Wild horse roundups condemned as a ruinous strategy by HSUS boss

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Wild burros in Arizona. Photo: BLM
Wild burros in Arizona. Photo: BLM

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.

Wayne Pacelle

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.”

One thought on “Wild horse roundups condemned as a ruinous strategy by HSUS boss

  • October 29, 2017 at 2:49 pm
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    1. BLM set the Black Mountain burros’ low-AML — the number down to which BLM manages the herd — at 382 wild burros. The Black Mountain HMA comprises 925,425 acres, or 1,446 square miles. Thus, per the AML, BLM asserts that each burro requires 2,422 acres, or about 3¾ square miles. BLM’s assertion is preposterous. The AML is arbitrary and capricious.

    2. The Black Mountain burros are, in fact, underpopulated. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, recommends a minimum herd-size of 2,500.

    3. Burros are slow to multiply. Gestation lasts an average of 12 months but can extend as long as 14 months. A jenny gives birth to just 1 foal, typically in alternate years. Further, the conception-rate of jennies is lower than that of mares.

    4. Per Gregg, LeBlanc, and Johnston (2014), the wild-burro birth rate is about 14%; however, 50% of foals perish before their first birthday. Therefore, the effective increase in new burro-foals is just 7%.

    5. At least 5% of wild burros other-than-foals also die every year. The surviving-foal rate (7%) minus the adult-mortality rate (5%) yields an expected normative herd-growth rate of, at most, 2%. At that rate, it takes 35 years for a burro-herd to double.

    6. In the past 4 years, BLM has alleged the following population-growth rates for the Black Mountain herd: 25% — 12½ times the norm, 45% — 22½ times the norm, 7% — 3½ times the norm, and 11% — 5½ times the norm. Such growth is biologically impossible. Further, the errors compound, as each successive year’s estimate is calculated per the year that preceded it.

    7. BLM staffers cannot claim ignorance. They are college-educated professionals with degrees in science and range management. They are well-aware that wild-burro herds cannot increase at such high rates. Yet, even after the fraudulent growth-estimates are brought to their attention, they willfully continue to cite them and to base management-decisions on them.

    8. BLM is bound by law — the Data Quality Act — and by policy — the Department of the Interior’s Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct — to disseminate information obtained through “as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved.” However, BLM’s data with regard to wild burros is deceitful. The “overpopulation” exists only on BLM’s falsified spreadsheets.

    9. Burros do have natural predators, among them mountain lions and coyotes. Both species are present in the Black Mountain area.

    10. Injecting the sparsely-populated Black Mountain burros with PZP is wrong. It enables BLM’s malfeasance and perpetuates the overpopulation lie. It punishes the burros by taking away their fertility. Leave those burros alone.

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