TWS offers recommendations for wild horse management

By Laura Bies

Wild horses appear at Pryor Mountain in Montana, where a federal judge recently halted a planned gather. ©BLM

TWS submitted  written testimony to the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board during its meeting last week in Salt Lake City. The advisory board provides guidance to the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service on the management of free-roaming horses and burros on their lands, pursuant to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This law charges the agencies with managing wild horses and burros on certain federal public lands in a manner that produces a “thriving natural ecological balance.”

There are currently nearly 82,000 wild horses (Equus caballus) and burros (Equus asinus) on public lands managed by the BLM. These animals are feral and without natural predators, so their herds have far outstripped what the often arid landscapes in which they are found can support. The BLM has identified a target population of less than 27,000.

Noting that increasing wild horse populations have “directly contributed to degradation of rangeland ecosystems and hampered the ability of wildlife professionals to sustainably manage and conserve native wildlife populations,” TWS urges the advisory board to prioritize science-based management tools to immediately reduce the number of wild horses on the range.

TWS also recommended the board undertake a critical evaluation of the BLM’s recently submitted plan for wild horse and burro management. In March, Congress included in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill language instructing the BLM to provide a report potential management options to reduce the size of on-range wild horses and burro populations. That report, which was first requested in the previous year’s appropriations bill, was to include a plan with the goal of reducing costs while improving the health and welfare of wild horses and burros and the range. Such a plan should describe how the BLM would reduce costs, streamline environment reviews and expand the use of partnerships and cooperative agreements. The report was also to identify statutory and regulatory barriers to plan implementation.

The BLM submitted its report to Congress in late April, but BLM officials noted during the advisory board meeting that they have not received any response or reaction from Congress on its contents.

The advisory board, which had not met in almost a year, approved a recommendation to the BLM stating their preference for nonlethal management options when possible. However, it also agreed to support a BLM proposal from its report to Congress asking lawmakers to remove the prohibitions often placed into appropriations bill in recent years prohibiting the BLM from using euthanasia and limiting its ability to sell animals.

The panel approved several other recommendations, such as those encouraging volunteer partnerships and another asking the BLM to use safe, reversible vaccines as part of the fertility control management plan. Last year, the panel approved a resolution calling on the BLM to remove all excess wild horses within three years.

Recent attempts by the BLM to reduce the numbers of wild horses and burros on the range have been controversial and faced lawsuits and questions from members of Congress.

Read more about feral horses in this TWS issue statement.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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