Thousands of wild horses elude capture as BLM's funding runs dry

Thousands of wild horses elude capture as BLM's funding runs dry

Elyse Gardner's video highlights the dangers to wild horses as a result of poorly designed traps and insensitive handling.

In a stunning development at the BLM's Wild Horse Advisory Board Meeting today in Phoenix, the BLM's Dean Bolstad announced that because the agency did not receive the necessary appropriations, it had been forced to cancel all of the wild horse and burro roundups it planned to conduct through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30th, 2011.

Thousands of wild horses elude capture as BLM's funding runs dry
Magnificent wild horses like these will get a temporary reprieve from capture because the BLM has run out of money.Pam Nickoles Photography,

A total of 4536 horses and 150 burros who had been destined for capture in 18 Herd Management Areas throughout seven western states will now remain free, at least for the next six and a half months. Bolstad said that BLM may conduct three relatively small roundups on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service, with monies from that agency's budget.

IN Fiscal Year 2010, which ended on September 30th, 2010, 11,295 wild horses were "gathered" from their natural ranges, and 10,137 (90%) were permanently removed and sent to short-and long-term holding facilities; 443 of the 1158 horses who were released back into the wild were mares who were injected with PZP-22, a controversial fertility treatment that renders them sterile for a period of about two years.

With a total of 41,500 wild horses currently in its care, the BLM intends to rely increasingly on such fertility treatments, rather than on traditional roundups, as a means of population control. As of February, 2010, BLM estimated that approximately 33,700 wild horses and 4700 wild burros were roaming free throughout their designated Herd Areas. That figure is contested by some independent observers, including wild horse expert Craig Downer, who, in written comments submitted to the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, argued:

"In spite of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act's legal mandate to protect and preserve wild horses and burros, over 27 million of the officially admitted 53.5 million Herd Area acres have been or are about to be zeroed out by the BLM and USFS in order to establish an unfair 26.5 million acres of HMAs or Wild Horse/Burro Territories still marginally populated with a ridiculous nationwide Appropriate Management Level (AML) of 26,578 overly fragmented individual horses or burros.

This works out to one remaining wild horse or burro for every 1,000 acres and for every individual human public lands grazing permittee, each of whom may graze hundreds or even thousands of cattle and sheep upon the public lands."

Through the first five months of Fiscal Year 2011, a period that ended on February 28th, 2011, the BLM had rounded up an additional 5462 wild horses, and had permanently removed 3941 (72%) of them.

While the BLM claims that its roundups sacrifice a questionably low number of equine lives, its highly managed mortality statistics do not begin to tell the gruesome story of the horses and burros who have suffered and died as a direct result of the trauma they endured by being forcibly "removed" and unnaturally confined under the auspices of the agency and its contractors. As a matter of policy, the deaths of wild foals born in holding pens are never published or recorded, and the fetuses forcefully expelled from the bodies of mares who were chased and stressed beyond their limits are tallied in the BLM archives as nothing more than collateral damage. As long as that mentality persists, the BLM's pronouncements of reforms to the wild horse and burro program will ring hollow, indeed.