Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, and BLM Director, Bob Abbey, unveiled a proposal today that will, according to Salazar, “better protect wild horses and burros and better manage the open lands on which they roam.” Citing range degradation, poor herd health, and a rising taxpayer burden, the officials said the proposal will:
- Establish 7 national preserves for 25,200 horses and burros in the Midwest and East, two of which will be managed by the BLM. The rest will be managed by individuals or non-profits in partnership with BLM. The primary purpose of these preserves will be to ‘showcase the herds’ and perhaps provide jobs in the form of ecotourism. Abbey added that the horses and burros on these preserves will be non-producing.
- Showcase the herds on public lands where they currently exist in the form of specially designated ranges,
- Create new strategies for wild horse management and balance growth rates with adoption demands, including use of fertility control, balancing sex ratios, and possibly introducing “non-reproducing herds into existing herds.” Changes in adoption regulations are also planned.
Abbey added that BLM’s duties are to remove the horses and burros to protect the land and to care for them in long-term holding facilities while trying to find good homes. He said that last year’s GAO report combined with the recession have had impacts on current management strategies and adoption rates, and that costs for long and short-term holding have increased. Salazar added that no horses or burros will be euthanized.
The proposal apparently came in the form of a letter to Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who is up for re-election this year. Salazar stated, “We want to work with Congress to make this law” and implement it by 2011/2012. This suggests an amendment to the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act even though neither mentioned just how they expect the changes to be enacted. It also raises more questions than it answers.
First, BLM wants to remove 5,000 horses and burros from public lands this year and has projected removal of another 12,000 by the end of September, 2010. There are currently 31,000 horses in captivity. That comes to 49,000 horses. BLM has been hard-pressed to match adoption rates with removal rates in that past several years but even if they could adopt, say, 3,000 horses each year, that would still leave 17,800 more horses in captivity at the time of the proposed implemenation than would be allowed on the preserves. What happens to them?
Secondly, where will the designated ranges be? The 1971 Act states that wild horses and burros must be managed in areas where the animals were originally found. If, hypothetically, horses are moved from Nevada to a designated range in Colorado, that would violate the law because the Nevada horses would then no longer be managed in the area in which they were originally found. This suggests that in order to avoid an amendment to the Act, there should be designated ranges in each state.
The Pryor Mountain Refuge in Montana was mentioned as an example of a designated range but no further details were presented. This and the Little Bookcliffs range in western Colorado were the first officially designated wild horse ranges in the country and perhaps they will be the models for future reserves. But, how will such small ranges be managed for BLM’s national limit of 26,000?
Other questions will no doubt emerge as the proposal winds its way through public discourse and congressional review. Meanwhile, BLM management practices have not changed. Round-ups continue right now in Wyoming and other parts of the West. And, close to 1,000 horses from Wyoming’s Lost Creek, Stewart Creek, Green Mountain, Crooks Mountain, and Antelope Hills herds, aka the Red Desert Complex Herd Management Area, are scheduled for round-up in November.
Stay tuned…and thanks for listening.