Board encourages BLM to euthanize more than 40,000 wild horses, burros
September 29, 2016
The Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended, Sept. 10, to euthanize 44,000 wild horses in holding pens. The eight volunteer board members toured BLM grounds that support wild horses to make an educated recommendation. Ginger Kathrens, founder of The Cloud Foundation in Colorado, was the only member to not recommend such actions.
The board's recommendation stated: "To follow the stipulations of the Wild Horse and Burro Act by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible."
This decision came to be due to extreme conditions in which the wild horses survive and in consideration of the currently 44,000 in short- and long-term holding pens being boarded by the BLM at the cost of $50 million per year, two-thirds of the Wild Horse and Burro's budget, said Ben Masters, a board member and creator of Unbranded, a film created to bring awareness to the mustangs and encourage adoption of them.
In Nevada's dry conditions, the available BLM grounds, called Herd Management Areas, can support an estimated 26,715 horses but is currently hosting approximately 75,000, Masters said in a blog post.
The goal for the advisory board is to determine the best route to return the wild horses to a level ecosystem, in which they are neither over- or under-populated and can be naturally sustained by grasses and water sources, many of which are controlled privately and owners could legally fence out horses. The health of the vegetation must also be considered as overgrazing does no favors to palatable grasses, and does favor the noxious and invasive weeds, like cheatgrass or mustard. Poor conditions supports fewer horses and burros.
Fertility control has been explored with the use of porcine zona pellucida, that can be administered via dart. Spaying of mares is also an option to suppress herd sizes over time, however both avenues have resulted in lawsuits from horse activist groups, which resulted in both methods being halted.
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Gelding of studs, Masters said, is not a feasible option to lessen the population because one stud can breed many mares.
If no action is taken, the wild horses and burros will continue to grow at an alarming rate living on grounds that cannot sustain the sheer numbers. Leaving the wild horses to their own elements is no solution, Masters said, as they have very few natural predators and will begin starving to death.
Increasing adoptions is solution, but not a likely one. Mustangs must be made available to adopt three times before coming available for sale, in which they can go to unverified owners.
Masters recommended to "Advertise and Conduct more frequent adoption events at off-range corrals to enable more Horses and Burros to reach Sale Eligible Status." He said it was approved by a full consensus of the board.
The actuality that wild horses will be euthanized or sold is slim, Masters said, but their recommendation was to highlight the extreme conditions of horses and the degraded grasslands that will seemingly not improve without further action, via fertility control in PZP or spaying or other yet undiscovered methods.
Masters said his goal in recommending euthanasia is "To lower Wild Horse & Burro populations to the Appropriate Management Level and to use humane fertility control methods, applied by volunteers, to slow the population growth of the Wild Horses to the point where if or when gathers are necessary, the amount gathered equals the adoption demand. After rangelands have improved and population growth has been successfully suppressed, AML should be studied and increased if available forage exists."
Kathrens agrees with Masters that fertility control is a viable option; she said that using a two-year vaccine can result in $40,000 savings for each treatment of mares. Castration and sterilization, according to Kathrens, is unnecessary and cruel, as well as fiscally irresponsible.
Kathrens disputed the recommendation to euthanize, blaming the BLM for the current situation.
"It is this family band structure which is emblematic and essential to the survival of wild horses," she said in an interview with Ruidoso News. "Nonetheless, the BLM regularly overlooks this important point when development management practices."
Kathrens filmed the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Southern Montana 22 years ago.
She recommended that a financial incentive be offered to permit holders to allow use of some portion of their Animal Unit Month for use by wild horses and burros in exchange for fair market value.
"In 1990 the Government Accountability Office reported: 'BLM'S decisions on how many wild horses to remove from federal rangelands have not been based on direct evidence that existing wild populations exceed what the range can support. While wild horses are routinely removed. Livestock grazing frequently remains unchanged or increased after the removal of wild horses, increasing the degradation of public lands,'" she said in the interview with Ruidoso News.
Kathrens said that the degradation of rangeland has been falsely pinned on wild horses and should, in fact, be placed on years of livestock overgrazing.
"America's federal lands belong to us all," she said. "Genetically viable wild horses and burros deserve a permanent and a fairly allocated piece of that land, a lasting home on the range."
Dr. Robert Cope, a board member, said in an interview with Elko Daily Free Press, the board took a field trip viewing first-hand the current conditions, "where it became so obvious there's an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource."