RTF: Lower wild horse, burro numbers on range don’t equal success

/ In The News, News, Press Releases

Wild horses in off-range holding. Photo by Meg Frederick.

For immediate release

The Bureau of Land Management’s annual population estimate for wild horses and burros on BLM-managed public lands shows a decrease from 82,883 in March 2023 to 73,520 as of March 1, 2024, the third drop in four years.

“This isn’t any sort of win for the Bureau of Land Management and definitely not for America’s wild horses and burros,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, a national nonprofit advocacy organization.

“The BLM’s own history shows remaining fixated only on capture-and-removal management will not succeed. Population modeling shows that, too. To create meaningful, sustainable change, the agency must implement fertility control to stabilize herd growth so that removals, which decimate family bands and herds, can be brought to an end, and phase out off-range holding, which costs millions more each year and is less and less available.”

The BLM’s goal is to reach an “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of no more than 26,785 total wild horses and burros across 177 Herd Management Areas in 10 Western states.

  • Over the past five years, the BLM has removed 57,997 wild horses and burros from their home ranges while treating just 4,936 with some form of fertility control.
  • More than 64,000 wild horses and burros live not on the range but warehoused in government facilities, including more than 23,000 in often overcrowded “short-term” corrals.
  • Last year, the agency spent $108.5 million (69% of its wild horse program budget) on off-range holding — more than double what it spent on holding only two years earlier.
  • The BLM plans to remove 20,510 wild horses and burros this fiscal year — the second most ever — while treating only 1,440 with fertility control.

“Congress has provided additional funding for using proven, safe and humane fertility control to slow herd growth, and its use now enjoys both strong public and broad stakeholder support,” DeMayo said. “Yet, the BLM maintains it will use fertility control only after it reaches the low, arbitrary ‘Appropriate Management Levels’ it has set for itself.

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

“Appropriate Management Level” can no longer be the only measure of success for wild horse management on public lands — not for an agency talking about fertility control while removing  wild horses from the few smaller ranges where fertility control has shown success.

The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee’s guiding report language attached to the recently passed Fiscal Year 2024 funding package shows that lawmakers recognize this, too. The subcommittee emphasizes that it “expects” the BLM to place “specific attention on”:

  • “increasing the use of fertility control, including measurable objectives in reducing population growth with fertility controls,
  • “targeting removals from the most heavily ecologically impacted and populated areas,
  • “expanding long-term, off-range humane holding, and continuing adoptions while fully implementing and enforcing existing safeguards.”

The BLM also intends to again pursue sterilization, according to its FY 24 budget justification document, which could be a diversion from real progress. The agency has repeatedly set out to perform costly, dangerous surgical sterilizations on wild mares before surrendering in the face of public opposition or legal action.

Support fertility control that can end wild horse roundups: Send a letter to Congress.

Oppose the BLM’s pursuit of sterilization of wild mares: Send a letter to Congress.