The Historical Impact of Rangeland Management

By NACD Intern Lacey Fiedler

Range management practices have existed for centuries to help sustain proper habitats for plants and wildlife. Conservation districts have worked throughout the decades to improve range management in their communities, especially by assisting with controlling wild horse and burro populations on public lands.

Overpopulation of horses and burros leads to over-competition for resources such as water, habitat and food, which can cause death and destruction of native plants and animals. Wild horses and burro populations must be properly managed to prevent degradation of rangeland resources.

The Nevada Association of Conservation Districts recently contributed to a mini-documentary by Fin and Fur called “Horse Rich, Dirt Poor,” which showcases that the wild horse and burro populations in the region have exceeded the national Appropriate Management Level (AML). There are currently 81,000 horses on the land, which is three times the AML of 26,715, and this will continue to increase if the lack of range management continues.

This overpopulation has caused massive degradation on public lands in the West. Poor range management has caused the meadows to be trampled to bare soil by the wild horses and has negatively impacted the habitat for other wildlife.

An article called “Reinterpreting the 1882 Bison Population Collapse” examines what may have caused the near-extinction of bison in America in the 19th century. The article’s author, Sierra Holt, analyzes multiple reasons why bison may have gone nearly extinct and identifies a lack of good range management practices as a large contributing factor. When settlers began to move West, they began over-killing bison, leading to fewer grazing animals on the land.

In the article, Holt also examines the “Leave-It-Alone approach,” where any range management practices are unnatural and therefore bad for the land. Holt talks about how good range management is critical to the health of rangelands, but that only occurs if there are good range managers. The article ultimately concludes that the “Leave-It-Alone approach” shows the tragedies that a lack of understanding, studying and interacting with range management can cause. This approach can cause the same problems we are seeing with the wild horse and burro problem: overgrazing, overpopulation, the spread of disease, and the deterioration of land.

This approach is detrimental when looking at the ever-growing wild horse and burro problem in the West. If we continue to lack appropriate management of wild horses and burros, they will continue to destroy public lands. NACD has existing policies on wild horse and burro management, all emphasizing the importance of removing excess animals from the land to restore the ecological health of rangelands.

Conservation districts are standing by and are readily available to do their part in lowering the wild horse and burro population to AML, but until this problem is resolved, the health of our lands will continue to deteriorate more every year.

NACD is a member of the National Wild Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. Learn more about America’s wild horses and burros at

Tags: rangeland, burro, wild horse

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