Editorial: Wild horse overpopulation is dire

Wild horses at puddle. (BLM Nevada pix via E&E News)

We’ve known for years that the wild horse and burro population growth on public land in the West is not sustainable, but little is being done about it.

A recent article in the online E&E News, which touts itself as the essential news source for energy and environment professionals, by Scott Streater paints an eye-opening on-the-ground picture of just how dire the situation is, especially in Nevada.

With a dateline of Eureka County, the piece opens with a glimpse of 100 head of wild horses gathered about a tiny pool of water around which most of the forage has long since been consumed by the sweltering day in July when reporter was given a tour.

“This is just not sustainable,” Ruth Thompson, Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada Wild Horse and Burro Program manager, tells the reporter while looking down into the valley. She explains that the edible grasses have been eaten down to the root, allowing invasive species such as cheatgrass, which is edible only for a brief period in the spring, to takeover and crowd out the native species.

Currently Nevada, according to the BLM, has more than 47,000 wild horses and burros on the range, though it can sustain less than 13,000. Nationally, there are 88,000 wild horses and burros, though the range can sustain less than 27,000. In addition, the BLM warehouses nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros on private pastures and in corrals at a cost of $50 million a year, which consumes most of the $66.7 million budgeted for the management of the wild horses and burros.

Unchecked by roundups or contraceptive measures, the populations of the feral beasts can double in just four years.

As for the cheatgrass supplanting edible forage, the E&E article quotes Dean Bolstad, who retired this past year as division chief of BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, as saying, “And once you get there, you have lost the habitat for wildlife, and they probably can never be restored to a perennial grassland that provides diverse habitat for wildlife and all kinds of other multiple uses that BLM is responsible for.” That affects native wildlife such as mule deer, antelope and greater sage grouse.

Streater goes on to relate that in the past year BLM removed 11,472 horses from federal rangelands, 5,800 of those were rounded up in “emergency gathers” because of a lack of water or forage, but as many as 18,000 foals were born on the range in that year. A BLM official told the reporter that darting the mares with fertility drugs every year is simply not practical.

The number of wild horses and burros adopted each year has fallen to about 2,500 in recent years, though the BLM is now offering $1,000 incentive payments to those who adopt the animals and maintain certain conditions.

The situation on the range is dire for the horses and burros, as well as for native wildlife and cattle and sheep. Our representatives in Congress need to work toward a solution. And, yes, that solution might have to include what was called for in the original 1971 law protecting these animals: “The Secretary (of the 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,” though Congress has denied funding for euthanasia for years.

That would be better than having the animals starve and die of thirst after protracted suffering.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of 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.

43 comments on “Editorial: Wild horse overpopulation is dire

  1. Anonymous says:

    Get the cows off our lands.

    Problem solved.

  2. And the elk and the deer and the sage grouse … still a problem.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yeah but conservatives won’t care so you’ll have more time to focus on other more important things.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lest a thing think I was being false in my characterization of conservative concern about the welfare of…well, pretty much ANYTHING but their own wallet, but especially some dumb animals.

    From today’s headlines:

    “As the national media has reported in recent weeks, since President Trump took office the number of animal welfare citations issued by the USDA has plummeted. These include “critical” or “direct” citations that historically triggered fines or other enforcement actions. Even in the most dire situations, such as at Wilson’s zoo in Virginia, the USDA has stopped initiating seizures to rescue dying animals, leaving it to local law enforcement. By the summer of 2018, the USDA stopped citing Wilson’s altogether.

    Nationwide, actual enforcement of a 53-year-old law has been replaced with “courtesy visits,” “teachable moments,” and “ .” Moreover, the USDA gutted a policy that required licensed operations to comply with American Veterinary Medical Association euthanasia guidelines (which presumably would allow animals to be killed by other means, inclsugin blunt force trauma or gunshot), and no longer mandates that veterinary care plans be signed by an actual veterinarian….

    After scrubbing all animal welfare records from its website two years , the USDA “ ” access with heavy redactions and a crippled, ineffective search engine.

    The Animal Welfare Institute analysis found from January 2016 to June 2019, the USDA removed 97 percent of the names and other identifying information of licensed breeders, including puppy mills, from nearly 10,800 inspections, according to an Animal Welfare Institute analysis. This prevents the public from monitoring problem facilities, where sick puppies spread infectious diseases or potentially dangerous animals pace behind flimsy barriers.”


  5. Rincon says:

    For some reason, we humans ignore the suffering of wild animals, but cannot stand to see the same suffering in animal species that we have domesticated. Long before horses were the bison. They also “starved” and “died of thirst after protracted suffering. The same applies to deer, rabbits, mice, birds, and a host of other animals.

    I also would like to see the horse population problem addressed, but because of human nature, it won’t happen. Too many objections no matter how we try to handle it. The present situation is the worst – spending gobs of money for no foreseeable improvement, so the only workable alternative is to let nature do her thing. If the ranchers want to get rid of them, that’s fine, but since they routinely resent government interference, they shouldn’t be asking for government to fix this for them. Besides, the animal rights people would make the task impossible.

  6. Bill says:

    Too bad that the public does not treat all members of the animal kingdom with some measure of equanimity and compassion as others. In our inner cities, humans are not viewed with the same concern and compassion as house pets and feral horses and burros either starving on the open range or being pensioned on federal pens. In our big urban cities, run mostly by Democrats, homelessness, pestilence and murder are endemic while the politicians preen and preach and somehow or other don’t ever bother to ask the question, “Why?”.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ah yes the “let ’em die on the streets so that we may rid ourselves of the excess population” republicans chime in pretending to “care”.

    Better they didn’t.

  8. Bill says:

    As usual, while Anonymous published a snark rather than a discussion, nothing was advanced, either as to horses or humans. Neither common sense nor common decency are much observed these days.

  9. Anonymous says:

    So Bill posts some “use the plight of people, whose plight I will attribute to democrats, who I’ve never given a damn about my entire life and sure don’t care about now” sword like attack on democrats, then bemoans a response calling him out for his disingenuousness.


  10. Rincon says:

    I agree that the snark is counterproductive, but I also believe that the comment about urban areas being run by Democrats was not well considered. An association does not necessarily imply cause. Police are found at most crime scenes, so does that mean that police cause crime?

    And, although the murder rate is indeed higher in urban areas, the states with the highest murder rates in order are, Louisiana, Missouri, Maryland, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
    Somehow, this list doesn’t suggest that Democratic administrations cause high murder rates.

    “Eighteen of the 19 poorest states have legislatures where both chambers are Republican controlled.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2018/10/21/midterms-poorest-states-have-republican-legislatures/1694273002/
    Shall we blame the Republicans?

    And although the murder rate is once again, higher in cities, death from trauma, including from murder, is much higher in rural areas, 74 deaths vs 50 per 100,000. So, although you’re less likely to be murdered in the sticks, you’re more likely to be killed there. Which is worse?

  11. reziac says:


    I wonder why instead of using so many marginal and ineffective solutions (evident since the herds keep growing) they don’t aggressively geld every colt they can catch, which is a surefire and permanent solution for that horse, and let the resulting attrition wear down the surplus.

  12. That just leaves more mares for the colts they don’t catch. It is the females that need the contraceptive or surgery, but the horse huggers will have none of that.

  13. Bill says:

    Gelding is not a solution. One stallion services the mares within the herd and other stallions are driven off. The real solution is to provide a use via a market for the excess horses that need to be culled off the range. In the old days, mustangers and ranchers harvested the herds with some horses turned into domestic stock and others sold to canneries. Current law prohibits the use of horses for people or animal food.

    We try to manage wildlife populations by controlled harvests. We should do that with horses. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in many countries. Maybe we should try raising horses for food. We probably can’t convice PETA but we cab perhaps sell the idea to OC and the “Greenies” as horses produce less flatulence than cows. We can replace the dairy industry with things like soy and almond milk.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Get the cows off the public teat and ain’t a republican I ever met or heard of that would give a damn about starving or thirsty horses or burros.

    Hard to understand guys on the right supporting this billionaire welfare but here it is.

    You’d think they be more interested in the nominal president conspiring with a foreign government against the American people than worrying about whether some dumb animals miss a meal.

  15. HighflyinBrien says:

    Unfortunately…the other side of the coin, or as Paul Harvey used to opine “the rest of the story” rarely if ever gets told. The new BLM committee making these decisions has NOT allowed ANY input from the Wild Horse Advocate groups from across the western United States. They instead have a Kangaroo Court committee funded by the cattle ranchers and sheep farmers with their hired hand…a “paid” so called Veterinary expert in the pockets of the two aforementioned groups. More slanted half truths and outright BS…we’ll never solve this problem unless all of the interests are represented with a seat at the table!


  16. HighflyinBrien says:

    And notice how the numbers of cattle and sheep grazing on OUR public lands is seldom if ever listed or talked about…I wonder why? The damage that the cows and sheep are doing to the range which is far more destructive and devastating…seldom reaches the papers! There is a real plan…but you’ve probably never heard about it.



  17. HighflyinBrien says:

    Another perspective…exploring the interconnected issues of wild horses and wildfires in the American west and the fabrications of the BLM:

  18. Bill says:

    There probably won’t ever be a solution satisfactory to all sides.

    First of all. The present horse and burro problem was caused entirely by our government. Prior to 1971There used to be fairly efficient management of horses and burro herds on public lands by utilizing free enterprise market forces. Prior to 1971, horses and burros could be captured and freely sold, largely without restriction on the open market without restriction. Thus, prior to 1971, there was an incentive for maintaining and harvesting the herds as a resource. My first horse was a Nevada mustang.

    In 1971, feral horses and burros were still, theoretically a manageable problem but once restrictions were placed on the sale or disposition of those animals the present mess was inevitable. The original 1971 Act called for unadoptable animals to be sold or humanely destroyed. Congress has screwed that up for the past decade. Now feral hoses and burros constitute a ‘protected’ class of animals with more rights than a most domestic animals or some people.

    Since 1971, The great minds in government have tried many solutions. None have worked including Planned Parenthood Approaches of birth control for mares or as Reziac suggested, castrating the studs. In the era of the ‘ME TOO’ movement, I am surprised that this solution has not garnered more support.

    The present system benefits no one except perhaps the army of trial lawyers who are kept busy bringing lawsuits and restraining orders on behalf of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other special interest groups.

    If they knew who to thank, the mountain lions would probably express their gratitude for the ever increasing food supply provided for them by our government.

    As far as the BLM is concerned, it is largely consists of civil service bureaucrats who act like privileged wardens instead of stewards over the 16 million acres of public lands held by the Federal Government in the State of Nevada. Remember, it was the BLM that exacerbated the Bundy situation and also the ones that demanded air conditioning and ice cream as a condition precedent to permitting the Burning Man Celebration.

    Before the 1971 legislation there was no real problem of over population of feral horses and burros on public lands. In fact the reverse was probably true. Declining herds was one of the rationales advanced for passing the Act. That problem could have been easily solved by a quota system on the numbers and category of what animals could be harvested. Nevertheless, the Congress screwed up the working system and although filled with good intentions, Congress once again failed to examine the unintended consequences and created a bigger problem. .

    BLM is required by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to remove the excess 40,312 wild horses and burros in order to protect native wildlife and other rangeland resources. But the agency is already holding more than 46,000 horses and burros in off-range corrals and pastures, and it does not have the resources to round up and hold all the excess animals. The BLM estimates that the cost to taxpayers in the coming decade will be one billion dollars.

    A friend is fond of quoting H. L. Mencken. At least one of Mencken’s quotes seem applicable here.

    “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.”

  19. Anonymous says:

    More nonsensical mumbo jumbo straight from the horses mouth.

    “Prior to 1971There used to be fairly efficient management of horses and burro herds on public lands by utilizing free enterprise market…”

    So to a far right wing lunatic, the theft and slaughter of property that didn’t belong to them, constituted an efficient free market enterprise.

    Is it any wonder the country, “our beloved republic” is in danger of collapse today when THIS is an accepted viewpoint?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Us. Jointly.

  21. Then why aren’t you taking care of your proper and keeping it from starving?

  22. Anonymous says:

    Ranchers steal and kill our property and you blame the victims?


  23. Ranchers lease the grazing land from the “people.”

  24. Anonymous says:

    The leases don’t give them rights to kill the horses. So what’s your point?

  25. Anonymous says:

    who says they are killing horses?

  26. damn. even i have to sign in now.

  27. Steve says:

    It’s a hard to get into the habit.

  28. Anonymous says:

    You’re denying that ranchers kill wild horses?

  29. Anonymous says:

    We’ll sir I suppose in trump world anyone gets to say anything.

  30. Bill says:

    Thomas, you are making laudatory efforts but it appears that it is not possible to reason with some one who ignores facts or simply makes them up and whose responses consist of ad hominem attacks and name calling. .

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    When I was in the 3rd Grade, there was one particular student who was always mad and couldn’t coherently discuss anything without resorting to name calling or simply making things up and talking loudly. No…it can’t be. That would be too much of a coincidence.

  31. Anonymous says:


    Its a shame that the board is being polluted by a guy that is fantasizing about life in the third grade because this is a serious issue.

    The horses on public lands belong to all of us and whatever the fantasies of a guy who may or may not have gone out onto those lands to shoot those horses might be, the bottom line is that anyone who cares about property should know that shooting someone else’s property is illegal and we as good Americans should not have to tolerate it.

  32. HighflyinBrien says:

    In order to find a lasting solution to this ongoing governmental mismanagement FUBAR, all parties need to have a seat at the table…and all will have to bite the bullet and make some concessions. The fact that Madeleine Pickens stepped up to the plate to try to remedy a part of this mess, spending millions of her own dollars, and was stopped at every turn by government entities – federal state and local, with ridiculous regulatory demands, illustrates one side (the cattle ranchers, the sheep farmers, the cactus huggers, and their paid government emissaries) have stacked the deck. If this continues as the status quo – the divisions will simply grow deeper and no satisfactory solution will be found…



  33. Bill says:

    The last response by Anonymous provides a good illustration of what I was talking about. Once again, the response can be described by Act 5, Scene 5, MacBeth.

    It has been illegal since1971 to kill or capture ‘wild’ horses and burros. In Nevada, killing one is a Class C felony. There are occasional reports of horse deaths but there is no evidence that ranchers or any other identifiable group are engaged In purposeful horse killing or slaughter.

    One solution for the excess horses is consumption as food. Federal Law does not prohibit consumption of horse meat but does prohibit slaughter of horses thereby de facto prohibiting human or animal consumption.

    One fact is certain. Like so many other government programs, the system concerning feral horses and burros is broken.

    Ca’t help noting that it is a felony to kill human beings, yet there were 539 homicides in the City of Chicago last year. Perhaps the millions of dollars spent on housing and care for the ever growing captured horse population could be better spent on solving the problems that plague Chicago and other major Cities.

  34. Anonymous says:

    “There are occasional reports of horse deaths but there is no evidence that ranchers or any other identifiable group are engaged In purposeful horse killing or slaughter.”

    No evidence?

    This is exactly the reason why I get made at people like Bill. The reason you don’t see any evidence Bill is because you’re not looking for evidence. But you go on living in your third grade fantasy world where ranchers want nothing more than to live lives of quiet enjoyment alongside their equine friends.

    Feds Gear Up to Sell California Wild Horses for Slaughter

    Alturas, CA (October 3, 2018) . . .The American Wild Horse Campaign is calling foul on a plan by the U.S. Forest Service to round up 1,000 federally-protected wild horses from the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest and sell hundreds of the captured horses into the slaughter pipeline.

    The roundup is scheduled to start on October 9. For years, Congress has banned the sale of federally-protected wild horses and burros for commercial slaughter, but the Forest Service is exploiting a legal loophole to sell an estimated 300 wild horses “without restriction,” allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone. The kill buyers will then ship the horses to Canada, where they will be sold to slaughter plants to produce horsemeat for foreign consumption.”


    Let me ask you this Bill: does this count as the “any identifiable group being involved in the purposeful killing or slaughter of wild horses?

    Just as a start mind you. Let’s hear you admit this first, then we can move on to the other just nonsensical crapola you spewed out here.

    Then, while your trying to spin this into something tell me about this:

    “Wild horses, long an inspiring symbol of the American West, are under attack and about to be dragged away by a group of ranchers in Utah.

    Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson ruled that a case brought by the ranchers seeking to eliminate around 1,350 protected wild mustangs, which they claim have become a nuisance, can go forward.

    They allege that the Bureau of Land Management, who is responsible for the land and native horse herds in question, haven’t properly kept the population under control.

    The ranchers claim that this overpopulation has led to reduced grazing for their livestock in the area around Cedar City, which is located in the southern part of the state and is home to a large portion of the state’s wild horse herds. The catch, however, is that the land they’re describing as being overrun isn’t exactly their own property—it’s public land, which they lease at a taxpayer subsidized discount of 1/12th the market rate to graze their private livestock on.”

    So this was tough right? Finding two stories about the efforts and ranchers and their allies to purposefully kill and or slaughter wild horses. And it took me all of one keyword search to find these two (there are literally MILLIONS of others) all saying what everyone who not taking out of a horses ass knows; ranchers kill horses, and purposefully, and have for decades because that is what ranchers do.

    You guys man.

  35. Steve says:

    Well look at that, Patrick (anonymous) insists it’s ranchers killing horses….then proves it by calling out the federal government for doing what the US Congress has ordered it to do.

    Patrick is exactly what Bill claim it to be. A whiny little, word twisting, sham plea.

  36. Bill says:

    You are right Steve. Anonymous/Patrick insists it is Ranchers killing the horses and then cites his proof the actions of the BLM. Pointless to try and respond to sound and fury, signifying nothing except class hatred and faulty logic.

    Discussing just about any animal evokes emotions that reason cannot persuade.

    Meantime, the herds on the public lands and the useless animals held in captivity will keep growing in numbers unless something is done. It is my understanding that the Advisory Board recommended disposal of 44,000 captive horses but the BLM did not follow through with the recommended policy.

    To conitinue on or present course is neither a service to the animals nor to the taxpayers.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Let’s try this one more time remembering always that, in the age of trump, people on the right just say stuff that they either don’t remember saying, or when they’re reminded of it, they decry it as fake news or some other such nonsense.

    Here’s what YOU said Bill (and just so as to assist you to remember the important part, I’ll pare it down and eliminate the parts that might be confusing you:

    “There are occasional reports of horse deaths but there is no evidence that …any other identifiable group are engaged In purposeful horse killing or slaughter.”

    See Bill, those are your words. And naturally I then posted just two articles both of which relate to identifiable groups (one was the US Forest Service, and one was a group of ranchers) and both of those identifiable groups are purposefully acting with the intention to kill and or slaughter wild horses.

    It’s pretty simple right, even a third grader would understand. Fantasize about being that intelligent Bill.

  38. Bill says:

    Thank you Anon/Patrick. You keep reinforcing my arguments.

    Where are the acts to support your assertion that the Ranchers were/are killing horses? The articles that you cited provide no facts to support your contention and in fact contradict you as Steve has pointed out.

    As for my I.Q., I’m not sure what it is now but at one time it measured pretty high. In any event, I am not going to get into a comparison of I.Q.s. Engaging in any comparisons of personal attributes is reminiscent of a juvenile schoolyard taunt. I haven’t seen it employed by adults and I think the last time I heard someone do it, it was in the 9th grade.

    The only thing that is accomplished by them is that they reveal a great deal about the person who resorts to them.

  39. HighflyinBrien says:

    Oh, and let’s not forget about what the mining interests are doing to the land…


  40. HighflyinBrien says:

    And this one regarding how wild burros actually benefit native species in Death Valley…


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