BLM Dispersal/Holding Options

The Wild Horse and Burro Program focuses on two key factors: Management of wild horses and burros whose habitat is on public lands, and programs to deal with excess animals removed from public lands. The federal Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) 2004 wild horse budget is $29 million: "The identified need is for $42.2 million in 2005 fiscal year," said Jeff Rawson, based in Washington, D.C., group manager for the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program.

"Using private facilities gains some management efficiencies by being a bit cheaper now for storage and allowing us to put less money toward long-term holding," he added. "We'll use any money we realize to go toward removal of excess animals from public lands, and apply it to adoption of excess animals."

Currently, BLM pays approximately $1.25 per day per horse at long-term holding ranches contracted from private individuals. The group projects it will spend $6.8 million this year, or 23% of the bureau's entire proposed wild horse and burro budget, on holding horses.

"If we can find more economical ways to deal with our storage of excess, undadoptable animals, it could allow more funding to go toward other aspects of our program," said Rawson. "The issue is that we have to take care of excess horses we gather, and that requires major funding." BLM rounds up horses when numbers are more than the land can support.

The first issue is whether the concept of paying ranchers is legal, he said. "And obviously, the storage of excess horses would have to meet their habitat needs," he added. "To put wild horses into a brand new area, we'd have to determine whether it was consistent with existing laws."

Proposals must be legal under the terms of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. A "wild horse" is defined an unbranded and unclaimed free-roaming horse on the public lands in the western United States. Wild horses are protected and managed in accordance with the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The Taylor Grazing Act allows ranchers to graze cattle, sheep, and domestic horses on federal land. That competition for grazing can cause discord. Nevada has the most federal lands of all Western states.

Current BLM goals remain unchanged, said Rawson: To increase the number of successful adoptions to qualified, approved adopters, and to follow through with compliance, insuring that animals are well taken care of. After one year of compliance, adopters can receive title to the animal, and BLM releases legal control. Some 6,100 animals were adopted in 2003. Rawson's staff is always on the lookout for "suspicious" purchasers, also known as slaughter buyers. At scheduled events, horses can be adopted for $125. At auctions, prices might be higher: "One horse from a prized Oregon herd went for $19,000," he said.

A "buddy system" pilot program is being evaluated. Buy a horse at the regular fee and purchase another for around $25 as a companion. "Arizona has had great success with this," said Rawson.

Excess Horses in Nevada
In related news, Nevada's Governor Kenny Guinn wielded his executive veto powers when the state's Wildlife Commission recommended suing BLM over "mismanagement" of the state's 18,000 animals. Degradation of Nevada's ranges was cited. Chris Healy, public information officer for the state's Department of Wildlife, said recently that the governor, "Would like to see more money, more management, to keep the range healthy by removing some horses."

A Nov. 12, 2003, letter from Gov. Guinn to Interior Secretary Gale Norton recommended removing at least 6,000 horses by July. Healy added that, "It is my understanding that behind-the-scenes talks are occurring with folks at the Department of the Interior, and that they will attempt to fully fund and live up to what they've agreed as far as the number of horses on the range." It's estimated that an excess 4,000 animals exist on Nevada's ranges.

About the Author

Stephanie Stephens

Stephanie Stephens is a USEF Media Award winner and American Horse Publications award winner whose work appears in major consumer magazines worldwide. She lives in Southern Calif., but she splits her time between New Zealand and the United States.

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