In 1971 Congress designated about 17% of federal range land to be managed “primarily for the benefit of wild horses and burros.” Despite that directive, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has allowed private livestock leases on those ranges, outnumbering wild hoses and burros by as much as 9 to 1.
Until now, at the behest of leasing ranchers, the BLM has had a program of inhumane helicopter roundups of excess wild horses and burros (numbers that might infringe on forage for the private livestock) and placing them in long term holding pens with hopes of adoptions by private citizens.
But adoptions never came close to the number of captured horses and burros so the number of animals in holding pens has grown to over 45,000 and growing with no end in sight.
In response to this growing problem the BLM commissioned the National Academy of Science to develop a management plan for wild horses and burros.
In 2013 the Academy published “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward.”
It proposed managing the wild horse and burro population on the range with the use of a darted contraceptive PZP vaccine on mares. Thus ending the costly and inhumane helicopter roundups and stockpiling of horse and burros.
However, the BLM never seriously followed the Academy’s recommendation and the problem continued to grow.
Now, the Trump Administration budget calls for the end of the prohibition of slaughtering wild horses and burros and “destroying” the 45,000-plus healthy horses and burros in holding pens, and up to 40,000 healthy animals on the range.
Our Congressman Tom McClintock, who is on both the Budget and Natural Resources committees, has spearheaded the proposal, claiming that the wild horses and burros are starving to death when in reality almost every animal that has been captured in the BLM helicopter roundups would be graded as good to excellent (a score of four to six) on the Henneke condition score system for horses.
The truth is that the wild horses and burros are competing successfully for forage against the private livestock that outnumber them on the federal ranges, that were designated by Congress to be managed primarily for their benefit and are not yet overpopulated.
Since their natural predators (mountain lions, wolves and grizzly bears) have been systematically eliminated from their range, we do need to regulate their population in the most humane way possible.
It would take only 5 to 10 million federal dollars to implement a public/private partnership following the guidelines set forth by the National Academy of Science. Far less than the current cost of helicopter roundups and stockpiling of our iconic mustangs and burros.
Joseph H. White resides in Cool, California, Congressional District 4.