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AWHPC seeks a holistic and humane approach to managing wild horses and a shift away from the current policy, which focuses on rounding up horses and removing them from their homes on public lands. We support in-the-wild management of wild horses and burros that leaves these animals on the range where they belong.
We seek a federal wild horse and burro program that focuses on safe and humane fertility control instead of removals, promotes healthy ecosystems by protecting predators, improves range stewardship, and addresses resource inequalities. Presently, the BLM allocates the majority of forage and water resources in designated wild horse habitat areas to privately-owned livestock, instead of to wild horses and other wildlife species. The agency sets unnaturally and artificially low level authorized management levels (AMLs) for wild horses. We seek a fairer share of resources on public lands for wild horses and burros, and increase in population levels to allow for healthy and genetically sustainable wild horse and burro populations over the long term.
Some specific alternative programs we support include:
To allow density-dependent population regulation, the design of each area should involve natural boundaries wherever possible, and where necessary, artificial horse-proof barriers. These dedicated wilderness areas should feature restored ecosystems, including wild horse predators such as mountain lions. A stipulation should be that wild horses and burros be the principal species in these areas, in conjunction with all naturally occurring wildlife.
One example of this self-regulating model can be found with the Montgomery Pass herd, on the California/Nevada border. For twenty-five years, these horses have survived unmanaged, and through natural attrition have maintained stable population levels of roughly 150 to 200 animals.
Such a model complies with the true intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, ensuring preservation of America’s wild horses in a natural state, as part of our national heritage.
The Act calls for dedicated areas to be “devoted principally” to wild horses and burros. The Bureau of Land Management’s current policy contravenes this mandate by favoring private livestock and game animals on the very areas that were legally allocated to wild horses, steadily reducing wild horse management levels, sometimes to the point of eradication (the so-called “zeroing out” of a herd area).
Since 1988, the wild horse population of Maryland’s Assateague Island has been successfully controlled using a contraceptive vaccine (PZP) developed with the help of the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick is assisting the BLM in implementing this non-intrusive contraceptive method across a growing number of herd management areas.
The method has proven very successful, is easy to administer (via remote darting of the mares) and does not disrupt the complex social structure of wild herds. A March 2004 USGS study found that $7.7 million could be saved annually through the use of contraceptive measures alone.
PZP should be used judiciously, solely to the extent necessary to maintain healthy population levels, in keeping with the intent of the 1971 Act. The goal is to minimize the need for costly and traumatic round-ups as well as save millions of tax dollars, while ensuring genetic diversity.
Use of PZP is subject to oversight by the Humane Society of the United States. The government’s recent interest in alternative contraceptive methods that are not subject to HSUS oversight is of great concern to wild horse advocates. Uncertainty as to the safety and reversibility of some of these newer methods, such as the vaccine SpayVac, are also cause for concern.
Horse lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, as well as those with an interest in the history of the Old West, should be given the opportunity to enjoy wild horse excursions year-round. In addition to non-intrusive observation of wild horse behavior and herd dynamics, in-the-wild management itself could become part of a unique experience for visitors to herd management areas. In this manner, the American wild horse could establish itself as an economic resource on the Western range and better its chances of long-term survival.
Today, wild horses and burros can be found primarily on government-designated Herd Management Areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, but also in Maryland, North Carolina, Hawaii, and even in the Bahamas.
While Eastern states have embraced their wild herds as an economic resource, in the West, whose spirit its wild herds truly embody, the Bureau of Land Management has failed to acknowledge the wild horse as having any value on the range. So, when you opt to spend your summer vacation trekking to the western states to view wild horses in their natural habitat, you support the horses' value on public lands.
With a bit of luck, you will be able to witness horses in their truly natural state, traveling in small bands made up of a stallion and his harem of mares, or in bachelor bands of young stallions. Please be respectful of the horses as you view them and always remember that these are wild animals. Stay on marked roadways, avoid water holes and leave all gates as you find them. Remember, it is illegal to chase, harass or harm wild horses or burros, or to let your dogs chase them. This is particularly important during foaling season. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens for your camera so you don't disturb the animals by getting too close.
Please keep in mind that most of these are remote, untouched areas. Prior to setting out on a wild horse viewing trip, make sure to contact the local BLM field office for current updates on herd movements, fire restrictions, road conditions, maps, and other pertinent information.
Competition with private cattle for public land forage is often the cause of these relocations. AWHPC believes the BLM could contract with public land ranchers as it currently does with holding-facility operators, eliminating the stress and expense of round-ups and shipping cross-country: the horses would be left where they are and public land ranchers whose allotments include wild horses could be granted a tax-credit or paid a per-horse fee (presumably lower than the fee paid to holding-facility operators), eliminating the need for long-term holding facilities. Ranchers would be expected to allow the horses to enjoy range improvements (for which they receive government range improvement funds) such as water pumps in drought areas, to the same extent as their cattle (with fair compensation for any increase in their utility bills).
However, without independent oversight and incentives to ensure ranchers will provide long-term care for the horses, initiatives such as BLM’s partnership with the Public Lands Council to simply sell captured horses to ranchers for a nominal fee are not acceptable solutions. See also our proposal regarding incentives to public lands ranchers.
Cattle fencing on public lands is often the cause of high wild horse mortality during drought episodes, as recently reported in Nevada (see AWHPC Investigation). In such instances, cooperation from public land ranchers is also necessary to avoid wild horses being kept from water sources by cattle fencing.
It is our belief that change can only come about if the ranchers as well as the horses are taken into account. Historically however, the horses have been on the losing end of this equation.