The Bureau of Land Management has announced plans to speed up reforms for its Wild Horse and Burro Management program – which includes 17 herd management areas in southeast Oregon.
The program manages wild horses and burros on public rangeland, and it has put animal rights groups at odds with users and managers of public lands.
BLM says without natural predators, Oregon’s populations of wild horses and burros increase 20 percent a year on average. So they’re increasingly claiming valuable rangeland, forage and water that’s shared with ranchers, wildlife and other public lands users.
To control their numbers, the BLM gathers three to five Oregon herds a year to remove the excess animals and put them up for adoption. Southeast Oregon is home to a corral for the gathered animals, where they’re held until they’re adopted (or if they’re not adopted after three tries, they can be sold). It’s also home to some of the most prized wild horses, the Kiger Mustangs, which roam the high desert on Steens Mountain. Animal rights groups have criticized BLM horse gathers and holding facilities for being unnecessarily harmful to the animals.
BLM has proposed a new strategy for managing wild horses, and after receiving more than 9,000 public comments on it, is proposing to move quickly ahead on these seven reforms:
Taking fewer horses off the range: The BLM will reduce the number of wild horse removals for the next two years from 10,000 to 7,600 to maintain the current number of wild horses and burros on the range. A scientific study due out in 2013 (see step 5) will help the government figure out how many animals can be safely left on the open range.
- Using more birth control: Working with the Humane Society, the BLM will expand fertility controls from 500 mares to 2,000 for each of the next two years to maintain herd levels.
- Increasing adoptions: BLM will announce methods for the public to partner with the government for long-term care of wild horses.
- Improving care and handling: BLM will review its contracts for gathers and short and long-term handling and aim for more humane treatment of horses and burros during roundups and in holding facilities.
- Studying the population: A National Association of Sciences study due in 2013 will take a close look at wild horse and burro populations and growth projections, fertility controls, carrying capacity for lands to support wild herds, genetic diversity and predator impact on the populations.
- Promoting volunteer management: BLM is looking to recruit volunteers to help monitor rangeland health and promote herd-related eco-tourism.
- Offering public viewings: To improve transparency within the management program, the BLM will offer more opportunities for the public to watch horse gathers and visit short-term corrals and long-term care facilities.
- Not killing them: This one is a given now, though it hasn’t been in the past. Under the Obama administration, the BLM is not allowed to kill or slaughter wild horses or burros. This hasn’t been the case under other administrations.