The Bureau of Land Management has proposed a round-up and removal of approximately 1,705 horses from Wyoming’s Red Desert Complex– nearly two-thirds of the total number of horses the agency removed from public lands across 10 states for all of last year. If this massive operation occurs, 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 $78 million in holding costs over the lifespan of nearly 2,000 animals who are about to lose their freedom.
Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the federal government, through the BLM, is charged with protecting about 50,000 wild horses and 10,000 burros that inhabit tens of millions of acres of public lands in the West. 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.
The captive horse population has now swelled to 50,000 – about as large a population as that of free-roaming horses – and the cost of care for these horses is cannibalizing the agency’s budget during a time when Congress is intent on belt-tightening across the board. It costs more than $43 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 $46,000.
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.
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 2,000 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.
Instead, the agency must opt for an alternative management method, and the obvious pathway forward is 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.
Indeed, in 2014, throughout the West, the BLM treated fewer than 400 wild horses and burros with fertility control treatments – that’s 400 animals out of a total estimated population of 57,000, or 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.