October 8, 2009- COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO-- On October 7, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a new initiative for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro program. The Secretary announced that this is a “national solution to restore the health of America’s wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them by creating a cost-efficient, sustainable management program that includes the possible creation of wild horse preserves on the productive grasslands of the Midwest and East.”
The Cloud Foundation is encouraged that the Interior Department realizes that there are problems with the management of wild horses on public lands by the Bureau of Land Management and is considering ways to improve the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
However, the Cloud Foundation questions the need to develop seven new preserves in the mid-west and east (at an estimated initial cost of $96 million) when there are 19.4 million acres of designated wild horse and burro of rangelands that have been taken away from them since 1971. In just the past few weeks, 12 herds (620 horses) were zeroed out on an additional 1.4 million acres in Eastern Nevada. “It would seem that the best use of taxpayer dollars and the most humane plan for the nearly 32,000 wild horses in government holding would be to return them to their native lands” says Ginger Kathrens, Volunteer Executive Director of the Cloud Foundation. “These millions of acres were identified for use by wild horses and burros and these lands are already owned by the American public.”
Rather than spending over thirty million dollars this fiscal year (October 1, 2009- September 30, 2010) to remove a record number (over 12,000 wild horses and burros) from the range, only legitimate emergency roundups and removals should be conducted. “The BLM continues to lead the public to believe that exploding populations of wild horses are causing degradation of the range and they must be removed before they all starve. This is without merit because wild horses and burros make up only a fraction of animals grazing the range, far greater damage is caused by the privately-owned cattle who outnumber the horses more than 100 to 1,” states Arizona advocate Julianne French.
The intent of Congress’ 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act was not for wild horses to be corralled and penned. The clear intent was that the wild horses and burros be allowed to live on western rangelands designated primarily for their survival in self-sustaining populations.
Initial Recommended Steps for the Management
of America’s Wild Horses & Burros:
1) 1. Cease all roundups until independent analysis can be made of each herd management area. Move forward only with emergency removals if deemed necessary by independent as well as BLM specialists.
2) 2. Return wild horses and burros in good health to the 20.8 million acres of public land designated primarily for their use in 1971 that has since been taken away from them. As per the ROAM Act (§1579): “ensure that, to the extent practicable, the acreage available for wild and free-roaming horses and burros shall never be less than the acreage where wild and free-roaming horses and burros were found in 1971.”
3) 3. Reanalyze appropriate management levels (AMLs) for herd management areas (HMAs). Currently only about 25% of wild horse and burro herds are genetically viable. AMLs should not be reduced due to the private use of public lands for livestock grazing. Currently AML “is based on consideration of wildlife, permitted livestock, and wild horses and burros in the area.” It is not cost-effective to remove wild horses from an HMA at a cost of $2600- over $3000 per individual removed in order to allow a cow/calf pair to graze for a payment of $1.36/month. Cattle, who originated in southeast Asia, damage the land to a far greater degree than wild horses, who are of North American origin.
4) 4. Congress should follow-up with hearings on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program as recommended by the Government Accounting Office (2008 report).
Photos and more information available from:
 Genetically viable defined here as a population of horses 1 year and older that is at or above 150-200 individuals with a Ne (genetic effective number) of 50 or more. This is the bare minimum for genetic viability of wild horse and burro population. More information here.