April 24, 2019
Some horse welfare advocates have joined with ranching organizations, rangeland advocates, local Utah and Nevada counties and the Utah Governor's Office, to support a plan to manage Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horses on ranges out West. But others say that the plan would do mustangs more harm than good.
The Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protected wild horses and burros and placed them under BLM protection. Currently, more than 80,000 reside on Herd Management Areas (HMA) in 13 western states including Arizona, California, Colorado, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming. According to the BLM, another nearly 37,000 roam 289,000-acres of grasslands in long-term pastures located primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma. Another nearly 12,000 reside in short-term holding corrals in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah.
In recent years some ranching organizations have argued that the mustangs and burros compete for grazing lands with domestic cattle, sheep and goats owned by ranchers who have grazing rights to the pastures.
According to Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations, the BLM has no on-range management strategies in place but plans to continue removals in the future.
With some herd sizes estimated to double every four years, the BLM and some welfare advocate organizations have investigated ways to control herd growth without allowing the BLM to sell gathered horses “Without Restriction” - that is to buyers who would sell the animals for processing. Population control measures have included the use of the immunocontraceptive Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP). The BLM has also investigated surgical sterilization of mares.
On April 22, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), along with Return to Freedom (RTF), the National Cattlemans Beef Association (NCBA), Public Lands Council (PLC), the American Farm Bureau Association (AFFBA), the Society for Range Management (SRM) and other diverse stakeholders announced their support for a “non-lethal” management of wild herds to be proposed the BLM.
The plan supports a “robust” fertility control program, conducting “strategic gathers” that would target herds in highly populated HMAs and “protect them from forage and water shortages,” to relocate gathered horse and those residing in short-term holding facilities to long-term “humane pasture facilities, and increased adoptions to reduce the total cost of the BLM's wild horse management program and to redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations.”
“For more than a decade, the future of our wild mustangs has been under serious threat, but we are now on the verge of converting what has been considered by many to be a lost cause into a success story.” said Perry. “In order to make a change, we have to bring together groups that have been traditionally at odds.”
But forging the alliance was not easy, said Ryan Yates, director of Congressional Relations for the AFBF.
“Each of the stakeholders involved in this proposal had to set aside some long-held positions in order to reach this agreement,” Yates said. “While it was difficult for us to cede some tools authorized by the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act), including sale-without-restriction, we are hopeful that this good-faith effort will soon be rewarded with healthy populations range-wide.”
Even so, the ASPCA as well as the Return to Freedom, Wild Horse Conservancy have been sharply criticized for coalescing with the ranchers, for supporting gathers.
“As the nation’s largest wild horse preservation organization, we unequivocally oppose a plan by the cattlemen’s industry and two large humane organizations for the mass roundup and removal of America’s iconic wild horses and burros from our Western public lands,” said a written statement from the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC). “This plan is an irresponsible sell out of America’s wild horses and the 80 percent of Americans who want them protected in the wild.”
Marty Irby executive director at Animal Wellness Action and a lifelong horseman, called the proposal “naive.”
“America was built on the backs of horses, and to remove these majestic steeds from federal lands, goes against the very core of equine protection.” Irby “Animal groups should know better, and we’re appalled by their proposition - We’ll be fighting against this plan on Capitol Hill and in the Administration to help protect the wild horses from removal.”
No one from BLM was available for comment.