Population decrease not a win for wild horses or BLM

/ In The News, News, Press Releases

Captured wild horses crowded into temporary holding pens at the trap site during a helicopter roundup on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in 2021. Photo by Meg Frederick.

The Bureau of Land Management’s annual population estimate for wild horses and burros on BLM-managed public lands shows a second straight decrease, from 86,189 horses and burros in 2021 to 82,384 as of March 1, 2022.

“This should not be mistaken for a win by the Bureau of Land Management,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom (RTF). “The agency’s decades-old practice of reactionary, roundup-only management will only result in the BLM continuing to chase and, at most, briefly achieve its arbitrary and low population targets on some Herd Management Areas.

“If mares are not treated with fertility control to slow reproduction on the range and released, these roundups will be followed by increases in herd populations, and then, as usual, BLM returning with helicopters to capture and place more wild horses alongside more than 60,000 warehoused in off-range holding.”

Previously, the total number of wild horses and burros increased for nine straight years, from 37,294 in 2012 to a record high estimate of 95,114 in 2020.

The agency’s goal is to reach its set “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of just 26,785 total wild horses and burros across 177 Herd Management Areas in 10 Western states.

Although the BLM’s annual population estimates are viewed with skepticism by wild horse advocates, they are the only range-wide figures available. The population decreases are consistent with the agency’s recent actions and its plans for more of the same:

–Over the past four fiscal years, BLM has removed 43,941 wild horses and burros from their home ranges while treating only 3,257 with some form of fertility control.

–BLM plans to remove “at least” a record 19,000 wild horses and burros this year while treating just 2,300 with fertility control.

RTF believes that BLM’s plan for continued aggressive removals is excessive and irresponsible – especially because 60,611 captured wild horses and burros already live in off-range holding, 21,784 of them in overcrowded government corrals, as of February 2022. Last year, the agency spent $72.4 million (64% of its budget) on off-range holding.

The plan is all the more irresponsible because BLM lacks the infrastructure, staff and contracts to run its own program, much less properly protect and care for captured wild horses and burros that the agency should be moving to more natural, cost-effective pastures.

Population modeling has shown that the BLM must immediately implement fertility control to stabilize herd growth so that removals, which decimate family bands and herds, can be brought to an end, and off-range holding, which costs taxpayers millions more each year, phased out.

“Lawmakers have begun providing funding for fertility control, but they must hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its correct and immediate implementation,” DeMayo said. “BLM’s actions are that of an agency stuck in the past, one fixated on removing wild horses from the range without enough thought for the welfare of the animals, the cost to taxpayers, or the future of our wild herds and public lands.

“Congress must demand that BLM begin the long-overdue transition to proven, safe and humane fertility control as its primary management tool now and not be misled by the agency into thinking it can be postponed.”

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress that BLM must immediately increase fertility control for wild horses