No solution for wild horse overpopulation in budget

The wild horse can has been kicked down the road yet again.

Congress could not possibly find a way in its 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion budget that President Trump signed a couple of weeks ago to do anything whatsoever about the overpopulation of wild horses.

The Interior Department’s FY2019 budget at one time included this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Among those tools could have been the humane slaughter of sick and unadoptable wild horses and burros that are starving on the overgrazed range in the West. That was the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but every federal budget since 2009 has prohibited this commonsense approach.

So we are stuck with spending $50 million a year to warehouse 46,000 “wild” horses in pens and pastures, while 73,000 roam free on grazing land that can sustain only 27,000 animals. The main population reduction method left for the federal land agencies is adoption. According to The Washington Post only 3,500 wild horses were adopted in 2017.

“We are thrilled that Congress has rejected this sick horse slaughter plan,” the Post quoted Marilyn Kroplick, president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, as saying in a statement that claimed horse lovers had “jammed Congressional phone lines with calls and sent tens of thousands of emails” to make their case.

On the other hand, in the real world, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in an op-ed in The New York Times in December, cited an example of the conditions on the ground, noting that in 2015 the Bureau of Land Management sent agents into the desert outside Las Vegas to round up about 200 wild horses that were reported to be starving to death.

“Bureau employees discovered nearly 500 horses,” Stewart wrote. “They had pounded their range to powder; the desert grasses that remained had been eaten to the nubs. Nearly 30 were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized, and many others were on the brink of death.”

The BLM had determined that the 100,000-acre expanse where these horses were grazing produced only enough grasses and water to sustain 70 horses, the congressman concluded.

Stewart advocated euthanizing excess horses. “I understand that some will recoil from this approach. But anyone who really cares about these majestic animals must understand that other efforts have failed to curb their exploding population and that culling these herds to numbers the land can sustain is the best way to prevent further suffering and death,” he concluded.

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 feral horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, still starving and dying of thirst and crowding out other species and competing with cattle and sheep for forage.

The BLM canceled a meeting of its National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board scheduled for late March in Salt Lake City when a member objected to using a 15-day public notice for “urgent matters,” instead of the customary 30 days. The terms of three board members expired on March 31. Another meeting will be scheduled once new members are seated.

That may be a futile gesture. At a 2016 meeting in Elko the advisory panel recommended “offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed unadoptable, for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia.” The recommendation was ignored.

Meanwhile, nothing is being done to the relieve the suffering of feral horses. — TM


  1. Marybeth Devlin says:

    Arbitrary management level (AML): The maximum number of wild horses that BLM declares the Western range can support — 26,715 — is a political construct. It restricts the stocking-density to 1 wild horse per 1,182 acres — nearly 2 square miles!

    Austere management level (AML): However, BLM manages the herds down to the minimum AML — 16,310 — which equates to a stocking-density of 1 wild horse per 1,936 acres — 3 square miles!

    Contrast with livestock-density: For the typical 6-month livestock-grazing season, BLM apparently believes the range can support a stocking-density of 1 cow-with-her-calf — or 5 ewes-with-their-lambs (usually, twin-lambs) — per 76 acres. That equates to 8 cows and 8 calves — or 40 ewes and 80 lambs — per 1 square mile. Same range, much-higher density.

    Phony off-range figures: A comprehensive report was recently issued following a 5-year investigation by Wild Horse Freedom Federation. It revealed that BLM has been publishing fictitious figures regarding the number of wild horses removed from the range and now supposedly boarded in private pastures. The discrepancy approaches 50%. BLM is paying, but where are the horses?

    Overpopulation is a false flag: On the range, wild horses are few and far between. Off the range, half of them are missing.

    • Vickie Underwood says:

      Time and time again, since the inception of The Wikd Horse Annie Free roaming Horse and Burro protection act, BLM’S population counts have been prov3n false. Their continued false information based on lies and deceitful practices are shameful. They vastly increase the numbers out thereand exaggerate damage to grazeable land by Wild Horses and Burros every report tgey release. They are bound and determined to erradicate all the animals they have been sworn to protect. Politics and money. That’s BLM’S creado. They need to be replaced by horse people and ecology experts. Not politicians.

  2. Theresa Luchsinger says:

    What are you talking about??!! Too many cattle inhabit our Nations Public Lands, the bogus Wild Horse population figures and that the horses and burros are starving is a lie. America knows it and why don’t you? are you being paid to publish these inaccuracies? where is your proof of these statements you make? No Wild Horses are suffering at least not from starvation! they are suffering because of people like you captured in holding pens and people like you writing editorials like this to sway the public vote on Wild Horses and reducing their numbers for cattle ranching; of which use up all of the resources and destroy our Public Lands. Get real, and be truthful please!

  3. Barbara Schatt says:

    I disagree. However, the BLM has already paid more than $2,000,000.00 to remove wild horses from the range.
    Horses crop their feed, cattle tear it out of the ground, which leaves less behind. Horses graze, cattle stay in one place unless forcefully moved. Who spreads manure farther and wider.
    Horses don’t poop where they drink, but cattle do!
    Any additional cattle will be sold to China, the cost will go up with tariffs, the BLM already reduced the cost per AMU to less than $1.50 per season. Don’t you think we, the citizens deserve at least the cost of one pound of beef at the supermarket of $7.99 for ordinary beef to $18.99 for organic beef.
    The BLM refuses to work with local advocates to control the population with native PZP and adoptions, instead they choose to pay $1,000.00 per head to remove them and they use so little native PZP that you couldn’t find it in a quart canning jar.
    So, yes I disagree. I don’t need Turner, Koch, Lucas and the rest getting richer off my land!!!

  4. Jen Howe says:

    Perhaps if the horses hadn’t lost nearly half their designated land and weren’t outnumbered by millions of sheep and cattle, no one would be “stuck” paying for their care in holding. As it is, we taxpayers are “stuck” paying $1 billion a year in subsidies to welfare ranchers and are having our public lands destroyed by their livestock. I’m skeptical about any information Chris Stewart passes along after I read the formal ethics complaint filed against him and in 20 years of following wild horses have never seen a starving one myself.

  5. Sioux Sarlis says:

    You’ve been fooled to believe the lies Thomas Mitchell. You’ve listened to congressman Stewart! It’s the cattle that have ruined the land. It’s the cattle and mining interests that use the native wild horses (not feral) as a scapegoat. The reason the budget wasn’t passed to shoot the horses was because the majority know the truth. The truth is there IS NO OVER POPULATION OF WILD HORSES. The truth is the horses out there are doing very well. Try going to a stampede yourself and see the real truth. Don’t just listen to crooked politicians….get out on to the Range and see for yourself.

  6. Alynn Dalton says:

    You lost me at feral. There is a whole grey area of possibilities, ideas and solutions that have not been explored to aid and adhere with the established protections of the great American Wild Horse. First let’s apply some science, get a true count, not a fancy helicopter ride guess, but a true boots on the ground, scientific data gather of every HMA’s real Wild Horse population, then let’s go from there. Quit fencing off outlying water sources which drive the horses into roads and public spaces, creating a management of perception, a proven political construct. I could go on. The BLM needs to work with the advocates to come up with real management solutions, not keep them out of the process. The horses are being managed into extinction with the willy-nilly roundups limiting genetic diversity. Slaughtering these majestic icons is NOT in the spirit of the 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act which was enacted for good reason — to protect the Wild Horses by applying altruistic management.

  7. In the 1950s, Velma Johnston, later known as Wild Horse Annie, witnessed a variety of unnecessarily cruel mustang-gathering techniques and dedicated the rest of her life to the protection of her “wild ones.” Her dedication culminated in the passing of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act that President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1971. The law states that “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.”

  8. Barbara Warner says:

    There is no over-population of wild horses. BLM over-estimates their numbers and allows millions of cattle and sheep to over-graze our public lands. Wild horses are symbiotic to ecosystems , and DNA tests have proven them to be a native species.
    The 22 million acres taken from or wild horses need to be returned and those in holding returned to their legal HMA’s. Remove the millions of cattle and sheep that are being subsidized with taxpayers money.
    Tell the truth instead of printing BLM proganda.

  9. Elizabeth Pandolfelli says:

    With bogus terms such as overpopulation, explosive/ unsustainable numbers by year 2020 and range destruction, I cannot help but scream from my insides! Wild Horses are being managed into extinction , it’s been the plan all along and now we’re down to the wire to save the last American Wild Mustangs from being completely eradicated from their rightful lands. Land is Real Estate and Public Land falls right into the category of earnings and profitability. Ranching, Energy, Mining, Fracking, all profitable sustainability while Wild Horses are considered a nuisance. The livelihood of our American Wild Horses lies in the hands of political pressure and greed. The blatant lies and propaganda spread thruout decades without a shred of scientific data, actual boots on the ground herd counts or record keeping is criminal. Legislation in terms of protecting these American Icons as per the WFRHBA is self serving and NOT consistent with public outcry. Taxpayers want and demand accountability !!!

  10. Janelle Ghiorso says:

    Just another deceptive article using the lies of Rep. Chris Stewart. The 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act was put in place precisely because of people like Chris Stewart. A cattleman who has only one agenda, which is to graze cattle and sheep for cheap on public lands. Too greedy to share with wild horses and burros.

    The constant lies about starvation and overpopulation being respun over and over again are coming mostly from the self interested cattlemen. I bet the author of this article is one of them too. If there is an overpopulation or starvation problem, why don’t the people who are out there actually out there not seeing it? Why are cattle and sheep allowed to graze?

    There is no concern about lack of forage or the survival of the wild horses and burros. If they really care, they’d remove the cattle and sheep. But the real motive is to leave the cattle and sheep on our public lands and dispose of our iconic and cherished symbols of freedom and the spirit of the American West.

    They can push the lies all they want, but the American people value the wild horses and burros and will not allow the return of the conditions which motivated Wildhorse Annie to fight for them in the first place.

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