On August 22-24, SCI Litigation Counsel Doug Burdin attended an invitation-only summit on the continuing crisis involving the management of wild horses and burros (referred to below as “horses”) on federal lands in the West. The crisis will affect anyone who hunts, recreates on, or otherwise uses, federal lands containing wild horses or nearby areas. The problem is that wild horse populations grow at alarming rates and the federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lack the resources and funds to appropriately manage the animals. For example, the BLM has set the “appropriate management level” (AML) at 27,000 for the wild horses living on about 180 “herd management areas.” Currently, those lands likely hold over 75,000 horses.
Lacking significant natural predators, horse populations grow 15-20% per year. Historically, the BLM has tried to limit population growth on the range by gathering wild horses and either adopting them out or placing them in long-term pastures in the Midwest. But with adoption demand dropping and approximately 47,000 wild horses already living in short-term and long-term storage (at a cost of about $50,000,000/year), BLM lacks the funds and resources to keep up with the growing herds.
Free-roaming horses damage landscapes by trampling vegetation, hard-packing the soil, and over-grazing. Areas inhabited by wild horses tend to have fewer plant species, less plant cover, and more invasive plants. Excessive numbers of horses also affects native wildlife, including games species, by exhibiting aggressive behavior near watering holes and grazing sites, and degrading the range.
The dominant message at the recent Wild Horse and Burro Summit was that the West is experiencing a crisis that is only going to get worse without immediate action. Congress needs to reinstate the management methods provided for in the Wild Horses Act, including humane euthanasia, which Congress has forbidden in appropriation riders over the past 20 years. SCI will be monitoring upcoming legislation that addresses the wild horse crisis and will keep you informed. For more information on this issue, check out the website of the National Wild Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, of which SCI is a member. http://www.wildhorserange.org/