Bureau of Land Management Sends Wild Horse and Burro Plan to Congress

Bureau of Land Management Sends Wild Horse and Burro Plan to Congress

In late April, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) submitted a long overdue plan to Congress on how to address management of wild horses and burros on federal public lands. Increasing populations of wild horses and burros in the West have created significant range management challenges. In addition, the agency has been saddled with growing costs to manage populations on federal lands, restore degraded habitat, and house wild horses and burros that are gathered from public lands and held in off-range holding facilities. According to The Wildlife Society, the plan outlines four management alternatives, along with cost estimates, for reducing populations and costs over time. Most options focus on increasing contraception and sterilization of populations and/or providing incentives for adoption, and one option encourages Congress to change a policy that restricts certain sales or euthanasia of animals that are sick or unable to be sold or adopted for private use.

The national “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of wild horses or burros that federal lands could support is 26,715, but the BLM estimated in 2017 that there are nearly 83,000 animals living on the range. The soaring population is causing significant ecological problems in many areas of the West. The plan states:

“The current overpopulation of wild horses and burros threatens the overall health of the western rangelands, degrading ecosystem functions and limiting the forage and water available for domestic and wildlife species, including game and nongame species. For example, overgrazing by wild horses and burros has reduced sagebrush and grass cover vital to Greater Sage-Grouse and has resulted in lower survival rates in those areas. Overpopulated herds have displaced native species including pronghorn, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. Across the Great Basin, areas with wild horses have less plant cover, fewer native plants, and more unpalatable and invasive plant species, including cheatgrass, compared to areas without wild horses.”

In addition to the damage to western rangelands, BLM faces increasing costs to house horses and horses and burros that are gathered off of public lands. Congress currently restricts the BLM from euthanizing animals that cannot be sold or adopted, and places restrictions on the types of sales that can occur. As a result, there are currently about 46,000 horses being held in off-range facilities costing the BLM $48 million annually, more than 60 percent of the agency’s overall budget for wild horse and burro management.

May 14, 2018