October 10, 2019
As Congress takes up wild horses, Nevada is front and center.
Of the roughly 88,000 wild horses and burros that roam federal public land, Nevada is home to more than half. And most people agree the current system of managing horses is not working.
Federal land managers say the population is about three times the amount that is sustainable for the range, a statistic that wild horse advocates challenge. They argue cattle have far greater effects on public land. But it’s not only ranchers who believe there are too many horses. Even some conservationists believe the range is too crowded with horses that trample habitat.
As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management routinely rounds up horses that then live in corrals or pastures, all part of a “holding system” that has consumed the agency’s horse budget.
The debate is over what to do about that system.
The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an additional $35 million for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s horse budget. The move was the next step in funding a plan written by two interests that rarely see eye-to-eye: ranchers and animal welfare groups.
Supported by both the Human Society and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the plan aims to decrease the horse population over time. It will increase roundups, but eventually rely on fertility control to decrease the population on the range. The Humane Society said that the plan will require a “commitment to more humane roundup procedures.” The current procedures are often criticized by advocacy groups. It also cast the compromise as a win because it avoids returning to a time in the early 1900s when horses were slaughtered across the West.
But the plan leaves out the oldest group of wild horse advocates.
The American Wild Horse Campaign has criticized the plan, with its executive director telling the Associated Press that it was “a sweeping betrayal of America’s wild herds by the nation’s largest animal welfare groups.” Other groups, like Animal Wellness Action, have slammed the plan as a giveaway to ranchers that will lead to more horses in captivity, threatening their welfare.