Wild horses and burros, now on the brink of extinction due to mismanagement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are also the “canary in the coal mine” of what is happening to America’s public lands.
During the drought in the West, the BLM is removing wild horses and burros in helicopter roundups and by secretive bait/water trapping, supposedly because there is not enough water or forage, or claiming that the horses damage the range, yet the BLM allows the expansion of mining and oil and gas development, which use huge amounts of water, drop the water table, increase the risk of contamination to aquifers and disturb up millions of acres of land and wildlife habitat. Some causes of “drought” are man-made.
When Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, wild horses and burros were found roaming on 53.8 million acres known as Herd Areas (HAs). There were 339 Herd Areas in 1971. At that time, their “range” was described as the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of free-roaming wild horses and burros which did not exceed their known territorial limits on public land. Unfortunately, ranchers knew ahead of time that the Act might pass, and started killing wild horses before it went into effect.
Congress’ original intent of this Act stated that wild horses and burros were to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands, but the BLM created 179 subsets of these original Herd Areas called Herd Management Areas (HMAs), that then comprised of only 31.6 million acres.
The most egregious erosion to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971 came with the 2004 Burns Amendment, that allowed wild horses and burros to be sent to slaughter. Just days before a Thanksgiving holiday recess, when most of Washington was getting ready to leave for the long weekend, Senator Conrad Burns inserted a one page rider into a 3,300 page budget-appropriations bill on the eve of the bill’s Congressional deadline, leaving no opportunity for either the public or Congress to debate. This rider removed all protections for wild horses (and burros) that were over the age of 10 or had been offered unsuccessfully for adoption three times.
Wild Horse Freedom Federation obtained this document through a Freedom of Information Act request, and although the BLM claims this sale, seemingly to a Canadian slaughterhouse, never came to “fruition,” where have all of our wild horses and burros gone?
The BLM limits wild horses and burros on HMAs, but favors livestock grazing. A PEER report pointed out: “The method used by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to assess range conditions is seriously skewed toward minimizing impacts from domestic livestock and magnifying those from wild horses and burros…”
According to equine geneticist Dr. Gus Cothran (Texas A&M), whom BLM hires to do genetic analysis on some herds, wild horse & burro herds need 120-150 breeding age adults to remain viable.
However, according to a March 2014 BLM “Herd Area and Herd Management Area Statistics” report, the BLM has allowed only extremely low numbers of wild horses and burros on the HMAs, and certainly not viable herds.
A few samples of low “herd” numbers of wild horses and burros on Herd Management Areas in California: 15-25 horses, 10-12 horses, 26-35 horses, 24-29 horses, 10-25 horses, 14-17 horses, 16-25 horses, 9-11 burros. New Mexico only has 2 Herd Management Areas left. One allows 40-60 wild horses and the other 18-23 wild horses. This means that in the entire state of New Mexico, the BLM allows only 58-83 wild horses on Herd Management Areas.
Only 45 out of BLM’s 179 Herd Management Areas (about 25%) have viable herd numbers as the “Appropriate Management Level (AML), and even that 25% is questionable because it includes foals (that are NOT breeding age adults), mares given the fertility drug PZP, gelded stallions and herds with sex ratios skewed by the BLM.
Wild Horse Freedom Federation will continue to document the plight of wild horses and burros, and fight to save them.