TWS Attends Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting

By Colleen Hartel

Scenic Image Credit: Bureau of Land Management

The Wildlife Society and the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition provided testimony to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting this week in Columbus, Ohio.

The BLM’s Advisory Board, which is composed of appointed members representing various stakeholder interests including advocacy groups, public interest, wildlife management, livestock management, and veterinary medicine, meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to horse and burro management on BLM lands.

The primary discussion topics on the agenda included Wild Horse and Burro Program updates. The program has recently taken action to implement efforts recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, such as further studying use of population growth-suppression measures, using methodology to make more accurate population efforts, and researching knowledge and valuation of horse management options by the public, in addition to the continuing development of an environmental impact statement of free-ranging horse and burros on rangeland ecosystems.

The Board invited public written and in-person comments. Representatives of both TWS and the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, of which TWS is a member, attended the meeting and provided in-person testimony.

Comments from both organizations are supportive of BLM efforts to manage horse populations on ranges but additionally urged the BLM to remove horses from the range to meet appropriate management levels to prevent continuing ecosystem damage.

“Overabundant horse and burro populations can damage wildlife habitat and be detrimental to herd health,” says Ashley Wurth, who provided in-person public comments on behalf of TWS. Wurth is a TWS member holding degrees in both wildlife ecology and equine science.

“As long as populations exceed appropriate management levels, the BLM and the Wild Horse and Burro Program cannot meet its own mission of managing healthy herds on healthy lands,” Wurth continued. “Better methods for properly reducing horse populations need to be implemented and maintained. Efforts combining targeted removals and reproductive control methods, such as PZP, are essential to significantly reducing populations for the long-term benefit of the rangelands.”

The BLM currently estimates over 49,000 free-ranging horses and burros on public lands, which is well above the program’s management goal of under 27,000 individual animals. Feral horses and burros can cause cascading ecosystem impacts by altering vegetation cycles through grazing habits, degrading water quality through impacts to riparian vegetation, and excluding other ungulate species, like bighorn sheep, from using grazing sites and watering holes through exhibiting aggressive behavior.

Testimony from both TWS and the coalition is available.

Colleen Hartel is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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