The Bureau of Land Management announced this week that it had approved a plan to remove 2,342 wild horses from the 1.1 million-acre Pancake Complex in Nevada — about 85 percent of the wild horses estimated to be living there — over a 10-year period.
The Pancake Complex includes the Pancake Herd Management Area (HMA), Sand Springs HMA and the Jakes Wash Herd Area, managed by BLM, as well as the Monte Christo Wild Horse Territory, managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
BLM’s goal is to reduce the number of wild horses to an agency-set Appropriate Management Level of 361-638 wild horses. By comparison, BLM allows 59,427 Animal Unit Months of seasonal private cattle grazing over the same acreage. That’s the year-round equivalent of 4,952 cow-calf pairs.
BLM says that phased wild horse removals are necessary “to reduce impacts to rangeland health and wildlife habitat within complex boundaries.”
The agency also plans to: implement fertility control “and/or” intrauterine devices (IUDs), maintaining 60-40 male to female sex skewing, and gelding up to 138 stallions.
RTF opposes the use of IUDs based on past studies. IUDs used more recently by BLM are a newer technology made of a soft, anchor-shaped silicone but RTF remains opposed to their use until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective.
RTF does not advise sex-ratio skewing for wild horses for these reasons: (1) management of populations via sex skewing is temporary (populations return to their normal ratios), and (2) healthy populations rely on whatever the norms are in terms of that population’s demographics – adjusting a population of wild horses to skew for more or less of anything does not attain a natural state for that population, with behavior ramifications that are not yet understood (potential heightened aggression in stallions, for example).
RTF also does not advise gelding as a population management tool since there are not sufficient studies to understand the behavioral effects of gelding some proportion of a population, and modeling for population effects is a guess, at best.
BLM also plans to remove all wild horses on the Jakes Wash Herd Area, which in 2008 was demoted from Herd Management Area to Herd Area status to be managed to an AML of 0, but which now has an estimated population of more than 46 wild horses. Jakes Wash was the site of an “emergency” roundup in 2020 during which 68 wild horses were removed from the range because of lack of water.