The Bureau of Land Management put many people at ease when it declared it would reject the recommendation made last week by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board to euthanize up to 45,000 wild horses and burros in government-funded holding facilities. This recommendation of the nine-person advisory group was both a provocation and a sort of rhetorical gift to the ranching lobby. But even suggesting such a crude and callous action gives it the patina of respectability it has never deserved.
Still though, the BLM program is badly broken, and the managers of the program need to break out of their current mindset. As I explained in last week’s blog, the agency’s primary strategy over the past 20 years has largely consisted of rounding up and removing the animals from our public lands – an effort that has resulted in tens of thousands of wild horses and burros being kept in holding facilities at a cost now approaching $50 million a year — more than half of the BLM’s annual budget for the entire wild horse and burro program. Because the costs of caring for so many captive horses are cannibalizing the larger program, the agency continues to fail to commit any additional money to implement sufficient fertility control programs that would humanely lower range populations. This is both as a matter of expense and also explains the agency’s undue skepticism about the efficacy of the contraceptive vaccine.
In Colorado, using mainly volunteers and limited BLM staff, the agency is using contraception as a key strategy for managing several herds, as I write about in my book The Humane Economy. This is both fiscally responsible and the right management move, but it must be expanded to other western states with wild horses and burros. By preventing births, the agency is not under as much pressure to round up horses, which in turn means they won’t bear the expense of care and feeding in government-run holding facilities.
Maintaining roundups and removals as the primary wild horse management strategy is just kicking the can down the road – swelling the captive population and barely keeping the lid on the wild population. The only humane, sustainable way to address this conundrum and actively manage horses, is to undertake contraception on a much larger scale and to do it in an aggressive way.
We’re asking you to help us. Please let the agency know that killing horses isn’t the answer and that contraception is the only way forward. The American public demands humane treatment of our precious wild horses and burros.