and horses have no natural predators, some herds were found to be doubling every four years. The increasing number of wild animals was putting a strain on the rangeland’s natural resources and ecological balance.
Nowadays, as many of the excess horses as possible are put up for adoption, though adoption rates have not been able to keep pace with the number of horses gathered from the rangelands. There are currently more than 40,000 unadopted horses in short-term or long-term holding pastures. The cost of caring for these foster horses is not insignificant. In 2008, the GAO published a report that concluded that the long-term sustainability of the Wild Horse and Burro Program faces several significant challenges.
On the heels of the GAO report, the FY 2010 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directed the BLM to prepare a comprehensive, long-term plan and policy for wild horse and burro management. Which is exactly what BLM did. In June 2010, the BLM released their Wild Horse and Burro Program Strategy Development Document for public comment, which drafted “goals, objectives and possible management actions” for sustainable management of the wild animals.
The document – which touched on sensitive issues such as the euthanization of excess horses – drew more than 9,000 passionate responses. It was these comments that prompted the BLM’s proposed “fundamental reforms” to the management plan. In a few days, the BLM plans to release an analysis of the comments and a more detailed proposed implementation strategy online. The public will again be invited to comment on the strategy up until March 30, 2011.