Reporter: Gayle Dixon
Imagine seeing a band of horses running across the desert, the mares and foals in the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. This is the symbol of the freedom of the American west. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 put the BLM in charge of managing these horses in balance with the ecology and other uses of the land. Prior to this, the wild horses were managed by the local ranchers and/or the mustangers that captured or killed the horses for dog food and rendering plants. At the time these mustangers were about to rid the country of the entire herd of wild horses which brought on this act to save them.
The BLM is in charge of managing these herds and maintaining a balance between them, the wildlife of the area and other uses of the land such as grazing by cattle, hunting, hiking and etc. Herd Management Areas (HMA) have been established and Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) have been set for each area. They have established an AML of 26,715 horses and burros total in all the HMAs. The estimate off all the horses on these HMAs as of March 2016 is 67,027, over 40,000 horses and burros above the recommended number. Remember this is an estimate and changes daily with the birth of foals and losses. It is determined that the herd size doubles every 4-5 years. Besides the horses on the range the BLM has in long term holdings and adoption centers over 46,000 horses and burros at a cost of over $60,000,000. They have tried to reduce the reproduction of the horses with castration of some of the stallions and birth control injections for the mares. Neither of these has helped to reduce the rate of reproduction to get the population under control. At this point the only option the BLM has to reduce herd numbers is to offer the horses for adoption. They have implemented several programs to try to increase the number of adoptions including: a prison program where the prisoners train the horses offered for adoption; the Mustang Challenge in which trainers take a mustang and have 90 days to train the horse for a competition with a $100,000 dollar prize; and incentives for trainers to start a horse and then find an adopter. The number of adopted horses can not keep up with the growth of the herds. There are horses that are starving to death or dying of thirst. Pictures of these horses are posted on www.wildhorserange.org.
How can we get these herds back to the Appropriate Management Level? The 2004 Burns Ammendment to the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act now allows animals not adopted after 3 chances to be sold outright but there is not enough of a market so that the numbers are reduced. This year they called for bids for more long term holding facilities. What else can we do? Some suggestions include opening a horse slaughter plant in the US and selling the processed meat for human or animal consumption. This will bring on protests by the horse lovers and environmentalists that think these horses should be left alone to run free. Other options suggested is to open the horses up to hunting the same as other game animals or the use of euthanasia either in the holding facilities or on the range. All of these options are going to be met by opposition and protests. If euthanasia is adopted there will be protesters and all the details will be broadcast all over the news causing more of an uproar. They already protest the gathers so slaughter or euthanasia will have to be met with a news campaign that shows the result of overpopulation, Horse slaughter needs to be reinstated in the US and the excess horses disposed of humanely and economically. It will be met with opposition but seems to me the only viable option.