Salazar seeks wild horse solutionsWritten by Jennifer Womack
“The current path of the wild horse and burro program is not sustainable for the animals, the environment or the taxpayer,” said U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar in a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and eight other members of Congress with jurisdiction over wild horse issues. Salazar’s early October letter outlined proposals for a more sustainable approach to managing the rapidly growing horse herds.
“It’s certainly a much better proposal than the status quo,” says Wyoming State Grazing Board Grazing Consultant Dick Loper. “It has a lot of ideas, should they come to fruition, that make sense.”
“The proposals we are unveiling today represent a forward-looking, responsive effort to deal with the myriad of challenges facing our agency’s wild horse and burro program,” says Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. “We owe wild horses and burros on Western rangelands high quality habitat. We owe the unadopted wild horses and burros in holding good care and treatment. And we owe the American taxpayer a well-run, cost effective wild horse program. Today’s package of proposals will achieve those ends.”
So what do Salazar and Abbey see as solutions? Their proposal calls for:
Creating a new class of wild horse preserves operated by the BLM or via partnerships with non-profit organizations.
Slowing wild horse population growth with fertility control.
Making adoptions more flexible to increase interest.
Additional preserves, according to BLM information, would be targeted at less drought-prone ranges in the Midwest and East. The agency would also take advantage of opportunities to place non-reproducing herds in areas where the public could enjoy them while encouraging eco-tourism and enhancing rural economies.
“This coordinated effort,” says the proposal outline, “would harness the energy of wild horse and burro supporters, whose enthusiasm would also be tapped to promote wild horse adoptions at a time when adoption demand has softened. One aspect of the proposal mentions that horses in such herds would be available for adoption.
Since 1978 BLM, according to the agency’s statement, has promoted the development of a “safe and effective contraceptive agent for wild horses.” Using Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP), 2,350 mares have been treated with the vaccine to date. The agency plans to use the vaccine while continuing to look for a longer-term alternative. It remains unclear as to whether the contraceptive can curb horse populations.
Loper says he’s heard much debate over the vaccine’s effectiveness. Its use, he said, will have to be combined with surgical procedures, such as gelding, to ensure the proposal’s effectiveness.
The agency is also considering the introduction of non-reproducing herds into some of its Herd Management Areas. In other areas they’ll work to remove mares from the range, altering the male to female ratio and reducing reproduction rates.
Loper says he’s pleased to see an approach with the long-term intent of matching annual colt production with the public’s willingness to adopt wild horses. “We think the range is much better off with a more realistic number of horses,” says Loper. Addressing the problem, he said, will result in less conflict between wild horses and other multiple uses as horse number “become what congress intended them to be — part of an ecological balance.”
“Secretary Salazar’s proposal is a rationale approach to managing this population problem,” says Skye Krebs, President of the Public Lands Council and an Oregon rancher. “This solution recognizes both the importance of preserving wild horses and burros and the need to maintain productive, healthy rangeland for multiple uses.”
Loper is optimistic the legislation will redirect Congress’ focus away from the Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) legislation introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.). After passing the House earlier this year, the bill that would devote additional rangeland resources to feral horses, was referred to the Senate. PLC reports 37,000 horses on western rangelands as opposed to the BLM’s 33,000 head estimate.s
Taxpayer costs associated with the Salazar proposal remain unclear, but could increase in the early years of the program before wild horse numbers return to acceptable management levels.