Congressional committee seeking solutions to wild horse populations
By David Louis
RAWLINS — A Congressional subcommittee on federal lands last week attempted to answer a long-standing question: what to do about wild horses grazing on public lands.
It was not a new debate.
Solutions to control the ever-increasing numbers of wild horses both on the range and in holding facilities included widespread castration and neutering of horses — a program currently under study — as well as lifting the prohibition of slaughtering horses.
Although there are no plans to slaughter horses, Wednesday’s meeting signaled a troubling turn of events for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC).
“I think we are reaching a very serious tipping point where the public lands ranchers and their political allies are making a big push to slaughter as many as 80,000 horses that are in holding pens and horses they consider to be excess on the range,” AWHPC Director Suzanne Roy said.
“This was a very biased subcommittee meeting that I attended where there were three witnesses from the ranching point of view of essentially advocating the slaughter of horses and conduct vast roundups employing surgical sterilization,” Roy said.
Although other western states are progressing with plans to conduct studies how sterilization may affect movement patterns, Wyoming is more than a year off on its initial steps, said Public Affairs Specialist, Brad Purdy, for the Wyoming state office of Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“We do have the White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Area (HMA) gather starting in either July or August, and this does have a research component,” Purdy said.
“Obviously we are over AML (appropriate management level) in both of those areas. There will be a gather, but we are also going to put radio collars on some of the horses. Then there will be a study to analyze their movements,” he said. “So, in about one year from now, there will be another gather where we will do some spay and neutering and examine how their behavior plays out.”
But, Purdy said, the agency’s deputy director “is pretty specific that BLM is not looking at slaughtering animals.”
“This is not on the table right now.”
Dealing with the west’s wild horse population is a costly endeavor.
Congress appropriated more than $77.2 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program in fiscal year 2015.
Of the total $75.1 million spent, holding costs accounted for $49 million, or 65.7 percent. Roundups and removals cost $1.8 million and adoption events cost $6.3 million.
The BLM estimates there are slightly more than 58,000 wild horses and burros on 42 million acres of federally managed rangeland in 10 Western states. Wyoming’s population is estimated at more than 3,500.
For some, slaughtering wild horses and selling the meat to countries that consume it may be a reasonable solution and a fiscally sound approach.
Though Carbon County Commissioner and rancher John Espy would not go so far as to advocate slaughter, he did say “Something’s got to happen and right now that’s unfortunately probably one of the few solutions out there.”
“We’ve got to try anything. The herds grow at a rate of 20 percent a year and the sheer numbers that are in holding facilitates is a good indication that the adoption program isn’t working as it was hoped in the beginning,” Espy said.
BLM did confirm that adoption rates have declined in recent years.
“I think it’s a very dangerous time for wild horses, and I do think the agenda is at odds with the majority of Americans who overwhelmingly apposes horse slaughter,” Roy said. “I think both the Democrats and Republicans should respect the will of the people, and we have to mount a very grassroots campaign to show that there is an extremist agenda.”
Espy disagrees with this premise.
“In some areas you can remove ranchers from the public range, but it’s postponing the inevitable,” he said. “Wild horses have no natural predators, and unless we control the population this will get out of hand.”
A contentious issue, finding consensus on controlling the wild horse population may never happen Roy said.
“I think what has happened is that BLM has not implemented solutions. They’ve actually decreased the use of PZP as a humane method of birth control method and at the same time decreasing removals,” she said.
“I think there is no other explanation for BLM’s failure to implement solutions that they have at hand, other than the agency has an agenda and the agenda is to slaughter our wild horses.”