It appears that the BLM may have reached the end of the rope on managing the wild horse and burro populations in the West. Last week an internal memo appeared on the Web describing the agency’s frustration with the program.
The memo from wild horse and burro division chief Joan Guilfoyle said, “The wild horse and burro program is nearing the point of financial insolvency due to the undesirable trends in every aspect of the program. These trends are preventing the achievement of program goals and involve increasing costs.”
The BLM has already postponed several horse gathers because they don’t have a place to put the horses and they already have 35,000 head in holding facilities. With their $69.6 million 2014 budget, the agency is spending 61 percent on long-term and short-term care for the inventory they already have. Guilfoyle expects the current on-range population of 48,000 horses and burros will grow to 69,000 head by 2015.
“Drastic changes in course are mandatory to remain financially solvent and reverse trends that compromise the achievement of on-range management goals. Considering these circumstances, onrange management goals may not be achieved for 20 years.”
Budget cuts may finally force the BLM to be a bit more realistic about what to do with the wild horse problem. It’s clear that it’s time for BLM to make choices, but they may need to amend the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 to do it.
Last December the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation (NFB) and the Nevada Association of Counties filed suit against the Department of Interior and the BLM to comply with the requirements of the act, which requires that the Secretary of the Interior manage the situation in such a way as to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on public lands. The suit is aimed at protecting Nevada’s rangelands, protecting the state’s limited natural resources and ultimately protecting the horses.
It’s about time someone decided to sue the BLM for not doing their job. This strategy has been used countless times by environmental groups who have sued the agency for not responding to complaints from the group regarding grazing permits and the National Environmental Policy Act.
As a result of overpopulation, there are examples of degradation of natural springs and riparian areas, unhealthy or dying horses, and negative effects on native wildlife and vegetation. The NFB wants BLM to sell some older horses not suitable for adoption and relax the usual constraints on resale or slaughter.
Guilfoyle recommends that the agency be more aggressive in getting rid of the horses in holding facilities and relaxing the requirements for adoption.
They can’t justify gathering any more horses until they have room for them. She suggests they need more money for research to develop long-term sterilization methods. She even recommends euthanizing on-range animals “as an act of mercy if animals decline to near-death condition,” calling the move the only responsible alternative.
Tom Gorey, BLM’s Public Affairs Officer, said that the memo was a preliminary discussion document produced in recognition of the tight fiscal climate and based on a projection that Congress would cut more from the agency’s budget. It explores a range of interim measures that could be implemented until more sustainable actions are available, such as long-term contraceptives and the reduction of holding costs.
With the rapid reproduction of the horses, it was clear long ago the problem would eventually reach critical mass and blow up. Even former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said the program was not sustainable. Now it’s time for Congress to amend the act and allow for some serious solutions to the raging horse populations in the West.
This year’s drought in the West will certainly trim the horse herds naturally but is that the humane thing to do? This is a touchy issue but the herds have to be reduced. Ranchers in the region have already trimmed down their cow herds to manage for drought and it seems logical to trim the horse herd about 30 percent too. Even with that, there will still be plenty of wild horses for folks to find who want to find them. This is an issue that needs legislative help and the NFB’s suit against BLM will be the start. — PETE CROW