BLM announces wild horse changes
Washington, D.C. – In an announcement Feb. 24, BLM Director Bob Abbey told the media that, following an extensive public comment process, the agency will accelerate fundamental reforms in managing wild horses and burros.
Abbey said the announcement was not spurred by BLM budget cut votes in the House or bipartisan criticism of the wild horse program. He said the announcement is a result of over 9,000 comments collected and reviewed in 2010.
“Instead of waiting to release the information we’ve compiled and incorporated, we wanted to move forward and make announcements of the actions we’re immediately taking while putting other proposals out for further review,” he explained.
The proposed strategy that Abbey announced includes reducing the number of wild horses removed from the range for at least the next two years; reaffirming the central role that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)’s on-going review of the program will have on science-based management decisions; increasing adoptions; significantly expanding the use of fertility control to maintain herd levels; and improving its care and handling procedures to enhance the humane treatment of the animals.
While waiting for the NAS to complete their review, which is expected in early 2013, the agency plans to reduce the number of horses removed from the range over the next two years from 10,000 to 7,600 head. The agency is waiting to hear from the NAS regarding the number of horses that can be “safely and humanely left on the open range.”
Immediately upon the announcement, it was unclear how that reduction would affect gathers in Wyoming, if at all. Since 2003 the BLM has worked under a consent decree with the state that dictates the agency must keep wild horses at Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs).
Regarding wild horse gathers, Abbey said, “Our management has been reviewed, and it’s been found that the BLM’s gathers are necessary and humane.”
Abbey reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to transparency, which includes increasing public viewing during gathers, at short term corrals and at long-term holding to the “highest extent possible.”
On the concern from some people that helicopter use for gathering horses is inhumane, Abbey said, “We will continue to use them when it’s determined they’re the safest, most effective and humane manner of gathering. Gathers are necessary, and helicopters are humane.”
However, he said the BLM is considering having wild horse gather contractors and helicopter pilots complete low stress livestock handling training patterned after what Australia is doing in the same situation.
Abbey said that, in the actions to be announced over the next six months, the BLM will no longer “kick the can down the road because it’s a challenge, or because people disagree.”
“Managing for public rangelands is paramount, and we believe we have to have healthy rangelands and healthy populations of wild horses and burros, and that requires active management,” he said.