Tall order is putting it mildly. In a recent article in the Elko Daily Free Press the issues surrounding the management of wild horses and burros on western lands is succinctly addressed. The topic is “brimming with emotion on all sides” write the editors. I even fielded a call from my own mother (residing in the midwest at the time) after she saw an emotionally charged “documentary” about how wild horses are mistreated here in the west.
The horse evokes a strong emotion for many Americans, myself included. I’ve posted about my own horses and how they do, indeed, represent a noble disposition which I think we all appreciate. The cold hard fact, however, is that the arid landscapes of the west only produce a certain amount of forage, and that forage provides a food base for many animals, horses being only one. When the number of animals on any given piece of land exceeds the carrying capacity, EVERYTHING suffers- including the land itself which, in our arid environment can take decades to recover- if it ever recovers.
The numbers are clear. The population of wild horses and burros exceeds the BLM’s Appropriate Management Level (AML) by about 150%. In other words, there are two and a half times more wild horses and burros on public land than the BLM says that land can handle and not be damaged.
In Wyoming, the BLM has calculated the wild horse ranges can remain healthy and sustain 3725 wild horses. Six thousand and thirty-five horses are on the range. We have a problem, and we haven’t even addressed the 45,000 wild horses and burros contained in tax payer funded holding facilities across the west. It’s estimated it costs approximately $50,000 to support a wild horse in a holding facility over its lifetime.1
Controlling wild horse reproduction (horse birth control) was hoped to provide a solution, but according to the BLM, the “National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that no highly effective, easily delivered, and affordable fertility-control methods [are] currently available to manage wild horse and burro population growth.”
Efforts to adopt out wild horses have not been able to keep up with the herd growth. Wild horse herds double every four years. Many of these animals are not adoptable due to age, condition, etc.
In my opinion it’s time to face some hard facts. The herds have to be reduced. It won’t be pretty, but we have created this problem and it’s up to us to address it.