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Who's Horsing Around?

Written by Dennis Sun
       Our U.S. Congress is messing around with Wyoming again. The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources last Wednesday held a hearing “to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to improve the management and long-term health of free-roaming horses and burros, and for other purposes.” If you don’t graze on BLM lands, you’re safe. If you graze on BLM lands without feral horses, you could be in trouble. If you graze on BLM allotments where there is an established feral horse population, you’re most likely in trouble at some point.
    As those of you who have kept up with the feral horse issue know well, the BLM is in a tight spot when it comes to finding homes for all of the feral horses gathered off the range. The wild horse program is about to break the BLM’s budget. In these tough economic times not many people, especially the backyard horse owners, want to adopt a feral horse. To the BLM’s credit, they are really trying to roundup these animals from ranges when their numbers exceed the allotment management levels they have set. They have also tried to come up with some innovative ways to get them sold or adopted. The agency is already hamstrung by the existing law and now Congress is looking to amend that law and make it more difficult for everyone involved.
    Remember, unlike cattle or sheep on federal lands, these animals graze year round in the same pasture or allotment. It has been proven that they harm the riparian areas in the spring and really compete with wildlife for grass during the winter. They are like everything else out there — they need to be managed and the only way to manage them is to control the numbers. They are not special; they are like everything else out there grazing.
    Dick Loper, Range Consultant for the State Grazing Board said “using the numbers documented by the GOA where these feral horses increase by 15 percent a year, over the next twenty years it will cost the BLM $1.6 billion to feed them. Man, even feral horses get to ‘share the wealth.’”
    This bill has the potential to really hurt BLM grazing permit holders. It says nothing about improving the habitat, but it does say that they may remove livestock to make room for the horses. It also says they may place the horses on other BLM allotments not currently in use by horses. And, they can designate and maintain specific allotments sanctuaries for the protection and preservation of these horses. Does that mean that a BLM allotment will just be horses and wildlife some day? The issue is certainly moving that direction.
    Last Wednesday, Representative Cynthia Lummis brought forth four amendments during Committee markup. Two were successful. One specified that if additional BLM lands are to be used for feral horses that they first be studied to “determine the impacts on rangeland health, riparian zones, water quality, soil compaction, native wildlife and endangered or threatened species.” Can you imagine a natural resource bill coming out of Congress without this wording in it? It just goes to show that some people in this country want feral horses at any cost. That’s what we are up against.
Dennis