BLM Seeks Ideas on Wild Horse Management

BLM Seeks Ideas on Wild Horse Management

The BLM manages more than 40,000 wild horses and burros in 10 Western states; another 50,000 animals reside in BLM short- and long-term care facilities, like the ones seen here.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking ideas for managing its wild horse and burro population, some critics maintain that the agency has failed to appropriately implement previously suggested herd management methods.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 charges the BLM with managing wild horses and burros residing west of the Mississippi River. The agency currently manages more than 40,000 wild horses and burros in 10 Western states; another 50,000 animals reside in BLM long- and short-term care facilities.

In 2010, the BLM asked the independent nonprofit National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review technical aspects of the wild horse and burro program and to make recommendations for future management techniques. The $1.5 million study began in 2011, and results were released in 2013.

In it's report, NAS said the population of wild horses under BLM care on Western public rangelands increases by an unsustainable 15% to 20% annually. The report also said the BLM has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate wild horse and burro populations on each range, or to model the effects of management actions. Finally, the report said the BLM failed to effectively use contraception tools, specifically porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccines for mares and a chemical vasectomy vaccine in stallions, to achieve appropriate population control.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said the agency issued a request for information (RFI) in October 2013 intended to alert veterinarians, scientists, universities, pharmaceutical companies, and other researchers of the BLM's need to develop innovative techniques and protocols for implementing population growth-suppression methods.

“Specifically, the BLM is interested in finding experts to develop or to refine current techniques and protocols for either the contraception or spaying/neutering of on-range male and female wild horses,” Gorey said.

The submission deadline for ideas in response to the RFI was Dec. 1, 2013, and the agency has received 14 responses, Gorey said. Meanwhile, the BLM intends to allocate $1.5 million from its fiscal year 2014 budget in connection with an upcoming request for applications for spay/neuter and contraception study proposals, which the BLM intends to issue by March 1, Gorey said.

Gorey said the agency remains committed to making substantial improvements to the wild horse and burro program: “The development and use of more effective methods to reduce population growth rates will lessen the need to remove animals from the range. This will be better for the animals and is needed to improve the health of public rangelands, conserve wildlife habitat, and save taxpayers money.”

But BLM's critics aren't sure the agency's actions will yield a long-term solution to wild horse and burro herd growth issues. Some wild horse advocates believe BLM roundups not only violate the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, but harm animals as well. That's why Anne Novak, executive director of the wild horse advocacy group Protect Mustangs, believes the BLM should stop using roundups to manage herd populations.

“We need a moratorium on roundups so (the horses') birthrate can go back to normal, and we need a policy to be based on science and not on quick fixes for an alleged overpopulation problem,” opined Novak. “Meanwhile we can perform scientific studies on how to utilize native wild horses for holistic land management.”

Jay F. Kirkpatrick, PhD, a wildlife population control specialist and director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont., said he's also proposed ways for the BLM to control its herd populations in the past. Kirkpatrick said he advised the BLM to, during each roundup, inoculate with the native PZP vaccine all mares returning to the range. Though the vaccine's effects do not always last for more than a year, he said, he believes a single shot could have a dramatic effect on reproduction in year one and residual effects in following years.

“If they simply held those mares two weeks and gave them a booster shot before releasing them, the effects would be even more dramatic,” Kirkpatrick opined. “Regardless, the next time they rounded-up horses, the primer-treated mares would get a booster, new horses (would get) a primer, and the effects (would) get greater; after four to five roundups, the reduction in foals would have been significant.”

Kirkpatrick said that, for various reasons, the BLM has not implemented his proposal.

Ultimately, said Attorney Bruce Wegman, who represents wild horse advocates, whatever decision the BLM makes should have horses' best interests in mind.

“I certainly think that the BLM should be looking to the greater horse welfare community and those who have studied the BLM’s administration of the wild horse program for years for input,” Wagaman said. “We have been trying to get BLM to do that for years.”

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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