New Mexico wild horse bill stalls in committee

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Photo by Melissa Babcock

As published by Ruidoso News

The task of conducting a habitat study and then managing wild horse herds in New Mexico would be costly and time-consuming, and would divert resources of the conservation arm of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department from indigenous wildlife management, according to a Fiscal Analysis of House Bill 446 and its accompanying House Memorial 102.

Both the bill and the memorial were introduced by State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, a Democrat from District 37, and both were tabled in committee this week, according to a legislative spokesman. As the legislature prepares to shut down at noon Saturday, the bill sits in the House Energy and Natural Resources/House Judiciary Committee and the memorial, proposed by Patience O’Dowd of the Wild Horse Observers Association, languishes in the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill would have expand the jurisdiction of Game and Fish under the Wildlife Conservation Act to include wild horses without defining the term, writers for the Legislative Finance Committee noted in their analysis. The bill provides another definition of “wild horse,” as simply a horse “showing no indicia of ownership.” That differs from the definition in existing law governing the disposition of wild horses captured on public land, including descendants of Spanish colonial horses, the analysts stated.

The bill would transfer jurisdiction over those horses from the state livestock board to game and fish and would task the latter agency with determining when preservation of the genetic stock and range conditions require the use of birth control to limit a wild horse herd population. The bill also would extend the duty of private landowners to fence their properties from trespassing horses to include wild horses.

The report states that game and fish officials estimate $340,000 for start-up costs in Fiscal 2017, that would include hiring a wild horse biologist, conducting a survey of the state to determine the locations of wild horse herds, and building or leasing facilities to temporarily house horses while DNA testing is conducted. Another $100,000 would be needed each year to continue the work, plus a $50,000 annual estimated cost per horse to house and maintain any captured Spanish colonial horses in perpetuity, if no one adopts them and there is no public land or wild horse preserve available.

Listed as significant issues in the report were that adding wild horses to the definition of wildlife under the WCA is contrary to procedures laid out in state statute under the act. A species first must be listed, a process that could take nine months to one year and is only applicable to species of wildlife indigenous to the state, which does not include wild horses.

A second issue is that the livestock board has jurisdiction for managing wild horse, because their employees work with the animals and have expertise and access to facilities. Assigning the task to game and fish would take away resources from managing native wildlife species, they stated.

Other issues include that the bill provided no chance for an owner to claim a horse that may not be branded, tattooed, microchipped or showing other indicia of ownership. And the release provision conflicts with language that horses be adopted or relocated to other public land or to public or private preserves.

The analysts noted that the wildlife definition would “open the door for (game and fish) to create a permitting system for horse hunting as wildlife.”  They argued that no long-term effective contraception methods exist and that fertility control would have to be administered annually.

The analysis contends the deadline to finish the survey of December 2017 is unrealistic, because the agency has no expertise to manage wild horses, new staff would have to be hired and existing staff would require significant training. The agency also has no authority to implement any recommendations derived from a study. The transfer of jurisdiction would divert financial resources and could cost an initial $400,000 plus $800,000 in additional personnel for habitat analysis, plus the expense of helicopter surveys.

The analysts also had problems with some of the wild horse population figures in the memorial, but acknowledged that by not passing the bill, confusion over the capture and disposition of wild horses may continue.