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Wyoming weighs in on wild horse strategy

“It was the worst meeting I’ve been to in almost 40 years of doing this work with federal lands grazing issues,” says Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper of the mid-June meeting of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Committee in Denver, Colo.
The meeting came after the June proposal by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, announcing the “new direction” for wild horse management in the West.
“It was a frustrating day,” says Loper, who adds Wyoming groups are developing comments to submit to the BLM regarding the Salazar proposal.
Regardless of disagreements within the proposal, Loper says, “We want to state our appreciation for the level of attention. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and for the horse issue to surface is very important. We don’t want the issue to get lost in the oil spill, budgets and everything else. We care about the horses and the land, and we appreciate the attention the Secretary of the Interior is giving this issue.”
Leanne Stevenson of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Policy Division, who also attended the meeting, agrees. “We applaud the Secretary and the Governmental Accountability Office for at least acknowledging there is a problem, and that we cannot sustain things going forward.”
“We’re trying to work with the BLM to revise the document to include a goal statement that we originally thought would be the centerpiece of the proposal,” says Loper. The goal statement would include ultimately reducing the wild horse breeding herd to match the number of horses the public will adopt each year.
“That became a component, instead of the overall objective,” explains Loper. “We thought it was the original focus and everything else would work toward that objective. What we have now is a series of concepts and ideas, and the BLM says they aren’t prioritized. We think they should be. We want a focus goal, and we want options and alternatives to get to that one overriding goal. At this point we don’t see that the public document conveys that strategy.”
The BLM intends to submit a report on the wild horse program to Congress this fall. “That doesn’t give us a lot of time to work with D.C. to get the focus changed,” notes Loper. “There are some concepts we can support, and some concepts on which we’ll make detailed comment.”
One of those that will draw detailed comment is the concept of “treasured herds.”
“One thing Salazar proposed was to identify some herd management areas throughout the West that would be ‘treasured herds,’” says Loper, noting that the Advisory Board meeting was attended by a number of wild horse advocates. “They don’t like the treasured herds idea because, in their opinion, every Herd Management Area (HMA) is treasured, and, in our opinion, none of them are. We all opposed it, but for very different reasons.”
Stevenson says she’s concerned a treasured herd designation could disrupt multiple use on federal lands by elevating one use above all others.
From a public relations standpoint, Loper says identifying herds in which the public has special interest makes sense, but he’s afraid calling them treasured may divert management money from “regular” herds. “My concern is the rest seem to be left blowing in the wind,” he adds.
However, Loper says he’s very supportive of additional public relations strategies for the horse program and to augment adoption and sale of wild horses. “There are things that could be done, short of identifying an HMA as elevated in stature and funding, but the concept’s good,” he says.
As far as the other strategies are concerned, Loper says the Advisory Board plans to continue with the contraceptive program, although it’s expensive and experimental. “It’s a tool they should continue to promote,” he says. “We are supportive of contraceptive efforts, even though they haven’t produced the results anyone would have hoped for.”
Loper says there’s talk of zeroing out certain herds that are too small, too inaccessible or have too many management problems, like lack of forage or water, or tough winters that starve horses.
“There are some legitimate humane reasons,” says Loper of the idea, mentioning discussion about dropping the HMA total from 180 to around 150 or 160.
He also mentions lands from which horses have been removed for various reasons. “There are 19 to 20 million acres of lands that contained horses when the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed that don’t now, for a lot of legitimate reasons, and the BLM is reevaluating to see if some areas could have horses put back. That’s troubling, because they could now be put back for political reasons.”   
Of aspects of the proposal that Loper says Wyoming can support, he notes increased monitoring of HMAs, which would lead to resource issues dictating horse populations.
“The proposal talks about purchasing private land back in the Midwest or East instead of long-term holding, which costs $1.50 to $1.60 per day per horse in Oklahoma and Kansas. The cost is horrendous, but we don’t want the BLM to turn more private land into public land,” says Loper. “The Wyoming Stock Growers passed a resolution in support of the concept of leasing additional private land on a temporary basis to take care of excess horses.”
According to the BLM, President Obama’s FY 2011 BLM budget proposal requests $75.7 million for the wild horse and burro program, a nearly $12 million increase over the FY 2010 level of $63.9 million. The budget proposal makes a separate, but related, land-acquisition funding request of $42.5 million from the BLM’s Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purchase of land for one wild horse preserve.
“Initial costs for implementing the Secretary’s proposals would be significant as the BLM acquires, preserves and works to achieve sustainable herd levels on public rangelands, but overall program costs would decline in future years. The plan would enable the BLM to achieve appropriate management levels for herd populations on Western rangelands by 2013,” says a statement released by the BLM.
Stevenson says everyone at the meeting was opposed to the federal government purchasing more land, but that leasing “preserves” was met with favor.
“The benefit of preserves back East and in the Midwest is that they would allow people the opportunity to see the horses without coming to the western states,” she says. “From that we could see more interest in adoption and more education. It wouldn’t be a cost savings, but a matter of more people being informed and educated.”
Of management in Wyoming, Loper says the BLM has done a really good job in accordance with 2003’s consent decree. “That’s given the BLM some additional incentive to keep our money in place and try to keep the horse levels down to AMLs (Appropriate Management Levels),” says Loper. “For the last five or six years we feel good about the BLM in Wyoming. We have no complaints on BLM wild horse management in Wyoming.”
Stevenson says Wyoming’s consent decree will last through August 2013. “We need to make sure we maintain something along those lines,” she says. “It’s important for us to continue under that same type of document, because it helps both the BLM and ourselves.”
“We’ll do what we can in Wyoming to encourage ranchers to chip in and do what they can to comment personally on the new proposal,” says Loper. “That’s where the rubber meets the road – with the local rancher. If they need any help, the execs in Wyoming are readily available to help develop comments.”
“We encourage any private citizens in the state to comment,” says Stevenson.
To comment on Secretary Salazar’s Strategy Development Document regarding the Wild Horse and Burro Initiative, search for the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program webpage and click on “BLM Director Seeks Input for New Direction.” Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..