Federal Agencies Seek to Shrink Size of Oregon Wild Horse Herd in New Plan

(August 13, 2019) In July, the U.S. Forest Service announced a scoping comment period for proposed actions to establish a plan for Oregon’s Murderers Creek Wild Horse Joint Management Area (JMA) and to make amendments to the Malheur Forest Plan. 

The Murderers Creek JMA, which is made up of state, private, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, consists of 142,740 acres. As of 2018, the estimated population of federally-protected wild horses within the JMA was 339 (approximately 420 acres per horse). 

However, under the proposed plan, the agencies would establish a new Appropriate Management Level (AML) of just 50-140 horses. The BLM’s wild horse and burro handbook states a “minimum population size of 50 effective breeding animals (i.e., a total population size of about 150-200 animals) is currently recommended to maintain an acceptable level of genetic diversity within reproducing [wild horse and burro] populations.” And adding insult to injury, the Forest Service’s own 2017 AML determination document clearly noted that the high AML of 140 horses was likely not even a large enough population to avoid inbreeding. 

Not to much surprise, ten livestock grazing allotments administered by the BLM and five grazing allotments administered by the Forest Service, overlay the wild horses’ habitat. All allotments have permitted or leased livestock grazing on them. 

The Process of Public Comments

Phase I of the review process is currently underway with this scoping period. The Phase I analysis sets the goal of amending the Malheur Forest Plan to include the updated AML and setting herd management plan objectives. The objectives are broad and do not include decisions on specific actions that the agencies will take to manage the herd within the JMA.

Phase II will take place after the final Environmental Assessment is released from Phase I. The Phase II analysis is anticipated to include consideration of management actions that are “consistent with the appropriate management level and the Herd Management Area Plan established in Phase I.” The NEPA process in Phase II will focus on the specific actions that the agencies intend to implement to achieve AML within the JMA.

AWHC will be reviewing and commenting on each stage of the NEPA process. We will keep you updated as the Forest Service develops the management documents that affect this herd.

What You Can Do

Submit a Comment Letter

Please note: comments are due Friday, August 16, 2019.

The preferred method to submit comments is electronically here.

Alternatively, written comments concerning the project may be submitted using the following methods:

  • Postal mail: Bob Foxworth, District Ranger, Blue Mountain Ranger District, Malheur National Forest, 431 Patterson Bridge Road, PO Box 909, John Day, Oregon 97845

  • Send via facsimile: 541-575-3319

Points to note:

  • Increase the proposed Appropriate Management Level (AML) and, at the very least, maintain a genetically viable herd of 150-200 individuals.

  • In addition to providing complete livestock use information in the draft EA, the agency should consider a reduction or elimination in livestock use. This consideration should be added as an objective of the herd management area plan.

  • Avoid any consideration of sex-ratio skewing, currently listed as an objective, which has no scientific basis. Sex-ratio skewing is known to (a) have harmful effects on the wild horses’ natural behaviors, (b) create aggression among males competing for fewer females, and (c) fails to manage the population growth effectively.

  • Include direction for the implementation of a PZP, Catch Treat and Release Program, within the JMA to replace mass roundup and removal operations.

  • Continue to implement range improvements that include restoring drainage ponds and various water catchments, restore and protect water sources within the JMA and install additional solar wells especially in areas of the JMA that are not fully utilized by the horses.