The “old model” of rounding up wild horses by the thousands and doing nothing to control the reproduction of horses remaining on public lands has been labelled a ruinous strategy by the head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wayne Pacelle.
The society’s president and chief executive said the strategy had resulted in fast-growing populations on the range and in holding facilities, and was “breaking the bank” for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency charged with their care.
The on-range population of wild horses and burros stands at 72,674, according to a March 1 BLM estimate, made before this year’s foal crop. This is more than two and a half times the appropriate management level for wild horses and burros stipulated in federal legislation.
As of August, the agency reported that 44,640 captive wild horses and burros were living in off-range facilities, including 32,146 on leased pastures referred to as long-term holding.
Pacelle was commenting in his blog, A Humane Nation, following a visit to the Mojave Desert in northwest Arizona to check out a joint HSUS-BLM project aimed at stabilizing and reducing burro numbers in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) through fertility control.
The four-year project is financed by an HSUS donor and a supplementary grant from the BLM.
The Black Mountain HMA covers 925,000 acres and is believed to be home to more than 2000 burros, making it the single biggest population of burros managed by the BLM.
Pacelle said it was far better from a fiscal perspective to keep horses and burros on the range and to avoid gathering them up, thereby allowing them to forage on what nature offered, as compared to feeding them every day in a holding facility.
The nearly 45,000 horses in holding facilities gobbled up as much as two-thirds of the BLM’s annual budget for wild horse and burro management, he noted.
He argued that the BLM needed to be more aggressive in rolling out fertility control.
“Only a very intentional, focused, and well-resourced fertility control program will arrest reproductive rates on the range,” he said.
Pacelle said the Black Mountain HMA was a striking but forbidding landscape, with very wild and highly alert burros. “If we can administer fertility control to the animals here, we can do it just about anywhere.
“Only when BLM goes all in on fertility control will the nation have a viable, fiscally sound, and effective strategy for humanely managing wild horses and burros.”
“The idea of mass slaughter or euthanasia will never be acceptable to the American public, nor should it.
“Fertility control, in combination with selective gathers and more effective adoption programs, is the only viable path forward.”