Proposed massive wild horse muster in Wyoming called a “budget buster”

Wild horses in Wyoming.
Wild horses in Wyoming. © BLM

A federal proposal for a muster of up to 1700 wild horses in Wyoming has been labeled a potential budget buster by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency responsible for the horses, is considering the operation in the huge Red Desert Complex.

The BLM, in its environmental assessment, believes the population of wild horses within the complex, which encompasses five formally designated herd management areas – Stewart Creek, Lost Creek, Antelope Hills, Green Mountain and Crooks Mountain – could be high as 2185.

The appropriate management levels for horses across the five areas was 480 to 724, with the agency likely to reduce the overall population to the lower end of that range.

The proposal would also involved capturing and releasing some of the mares after treating them with the birth control agent PZP.

HSUS president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said the operation, if it went ahead, would represent nearly two-thirds of the total number of horses the agency removed from public lands across 10 states for all of last year.

“It would result not only in a bad outcome for horses, but it would deplete Wyoming of half its wild horses and American taxpayers of as much as $US78 million in holding costs over the lifespan of nearly 2000 animals who are about to lose their freedom.”

Pacelle, writing in his blog, A Humane Nation, continued: “For years, the bureau had been rounding up 10,000 or more wild horses each year – far more horses than the agency could place with willing adopters.

“As a consequence, the agency began aggregating an enormous number of wild horses at holding facilities.”

Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle

Pacelle said the captive horse population had now swelled to 50,000 – about as large a population as that of free-roaming horses – and the cost of care for these horses was cannibalizing the agency’s budget during a time when Congress was intent on belt-tightening across the board.

“It costs more than $US43 million a year just to care for these captive horses and recent estimates have shown that for every additional horse added into this holding system, taxpayers will pay approximately $US46,000.

“In short, the plan for the round-up of the Red Desert complex horses is a budget buster. It’s an example of government waste and the federal bureaucracy spinning its wheels.”

He said the BLM should know better.

“It’s been on the path to financial insolvency as a result of its insistence on gathering more and more horses and then having to maintain them in short-term and long-term holding facilities. For precisely this reason, the agency cut back the round-ups, gathering fewer than 2000 horses in 2014.

“But that approach didn’t last, and this massive round-up of a single wild horse population marks a return to the old, financially reckless practices of the agency. It should not proceed.”

He urged the agency to opt for greater use of fertility control.

“While the BLM claims that fertility control is not as effective in controlling large herds, the truth is that the agency has been too timid and halting in putting it to use. Only in Colorado has the agency even made a modest effort to put fertility control to work.”

In 2014, throughout the West, the BLM treated fewer than 400 wild horses and burros with fertility control treatments – less than 1 percent of the entire population of wild horses and burros.

“Instead, the agency continues to focus on rushing from crisis to crisis, as with this large-scale removal of horses from Wyoming. This will just transfer the BLM’s perceived problem from the open range to the corral.

“Something simply has to change and it has to change fast, so America’s wild horses do not continue to suffer. This is the wrong plan, and the BLM should not burden the next Administration – or the taxpayer – with this kind of liability.”

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