NCBA to House subcommittee: Horse numbers on BLM will double in 5 years of policies don’t change
One June 22, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on the challenges and potential solutions for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.
For over 40 years, the BLM’s Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act has raised concerns from public lands ranchers and local communities over the welfare of the animals being managed and the natural resources they rely on. Nevada State Veterinarian and fourth generation cattleman J.J. Goicoechea testified on behalf of the Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Nevada Cattlemen’s Association that the very animals and resources the BLM is charged with managing are suffering irreparably.
“The BLM has shifted from the multiple-use principals contained in the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and the later Federal Land Management and Policy Act,” said Goicoechea. “Today, horse populations are so out of control that all other resources on the landscape suffer. The latest land use areas and allotments to come under attention are within what is now being called the Antelope Complex in northeast Nevada where the wild horse and burro population is anywhere from 574 to 2,083 percent higher than the Appropriate Management Level.”
The local economies across the west rely on natural resource-based industries and multiple use of public lands. These land use areas also contain over one million acres of sage grouse habitat.
“With the negative impact on rangeland health of overpopulation of wild horses, one can assume that sage grouse habitat is also being negatively impacted,” said Goicoechea. “Those of us who make a living caring for animals, whether our own livestock or client animals, have a moral obligation to manage populations in balance with natural resources, to prevent damage to the resources, and above all to provide for the overall health of the animals. Starvation and dehydration are inexcusable and inappropriate methods of population control.”
While wild horse gathers and the administration of fertility drugs to curb reproductive growth have been used for nearly 20 years in an attempt to bring populations of wild horses within appropriate levels, these programs have suffered from severe flaws.
“The process of rounding up horses and releasing them back into the management areas, sometimes after fertility drugs have been administered, and other times just because the number of horses determined to be rounded up was met, has trained horses to hide in Pinion Juniper woodlands or escape outside the boundaries of the management areas,” said Goicoechea. “We must give the agency tasked with management of the horses and burros all the tools in the tool box. Even in the best scenario, fertility drugs must be re-administered every two or three years, an impossible and impractical solution to such a massive problem. Funds must be made available for more permanent surgical sterilization, spay and neuter.”
While wild horses and burros are part of the western landscape on public and federal lands, efforts must be taken to manage these herds at appropriate management levels.
“By the time we wait even four or five more years, the wild horse population will double again if current policies remain in place,” said Goicoechea. “If we remove other multiple uses to make room for more horses, we will see impacts to wildlife, sensitive plant species, and rural economies, not just domestic livestock.”