Shrinking wild horse and burro populations to cost $5 billion: BLM

Shrinking wild horse and burro populations to cost $5 billion: BLM
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The Trump administration is estimating that it will cost nearly $5 billion over the next 15 years to shrink the country's population of wild horses and burros by more than two-thirds to a number officials say is sustainable for the herd.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director William Pendley warned that the growing number of wild horses and burros on federal land, largely out West, has become "an increasingly difficult situation."

“It’s not good for the horses and burros to have these kinds of populations. It’s detrimental to their health and the health of other wildlife and plant species we maintain. It’s simply not sustainable,” Pendley said.

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The agency estimates there are 88,000 horses and burros on public lands, mostly in Nevada. Pendley said experts say that number must be decreased to 27,000 to be sustainable for both the animals and the lands on which they graze. Getting there is going to take capital and time, he said. 

“Our experts tell us the safe number of wild horses and burros on federal lands is 27,000. We have 88,000 out there now. It requires the removal of, quite frankly, the rest,” Pendley said. 

“It’s a financial issue, it’s a budgetary issue and it’s a time issue,” he added.

Pendley said of the costs that “there’s no end in sight.”

The federal government’s management of wild horses and burros has been the subject of criticism from public lands and animal rights activists. Critics have pushed back on a number of strategies the government utilizes to keep the herd population down, especially the practice of spaying wild mares.

Pendley said the administration will continue to utilize the spaying practice and is looking to veterinarians and scientists to help devise other methods of fertility control. The agency also utilizes adoption and private corral leasing as a way to manage herd size.

While he would not comment on whether he thought euthanasia should be a method to control herd numbers, he said Congress ruled against the practice and the agency follows those guidelines.

Nevertheless, Pendley stressed that the administration did not have 15 years to wait to shrink the herd.

“Some rangelands out West are so degraded they won’t recover,” Pendley said. 

“What I’m being told is there is no amount of money, time or good science we can throw at this issue that will return these lands to good status. We simply can’t allow it to continue. We have to get it in the other direction,” he added.

Pointing to some positive news on the management front, BLM officials said the agency had successfully adopted out more than 7,000 wild horses last fiscal year, a 50-year record high. Pendley said the number was a 54 percent increase over the previous year’s total.