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Agency cites ‘staggering’ cost of reining in US wild horses

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2011, file photo, two young wild horses play while grazing in Reno, Nev. Federal land managers say it will take 20 years and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. range land. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)

In this Jan. 13, 2011, file photo, two young wild horses play while grazing in Reno, Nev. Federal land managers say it will take 20 years and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. range land. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)

RENO, Nev.  — Federal land managers say it will take two decades and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. range land.

The Bureau of Land Management’s latest plans envision capturing 200,000 mustangs over the next two decades. It also wants to build corrals to hold thousands more than current capacity and adopt regulations allowing the permanent sterilization of horses roaming federal lands for the first time.

“The overall funding requirements could be staggering,” the bureau acknowledged in a report to Congress this week.

The strategy underscores the volatility of the decades-long controversy pitting horse advocates against ranchers whose livestock compete for federally subsidized forage across 10 western states.

 In this March 14, 2006, file photo, a herd of wild horses grazes near the Carson River in Carson City, Nev. Federal land managers say it will take 20 years and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. range land. (Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal via AP, File)

In this March 14, 2006, file photo, a herd of wild horses grazes near the Carson River in Carson City, Nev. Federal land managers say it will take 20 years and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. range land. (Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal via AP, File)

“The estimates in this analysis are intended to identify to committees the severity of program challenges,” the agency said.

The 25-page report repeats 10 separate times that the estimates “should not be construed to imply Administration support for particular levels of appropriations for this program beyond FY 2021.”

However, it also suggests Congress should put its money where its mouth is when it comes to managing mustangs, noting that language congressional conferees included in the Interior Department’s last appropriation bill states it is “incumbent upon the bureau to request the funding necessary to address this growing problem.”

The bureau says if nothing is done to curb annual growth rates of herds that naturally double every four or five years, the number of wild horses and burros on the range could exceed 2.8 million by 2040.

It stops short of repeating past requests to eliminate prohibitions on the resale of excess horses for slaughter.

But horse defenders said that’s clearly the intention of painting such a dire picture of the challenges. They argue horses grazing federal land are dramatically outnumbered by cattle that cause significantly more ecological damage.

“By prioritizing the failed approach of mass roundup and warehousing of tens of thousands of wild horses in holding facilities, the agency is setting the stage for the ultimate slaughter of these American icons,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said a more sustainable path would require use of fertility controls, “not surgical sterilization or other inhumane methods.”

“This report envisions massive roundups without a viable plan for dealing with the horses once they’ve left the range,” he said. “It’s almost as if the BLM is setting itself up for failure.”

The bureau maintains the range can only support 27,000 horses — something horse advocates dispute.

The agency said it captured 80,000 horses and burros during the 1990s. By 2000, about 48,000 remained on the range, with 10,000 in holding facilities. Now, it estimates 88,000 roam the range, with 47,000 in government corrals and off-range pastures.

It plans more contraception research but warns “using only short-term fertility control vaccines at any scale” won’t significantly reduce on-range populations.

Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen Beef Association Natural Resources, said the report “provides clear and welcome recognition of the hard decisions that are necessary to protect our rangelands and the animals themselves.”

Nevada Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Doug Busselman said accelerated roundups and sterilizations are long overdue.

“The current condition of over-population is not acceptable,” he said.

Congress allocated $80 million annually for the efforts from 2011 to 2019. The bureau estimates it needs $900 million over the first five years to rein in herds — $116 million next year, growing to $238 million by year five.

“With potentially more than 250,000 animals being held in off-range pastures, a spike in daily feed rates could dramatically increase out-year funding needs,” it said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

2 comments

  1. ,
    as long as BLM had power the horses are doomed to slaughter . they lie, they deceive , they pander to the cattlemen who want free grazing for their benefit and a whole group , those mentioned are in for their wealth and want to take away the wild horses from their natural habitat and home and deprive American of them . it is the same ole story give to the wealthy and ruin things for other people .

  2. BLM Sucks! Currently under this administration, they have zero plan to deal with this in a humane way for the population to be curtailed. Rounding up horses is absurd and inhumane and deadly as been video-captured. Many of these horses are not adopted and Congress needs to enact and enforce the illegal transportation of horses for slaughter. How Despicable of Americans to let this happen. The Cattle industry is a menace to our public lands as a whole . Cattle causes more damage than any other viable species that lives on these wild lands, whether it be horses, sage grouse, bears, wolves, or what have you. CATTLE is a MENACE and these people refuse to come to the table to compromise. Our public lands are NOT theirs. Welfare Queens are all they are.

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