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Internal BLM Memo Recommends Killing Sick Wild Horses On Range

An internal memo has surfaced that shows the U.S. government’s wild horse program is in dire financial trouble. It also calls for “drastic changes” including the possibility of killing sick horses on the range.

In August last year, Joan Guilfoyle called for an immediate halt to all roundups.

Read Joan Guilfoyle's recommendations to change the BLM wild horse program.

Read Joan Guilfoyle’s recommendations to change the BLM wild horse program.

That’s something independent scientists called for last summer. This is the first time the public has learned that someone at Bureau of Land Management agreed.

Guilfoyle is not just anybody. She’s in charge of the BLM’s wild horse division.

The halt to roundups is one of several recommendations revealed because a wild horse advocate sought documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Debbie Coffey, Vice President of the Wild Horse Freedom Foundation, says the BLM sent her two versions of the memo, one with large sections blacked out. But a duplicate titled “Internal Working Document” was completely uncensored. She thinks BLM goofed.

“I saw they had given me an un-redacted version as well,” says Coffey. “So, just for fun, I decided to post that and let the public know what’s really going on.”

Joan Guilfoyle, Chief of BLM Wild Horse and Burro Division.

Joan Guilfoyle, Chief of BLM Wild Horse and Burro Division.

Bureau of Land Management

Coffey is most troubled by one of Guilfoyle’s proposals.

In the memo, the division chief recommends that BLM should euthanize horses on the range “as an act of mercy if animals decline to near-death condition as a result of declining water and forage resources.”

Coffey says, “Suddenly they’re going to kill off the wild horses because there’s a man-made drought cause by the BLM’s own mismanagement of our public lands. They need to rethink how they’re managing public land if they can’t sustain wild horses they have a mandate to protect.”

Coffey blames BLM for allowing other users of public land to use up so much water, leaving little for wildlife including horses.

The BLM has said in the past it is legally required to manage public land for multiple uses.

Oregon’s BLM wild horse officials referred our questions about the memo to the Washington DC office, which did not respond.

The recommendation to halt roundups was not followed.

In January of this year, the BLM signed two more contracts to continue roundups. They will cost taxpayers $12 million.

The memo suggests it could be another 20 years before the BLM is able to sustainably manage wild horses on the range.

UPDATE 2/26/14: Tuesday morning the BLM in Washington D.C. responded with a statement. Public Information Officer Tom Gorey writes that the memo “explores a range of interim measures that could be implemented until more sustainable actions are available, such as the development of  longer-lasting contraceptives and reduction of holding costs.” He says the BLM is still in the process of deciding what to do with horses this year. 

Visit OPB’s full digital story on mustangs and join the online conversation here: Wild Horses in Crisis.