What to do with 44,000 wild horses


The Bureau of Land Management is under fire again, this time for something it hasn’t even done.  An advisory group suggested that the Bureau euthanize or sell without restrictions the 45,000 or so  “unadoptable” horses and burros that the BLM is holding in off-range corrals and pastures.  The suggestion touched a nerve with wild horse advocates.

Since 1971, the BLM has adopted out more than 235,000 wild horses and burros. The agency screens adopters to insure the animals are going to a caring home, not to be sold off for meat or exploitation.   But older horses seldom find a home and now the BLM has 44,000 unadoptable horses and 1000 burros in pens around the west.  What to do with all these animals?

The bureau spent $49 million a year caring for off-range animals, which is two-thirds of its wild horse and burro budget. Keeping the wild horses in captivity is costly – so the Advisory Board says they should be sold to the highest bidder, without regard to what will happen to them afterwards, or euthanized.

The recommendation  was made earlier this month at a Board meeting, and it touched off a firestorm of criticism and anger from wild horse advocates and the animal rights groups.  These people have been very critical of the BLM’s efforts.

The BLM employs round-up and removal as the primary management strategy for wild horse and burros – and it appears this has caused the Wild Horse and Burro population to spin out of control.  By focusing massive efforts on removing horses and burros from the range, the holding facilities have become overburdened.

But the range populations are actually increasing.  Removing animals from the range means that the animals left behind are not affected by density-dependent population processes. so the problems such as a lack of water or forage are not there, and this allows horse and burro populations to grow at an annual rate of as much as 15-20 percent.

The BLM has rejected the Advisory Board’s recommendation, and says it is committed to seeking new and better tools for managing the nation’s herds of wild horses.  With about 70,000 wild horses still running on the free ranges of the west, it is a problem that won’t go away soon.

Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.

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