U.S. West faces crisis of too many wild horses

The Washington Post

The U.S. West is on the verge of a serious horse crisis, says a new paper in Science, which argues that the wild horse population is growing so fast that the government could soon be unable to manage the herds.

There are currently some 33,000 wild horses roaming freely on public lands in the western United States, descendants of horses brought by Spanish conquistadors. Under a 1971 law, the Bureau of Land Management is supposed to protect these horses and make sure their numbers don’t get out of hand so they are not destroying the ecosystem or dying of starvation.

But that is easier said than done, and BLM has long struggled to bring the horse population down to the mandated level of 23,622. There are, after all, only a few thousand people willing to adopt horses each year. And Congress has largely restricted the slaughter of healthy horses.

So, in recent years, BLM has been rounding up excess horses and shipping them off to long-term “retirement” facilities — mainly private ranches in Kansas and Oklahoma. The problem is that this is hugely expensive. There are now 45,000 horses in these facilities, and BLM’s horse budget has soared from $19.8 million in 2000 to $74.9 million in 2012. Lately, Congress has started reining in spending. BLM has announced that it will remove fewer horses from public lands. At the same time, the wild horses keep breeding, with unmanaged herds able to triple in size in just six to eight years.

Put it all together, and it is a looming disaster.

The Science paper, written by Robert Garrott of the University of Montana and Madan Oli of the University of Florida, calculates that if current trends continue, BLM will have to spend some $1.1 billion over the next 17 years just to keep storing horses in these long-term facilities — a level far beyond anything Congress seems willing to contemplate. And if roundups are no longer an option, then the number of wild horses on U.S. public lands will start swelling — dramatically.

Garrott and Oli argue it is long past time to get America’s horse issues under control. That would start with an aggressive vaccine contraceptives program to cut the birthrates of the wild horses by half. But contraception by itself, they note, is insufficient. BLM will also need to remove many of the existing wild horses from public lands to bring the base population down to around 23,600.

There are two broad ways to do that: Congress could appropriate many more millions of dollars to have BLM store even more wild horses in long-term pastures. Or the government could kill off thousands of healthy horses. Either way, the Science paper argues, if Congress and BLM could figure out how to get the number of wild horses down to around 23,000 or so — and soon — then contraceptives plus adoptions could likely keep the population at a sustainable level, for good. It is just that getting to that sustainable level is the tricky part. “We think this can be resolved,” Garrott said. “But it’s going to take a real forward-looking plan.”

  • Thomas J.Stratford

    Local grocers meat case can solve the problem quite effectively.

  • JanWindsong

    Here is question for you – do you notice a correlation between the time Salazar became secretary of Interior and the extraordnary spike in money spent to roundup, process, geld, brand, transport, buy hay for, build facilities for,contract holding, travel expenses for meetings, media spreads for their side of the story, adoption advertisements, transport of bhorses to adoption venues, mustang million, trainer incentives – the list goes on and on.

    It is simple really. The wild hroses and burros belong on the open ranges, President Nixon personlly signed a Public Law into place at the DEMAND of the American people to protect the horses and burros from harrassment, death, branding, capture. USFS/BLM were authorized to enforce the law and manage the animals on the ranges on whch they were found, with accommodation for their migratory paths following seasonable grass and water sources. Ranchers with cattle and sheep allotments on federal land, all over the US, spent millions hunting down the horses and burros and killng htem to avoid their ranges being identified. Imagine that. Nothing has changed. Except now, the manipulation is so thorough that even BLM/USFS believe tey are doing the horses a favor by capturing them and placing them in zoos.

    Since horses and burros evolved on open ranges, grasslands, they do thrive and that is a good thing. it is what the law meant to create. BLM and USFs act as if it an act of treason. They have no idea how to manage the horses, calling them destroyers of their ranges, trampling their resources, and spoiling their water. How stupid they must think we are, how disrespectful of them to take our (and their as individuals citizens) land and resources and hand them over. How horrible that the horses and burros are losing this battle.