BLM Supports Wildlife with Horse Gather in Oregon

By Caroline E. Murphy

Beaty Butte HMA gather. Image Credit: Larisa Bogardus and Larry Moore, BLM, licensed by cc 2.0

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently initiated a horse gather at the Beaty Butte Herd Management Area (HMA) in southern Oregon in an attempt to rein in the herd’s staggering population numbers.

As of November 19, 972 horses have been gathered and shipped to holding facilities in order to reach a population level in balance with the surrounding ecosystem, also known as the Appropriate Management Level (AML). While the AML of this area is between 100-250 individuals, the population stood at over six times that with approximately 1,500 individuals.

Situated near the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, this landscape provides important habitat for many species such as pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and mule deer. The entire HMA and surrounding area have also been identified as a sagebrush focal area, meaning it is prime breeding habitat for populations of greater sage-grouse that have been of special conservation concern in recent years. Free-roaming horses are detrimental to sage-grouse habitat, as they can remove sagebrush cover around nesting areas which causes an increased risk of exposure and predation.

The Oregon Chapter of TWS and the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, which TWS currently chairs, both recently sent letters in support of BLM’s efforts to manage wild horses due to the important wildlife habitat in this area.

These letters also point out the need to remove excess horses to increase overall horse herd health; one of the rationales used by BLM to initiate the gather. Excess population numbers have not only resulted in heightened competition between horses and native wildlife, but also amongst individuals within the horse population. This has resulted in declining health for some horses unable to acquire adequate resources.

Inadequate food and water could eventually lead to extreme situations like the one seen earlier this year in the Cold Creek area of southern Nevada, where 200 horses had to be removed from the range in order to avoid a potential die-off. Similar situations exist across many western rangelands, where the horse and burro AML of 26,715 is currently exceeded by over 31,000 individuals.

The ultimate goal of the gather is to take all 1,500 horses from the range and place 1,400 in holding facilities for potential adoption. 100 horses; 60 studs and 40 mares; will then be re-released onto the range to create an ecologically tolerable population size that can be more easily maintained by BLM for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.

For more information, check out TWS’ fact sheet and position statement on feral horses and burros.

Caroline Murphy is the Government Affairs Associate at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

Read more of Caroline's articles.