Twenty Republican members of Congress, including Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, sent a letter earlier this month to Neil Kornze, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, asking him to provide suggestions for how to rein in the exploding wild horse population in the West, which is damaging water resources, overgrazing the range and jeopardizing their own health, as well as that of other wildlife and the livelihoods of ranchers.
The letter notes that almost half of the 100,000 horses under BLM management are located in holding facilities at a cost of $50,000 over the lifetime of each captive horse and that adoptions of wild horses have fallen 70 percent in the past decade. Currently more than 60 percent of the BLM’s $70 million annual budget for managing wild horses and burros is consumed by warehousing the animals.
When Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 there were about 25,000 wild horses and burros on the range, but since then the number of animals on public lands has more than doubled to 58,150 — 9,000 of those were born in the past year alone. Half of these free roaming feral horses are in Nevada.
“We believe it is clear that the current management strategy of wild horses and burros has proven ineffective,” the letter says. “Wildfire, drought, and invasive species exacerbate poor range conditions caused by overstocked HMAs (herd management areas). Across 10 western states where the BLM manages wild horses and burros, every state exceeds AML (appropriate management level). In some cases, like Arizona, there are HMAs that surpass the agency-determined AML by more than 9 times the allowable herd size. We understand long-term fertility control methods take time to develop, and once implemented will maintain horse populations at more appropriate levels. In the interim, however, steps must be taken to decrease herd sizes to allow rangeland recovery and effective management of future populations.”
The letter does not pretend to lay the entire blame for the current situation on the managers of the BLM, and asks guilelessly what congressional action could be taken to give the agency the flexibility it needs to accomplish herd management.
The letter discusses fertilization suppression efforts at length.
In fact, this past summer the BLM announced it would initiate 21 research projects with a goal of maintaining a sustainable population of wild horses and burros at a cost of $11 million. The BLM says it plans to spend that money on university and U.S. Geological Survey scientists, primarily to develop longer lasting fertility-control vaccines, as well as efficient methods for spaying and neutering wild horses.
That could be the long-term solution, but the four-page congressional letter hints at one point at what is really the best and cheapest short-term solution, asking rhetorically whether “humane euthanasia” might be among the population control methods.
That 1971 wild horse law specifically states, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”
But budgets since 2009 has stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”
Of course, any hint at the necessity to slaughter these beautiful — though too often emaciated and crippled due to overgrazing and brutal combat between the studs for the mares healthy enough to breed — animals results in apoplectic outrage and threats of litigation from self-styled, but wrongheaded animal lovers.
But that is the only workable solution that will allow contraceptive efforts to work in the long- run.
A version of this editorial appears this past week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.