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Guest Opinions

‘Wild’ Horse and Burro Board Meets in Washington, D.C.

Written by Dick Loper

By Dick Loper, Rangeland Consultant, Wyoming State Grazing Board

On Oct. 13-14 the latest meeting of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was held near Washington, D.C. This Advisory Board was created from a provision in the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act, and its function is to advise the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on matters related to the management of “wild” horses and burros covered by this federal statute.

The board is composed of non-government people who have a recognized expertise on the various subjects related to the wild horse and burro program. Wyoming has contributed a number of very well qualified people to this board over the past years. Renee Taylor from Casper and Dr. Vern Dooley from Powell have just completed their membership on this board, and Gary Zakotnik, rancher from Farson, continues to serve as a co-chairman on the group.  
The BLM’s “wild” horse management program is an issue that the Wyoming State Grazing Board (WSGB) attempts to monitor on behalf of the ranchers who hold Section 3 grazing permits in Wyoming. On behalf of the WSGB, I attended this meeting in an attempt to remain current on the national direction of this program and to take the opportunity to discuss with members of the board, the BLM national office and the staff of our Congressional delegation, the horse management issues of importance to Wyoming.

This Advisory Board is required to function under the rules and regulations of Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and as such, the meetings are conducted under a structured agenda and are tightly managed by the BLM and federal law enforcement. Representatives always attend these meetings from organizations that hold very radical and agenda-driven positions related to the horse and burro program in the West and they have, at times, conducted disruptive actions at some of these meetings.

Many of these radical groups have become very well organized and are a very powerful influence on the Secretary, the BLM, Congress and public opinion. They seem to have more than adequate funding to support their agenda, which is to eliminate roundups and replace livestock on federal BLM lands with “wild” horses and burros. I know as a range technician, and you know as ranchers, that this agenda will create significant adverse impacts to our wildlife habitat and other multiple uses including your livestock operations, the health of the land will deteriorate, and additional inhumane on-the-ground conditions will be created for the horses themselves.

During the three minutes provided to each of us from the “public,” I conveyed a comment from Rick Myers, rancher from Baggs and chairman of the WSGB Committee, on wild horse issues in Wyoming. Rick has attended some previous meetings, but could not attend this one due to his fall livestock business workload. He ask me to convey that at least some of the future meetings of this Advisory Board should be held in locations much closer to those of us in the West who are directly affected by the horse program. These western locations should be in places like Rawlins, Rock Springs, Lander or Worland. At these types of locations, the board could actually go on the ground to view local horse issues and local people personally affected by the horse program could afford to attend and participate in the meetings. Locations in Washington, D.C. and Phoenix, Ariz. are very expensive and very few ranchers can afford the time away from the ranch to attend in the big-city locations.

I have attended a number of these advisory meeting over the past 30-some years on behalf of the WSGB. There may have been other times, but I have only once observed that someone from the office of the Secretary of Interior has been in attendance. So, I also provided a comment to this board that they should specifically request that the Secretary themselves, or at least a person from the Office of the Secretary of Interior with policy responsibility, be asked to attend each of their meetings. After all, they are, by law, an advisory committee to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, so why not provide advice directly to these two cabinet officers instead of relying on the BLM in attendance to convey their advice on horse issues?

Of particular interest to those of us in attendance who support the multiple use concept on western rangelands were comments from a very articulate lady from the state of Maine. She used to live in Colorado, and obviously knew something about the subject. It was obvious that the members of this Advisory Board were very interested in her remarks because they came from a member of the silent majority “public.” Her remarks illustrate the importance of the direct participation on our issues of people who are not directly tied to the ag industry.     

BLM Director Bob Abby provided opening comments, but did not stay for the meeting. Various BLM employees gave reports on the number of horses rounded up and adopted since the last meeting of the board. This information was not distributed to the public in attendance and the minutes of the October meeting are not yet available to the public.

I do have a three-page summary of the information provided by the BLM to the board, and would provide it to any of you by request.

The BLM conveyed to the board that the Secretary of Interior has directed the BLM to reduce the number of horses gathered from western rangelands from 10,000 to 7,500 next year because of a lack of space available in both short-term and long-term holding. He has also conveyed that the number of horses removed will continue to be reduced until after receipt of the latest report from the National Academy of Science that is currently reviewing the entire BLM horse and burro program. It was also apparent that the BLM has been directed to place more emphasis on a birth control method that’s currently available to them.

Most of us involved in the program support the BLM’s continued use of birth control methods as one of the tools available for overall population control, but this emphasis on birth control, which is very expensive and still in the experimental stages of development, is disconcerting to many ranchers who currently hold grazing permits inside Herd Management Areas (HMAs). The current preferred procedure must be applied to a significant number of the mares in an HMA every two years to be an effective control measure on reproduction in that respective HMA. As we are all aware, “wild” horses don’t much like being rounded up every two or three years and it will become increasingly more difficult for the BLM to keep horse numbers down to acceptable levels unless all of the management tools available to the BLM are used.

The WSGB would like to thank the Wyoming Livestock Roundup for this opportunity to convey this article, and express our appreciation to the staff of our Congressional delegation, the office of our Governor, the Wyoming Departments of Agriculture and State Lands, the Wyoming ag groups, and to the ranchers currently involved in the horse program, for their continuing work on these issues.

If any of you would like more information about how you can become more involved in helping to resolve the many issues related to the BLM’s “wild” horse program, please contact any of the above mentioned participants or myself at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or P.O. Box 1202, Lander, WY 82520 or 307-332-2601.