Feral Horses and Burros; When to Say When

Op-Ed by Ben B. Hollingsworth Jr., President, Boone and Crockett Club

Wild Horse Gather
Feral Horses and Burros; When to Say When

USA -(Ammoland.com)- I was catching up on some news at my local coffee shop the other day. When it was time for a refill of my coffee, the server asked me to say “when” my cup was full enough.

At the time, I was reading about how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Advisory Council was recommending new strategies for the reduction in the number of feral horses and burros on federal public land. The same thought occurred to me. It was time to say “when.” It's time for the BLM to take action and get this problem under control.

As a member of the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest wildlife conservation organization in North America, I was quite familiar with the feral horse and burro issue. This has been growing and contentious environmental issue for quite some time.

In 2011, the Club published a position statement encouraging a new strategy so that the law we already have in place is followed, which is exactly what the BLM Advisory Council is now proposing.

This issue has been growing because feral horse numbers on public land and held in special holding facilities have exploded from 25,000 in 1971 to 118,000 this year. The feral horse problem is contentious because some want to see these animals left alone without any management.

Others agree their numbers must be controlled but disagree on how-nonlethal (meaning capture, sterilization and adoption) versus lethal (euthanasia) when all else fails.

Feral horse and burro populations have the ability to double in size in four to five years. Unchecked, they have been wreaking havoc on sensitive, arid rangeland ecosystems and limited water resources.

The population levels thought by the BLM to achieve ecological balance is currently being exceeded by about 47,000 free-roaming animals, making it impossible for the BLM to satisfy its conflicting dual mandate to both protect feral horses and protect wildlife habitat from deterioration.

One of the Advisory Council's recommendations is removing all excess animals within the next three years. The BLM already has a statutory obligation under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Act) to determine the appropriate populations levels and to remove excess animals through lethal means if necessary.

Since the Act was passed, the killing of excess animals has been off the table and management has been limited to capture, sterilizations and holding these animals in government-run, taxpayer-funded holding facilities awaiting adoption.

Despite aggressively marketing an adoption program, the BLM reports that demand for these animals is way down from where it once was and a mere fraction of what is needed to keep up with surging population growth. As a result, over $52 million of the BLM's feral horse and burro program's approximately $80 million budget is spent on feeding and vaccinating horses already removed from the range and held in these holding facilities.

No one, including sportsmen like myself or the ranchers and ecologists I know, are happy about the prospect of killing horses. Many of these folks own horses themselves, but are realistic about what the carrying capacity of the land means to all wildlife and people.

I've been in areas where there were feral horses. They are very destructive to the landscape, especially around precious water holes. But, I must admit seeing a stallion leading his herd, galloping across a sage flat is something to behold. Still no species-wild or domestic-should be allowed to destroy our natural places.

Unfortunately, this whole situation is just another example where wildlife and habitat management is being influenced by something other than science, efforts to preserve ecological integrity, and common sense. I dislike using the term “emotional arguments,” but it applies in this case to the rationalizations behind not following the law Congress passed.

I'm also struggling with why people who claim to care about animal welfare, and oppose the control of wild horses, are not concerned with the wild species that share these rangelands. Many of these species are on the U.S. Geological Survey's recent list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. It's irresponsible to think we can continue to allow feral horse populations to continue growing unchecked, and forsake all other wildlife and land uses simply because the solution is emotionally difficult to accept.

Congress has determined feral horses and burros represent a part of American history and belong on the range, but healthy ecosystems and proper wildlife conservation of native wildlife is also an important part of our history Americans expect to continue. The BLM has an active adoption program and I encourage more people to step up and use it if they can.

I also wish there was an effective method for widespread, long-lasting fertility control.

But, until there is, let's urge the BLM to follow the laws we already have on the books to start solving this problem now and work towards population levels that preserve feral horses, native wildlife, and our ability to enjoy our wide-open spaces. The history of conservation is punctuated with tough decisions that had to be made-including when to say “when.”

Boone and Crockett ClubAbout the Boone and Crockett Club:

Founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, the Boone and Crockett Club promotes guardianship and visionary management of big game and associated wildlife in North America. The Club maintains the highest standards of fair chase sportsmanship and habitat stewardship. Member accomplishments include enlarging and protecting Yellowstone and establishing Glacier and Denali national parks, founding the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuge System, fostering the Pittman-Robertson and Lacey Acts, creating the Federal Duck Stamp program, and developing the cornerstones of modern game laws. The Boone and Crockett Club is headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

For details, visit their website.

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Scot
Scot
3 years ago

Prison horses still need permanent homes. My guess is there will still be more horses than suitable adopters even with more prison programs. It may be worth a try though, especially back east.

Scot
Scot
3 years ago

This just in from the Western Governor’s Association. Seems like a good step forward for scientific conservation efforts as well as an “all of the above” approach.
http://westgov.org/images/editor/WGA_PR_2018-01_Wild_Horse_and_Burro_Management_1.pdf

Whodaty
Whodaty
3 years ago

Forget the euthanasia option. What a waste. Either farm them out to the PETA ranch, where they can feed and care for the excess critters while they find homes for them, or have permit hunts for the overpopulation. There be food value there. They eat horse in Europe. This might be a “Believe It or Not” item, but Seattle used to have a horse meat butcher at the Pike Place market in the late 60’s. Yes, horses are cute and adorable, but, they are just another four legged critter that could satisfy some peoples appetites.

Jessica
Jessica
3 years ago

Here in Iron County the BLM says the habitat can sustain 2,500 wild horses. The wild horse population in the county exceeds 5,000. Wild horses are staving to death and decimating their habitat in the process.

BLM must make the tough decision and reduce the population. Keeping the status quo is inhumane.

Scot
Scot
3 years ago

Excellent article. I am so happy to see a sportsman’s organization writing about this subject! I am on the BOD of the CO Unwanted Horse Alliance as well as a former Board member of the CO Horse Council. I am also a life long hunter/outdoorsman, former big game hunting guide all the while having a background in beef production on western range. I also have the benefit (or curse) of having directly dealt with animal rights organizations on many issues including horse issues and state legislation. I agree with all of the points you outline here and would like to… Read more »

lynnard
lynnard
3 years ago

they are hurting our mule deer and they are very hard on the desert here in ut. and nev.

curt
curt
3 years ago

they taste good i say we hunt them for food.

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
3 years ago
Reply to  curt

@curt, What you suggest is part of conservation, and that would be better than eliminating the whole population.

Glenn
Glenn
3 years ago

I bought 2, yearling colts at a BLM auction in 1994 never broke or had a halter on them or had sweet feed. Their rules were you had to keep them for at least a year before you could sell them. I worked with them and gentle broke them after 3 years sold them. The person I sold them to entered one in the county fair and won 1st in bridal class. These are beautiful animals and should not be butchered. If the BLM would have more auctions I’m sure people would buy them. If they could “cut” some of… Read more »

Colonialgirl
Colonialgirl
3 years ago
Reply to  Glenn

Did you even READ and Understand the article and other comments??
There are far far too many of them and there is NOT that high of demand for horses and Donkeys.

Scot
Scot
3 years ago
Reply to  Glenn

Glenn, With due respect, I think the BLM has been doing everything the anti-conservation crowd has wanted them to do with limited success. PZP is temporary and only works on the mares they can catch, gelding is really only an option on younger studs due to lack of follow up vet care, low adoption fees adoption events and so on… These suggestions (demands to be more accurate) simply aren’t working to the extent the ecosystems needs them to; that’s why mustang populations are still doubling every five years and there are fourty-some thousand being fed and cares for in pens… Read more »

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
3 years ago

It is my understanding that the BLM has diminished the American Mustang population by ninety percent, already. One hundred and eighteen thousand horses spread over billions of acres does not seem to be a problem. What do they want to do, reduce the population to zero? Those small spread out herds are the property of the American citizen.

Mike
Mike
3 years ago
Reply to  Wild Bill

Either you or the writer are incorrect, I will go with the writer. If so many animal righters are soooo concerned with the plight of these feral horses, why DONT THEY PONY UP and get off their wallets and pay the 50 some million dollars that TAXPAYERS are now using that should be going to other Blm projects. HSUS has more than that amount sitting in offshore accounts. I just love how these crusaders whine and cry but want someone else to foot the bill for their crusades.

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike

, You are right about footing the bill. My charitable contributions include several Horse and Mustang and burro rescue organizations. Up to the very moment that I read your post, I thought that I had given enough, this year. Your post made me realize that I had not. I am going my desk and write out a few check, this very instant.

Colonialgirl
Colonialgirl
3 years ago
Reply to  Wild Bill

Wild Bill;
Thanks for you complete display of ignorance on the subject, NOT to mention failing to read and comprehend what the article and what Scot had to say.

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
3 years ago
Reply to  Colonialgirl

@Cg, Haven’t seen you post a comment for awhile. Glad that you are still well. I read it all. I have adopted four mustangs from the BLM, and I have eight other rescue horses. I give to many equine rescues and charities, and read their literature. So, I am not entirely ignorant. I am just hold a different opinion than most of the commenters, thus far. Federal agencies have proven untrustworthy, why would the BLM be any different? Hollingsworth has a stake in the outcome, and may have more. Why would you trust him? I am glad that you were… Read more »

Sallie Mae
Sallie Mae
3 years ago

Thank you Mr. Hollingsworth! I am happy to see those with real experience, concern for our arid western rangelands, and true concern for animal welfare speaking up on this issue! No one likes the situation we are in. No one! We absolutely must be proactive in the management of these lands that receive five to fifteen inches of precipitation per year. We don’t have the luxury of 50 inches of rain that will allow these lands to heal like the land in the eastern portion of our Country. I’m recently in receipt of pictures taken this year on the Nevada… Read more »