The Bureau of Land Management sent to Congress late this past week a report outlining four options for reducing the wild horse and burro population in 10 Western states to sustainable levels.
Only one of the four options includes the use of euthanasia, but that was enough to give the self-styled wild horse lovers palpitations.
“The BLM today released a roadmap for destruction of America’s wild free-roaming horse and burros by virtually eradicating their populations on our Western public lands,” Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, fired off in a press release. “The agency has failed to deliver the ‘humane and politically viable’ options requested by Congress, and instead has devised an irresponsible plan that is counter to public opinion …”
The BLM report noted that there now are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that it says can adequately sustain no more than 26,715 such animals. In addition there are another 46,000 unadopted animals being warehoused in pens and holding pastures. The cost of maintaining those no-longer wild horses and burros drains 60 percent of the agency’s current $81 million annual budget for handling the animals.
Though the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act called for unadoptable animals to be sold without restriction or humanely destroyed, Congress for the past decade has used budget riders to prohibit that.
“Wild horses and burros have no natural predators and herds can double in size every 4 years,” the BLM report to Congress states. “As herd sizes increase, the forage and water resources from the land become depleted, resulting in starvation, dehydration, and death. In their search for food and water, the animals often move onto private land or along highways resulting in safety issues and habitat destruction for horses and humans alike. Public-land ranchers have cut back on grazing to accommodate increasing numbers of wild horses and burros.”
The report noted that overpopulation of these non-native animals is degrading the ecosystem and crowding out native greater sage grouse, pronghorn, deer, elk and bighorn sheep.
Three of the four options outlined by the BLM largely would require extensive use of fertility drugs and surgical sterilization. All at considerable cost to the taxpayers.
One of those options is estimated to cost $116 million in the next budget year, increasing to $246 million by the 2027 budget, after which cost would be expected to slowly decrease.
Another option is expected to cost $133 million a year, increasing to $147 million by 2023.
Still another would cost $135 million in next year and increase to $143 million in 2023.
Two of the options would offer monetary incentives of up to $1,000 to those who adopt these animals.
Of course, the cheapest option is the one that includes euthanasia, as well as fertility control, sterilization and adoptions. It would cost $115 million a year through 2021, dropping each year thereafter. Once a sustainable population is reached in eight years, the cost would drop to $65 million a year.
At a September 2016 meeting in Elko the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board — which consists of veterinarians, natural resource organizations, humane advocacy groups, wildlife associations, livestock organizations and others — recommended the BLM sell without restrictions on eventual use of the animals all the wild horses and burros being warehoused. Any unsold animals would then be humanely destroyed.
The BLM in its report to Congress did not suggest which of the listed options it favored. But Congress should, for a change, consider the expense to the taxpayers instead of attempting to mollify the hysterical horse-hugger groups who claim the BLM is calling for the “mass killing or sale for slaughter of 100,000 mustangs and burros, including those currently in holding facilities and those who would be removed from the range.”
The BLM report naively concludes, “In each of the four options addressed above, the BLM will need the help of all stakeholders – Congress, livestock operators, state and local governments, and public interest organizations – to solve the wild horse and burro overpopulation challenge. The BLM looks forward to working with Congress and other interested parties on common sense solutions and will continue to pursue collaboration where possible. We request that Congress examine each of the options and advise on which of the tools it deems most suitable for addressing this urgent challenge.”
Common sense solutions? Collaboration? Don’t count on it.
A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.