BLM continues to combat wild horses, assessments and drought across the United States
Nashville, Tenn. – Robert Bolton, senior rangeland management specialist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), shared some issues BLM is working on during the Federal Lands Committee business meeting at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Convention, which took place in Nashville, Tenn. on Feb. 6.
Bolton looked at updates to agency policy and wild horse management issues, in particular.
“We are updating several grazing policy handbooks, along with our politics preference handbook and youth authorization handbooks, and we are just about ready to issue the grazing management handbooks,” said Bolton.
Bolton mentioned the grazing handbooks in particular have not been updated since the late 1980s.
BLM, Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also completed and released an ecological site description handbook in 2013.
Ecological site descriptions
Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) provide a consistent framework for classifying and describing rangeland and forestland soils and vegetation by delineating land units that share similar capabilities to respond to management activities or disturbance.
“These descriptions incorporate information and data we find out in the field,” said Bolton. “The goal is to get ESDs done for the nation and use them as a predictive tool to tell us what the plant community is going to do if there is a disturbance – be that fire, grazing, invasive species or drought.”
“They give us some predictability about what we need to do for management,” he added. “About 70 percent of the programs we work with either deal with vegetation management or soils. We are encouraged to utilize this tool in our decision making.”
Wild horses and burros
Bolton also touched on the controversial subject of solving the overpopulation issue of wild horses and burros on BLM lands.
“BLM is committed to the well being of the wild horses and burros, both on and off the range,” commented Bolton. “We are also committed to the health of the western public rangelands, which not only benefit these animals but wildlife and livestock, too.”
Bolton stated wild horse gathers are going to be decided on a case-by-case basis, and there are no planned gathers in fiscal year 2014, other than one potential roundup in Wyoming, which was decided on in a previous agreement.
The BLM commissioned the National Academy of Science to perform and prepare an independent assessment related to the agency’s management of the wild horses and burros on the Western public rangelands.
One area BLM found in the study that they could improve on is their animal population control surveys. BLM has partnered with the U.S. Geologic Service (USGS) to develop a better survey.
“We are trying to ensure there is human care, financial sustainability and ecological balance on the range,” explained Bolton.
“There are a number of projects that we are interested in working with through the scientific, as well as the veterinary, communities to develop longer-lasting population control tools,” commented Bolton. “BLM is open to permanent sterilization.”
BLM is also seeking help from veterinarians, scientists, universities and researchers to help develop innovative techniques and protocols in implementing population growth suppression methods.
Off-range holding facilities are reaching their full capacity to house wild horses, and BLM is trying to develop more efficient contracts for eco-sanctuaries and strengthen their adoption program.
“Holding these animals in long-term facilities costs $1.30 a day, and in short-term holding facilities, it costs $4.78 a day,” described Bolton. “About 61 percent of the horse program budget went to holding animals from short-term to long-term.”
Bolton explained that they have invigorated the inmate training program to help horses become more adoptable and have also increased options for lower cost off-range holding facilities.
“Each of these efforts are trying to be grounded in good science and incorporate interest of stakeholders in all of these.”
With the challenge of drought, the carrying capacity of BLM rangelands is being exceeded and will likely lead to the decline of health in the wild horses and burros, predicted Bolton.
The executive leadership team of state directors for the agency will discuss all of the issues of the wild horses and burros sometime in March 2014.
“We are committed to making improvements,” said Bolton. “It’s not easy, and we are trying to think outside of the box with opening the door for population control methods.”
In the next six months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans on releasing the Cohesive Fire Strategy, a collaborative process of all levels of government and non-government organizations, as well as the public, to find land solutions to wildland fire management issues.
This effort is the result of the Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act passed in 2009. Many congressional members and organizations interested in solving the ongoing and increasing problem with wildfire suppression emergency costs sponsored the act.
“In this cohesive strategy, we will talk about how to address fire in our communities, restore and maintain landscapes and respond to fires,” explained Robert Bolton, director of range management for BLM.