On April 27, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its long-awaited report on a comprehensive plan to address the overpopulation of wild horses and burros on federal lands.
This report was initially required in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill and once again requested in the FY 2018 appropriations bill passed in March. The report outlines four potential options to address the problems, all of which would require some level of action by Congress.
When the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was originally passed in 1971, it was meant to
allow federal agencies like BLM to responsibly manage wild herds in ways that ensured “a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship.” BLM established herd management areas (HMAs) and appropriate management levels (AMLs) for the number of horses and burros that could be supported on the native healthy range. Unfortunately, keeping herd populations to the prescribed AMLs has not occurred.
According to BLM’s report, “The national appropriate management level for wild horses and burros is a total of 26,715 animals across 10 western states. At the end of 2017, the BLM determined these public lands were home to nearly 83,000 wild horses and burros, more than three times the national AML.”
This problem occurred due to a variety of reasons, which range from a lack of oversight by Congress to congressional actions which restrict legal management options that the underlying law gives to BLM. Regardless of the problem’s source, we must address the issue at hand. The overpopulation of wild horses and burros leads to the deterioration of rangeland. Overpopulation hurts native wildlife and leads to increasing desertification. It causes food and water resources to diminish, causing these animals to suffer and ultimately die of starvation and dehydration. This issue is not going away, and the problem is only getting worse.
NACD supports utilizing all measures allowed by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which includes humanely euthanize animals that have been unsuccessfully tried for adoption more than three times. Due to opposition to this method from animal rights’ groups, BLM’s report to Congress provides multiple options that do not utilize humane euthanasia. BLM noted that “regardless of which option is chosen, 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.”
NACD is an active participant in the National Wild Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition and together, with other members of the coalition, we are closely reviewing the four options presented in the report. We must analyze the options to determine whether they realistically have the capacity to achieve AML in the timeline presented. Ensuring healthy horses on healthy rangelands is a priority for NACD, and we are hopeful this report will begin the process of truly addressing this problem.
We encourage you to read the report, which includes in-depth background of the issue and factors that were taken into consideration when determining the likelihood for success with each presented option.