Mustang management gets an overhaul


Roughly 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the West’s public lands -- about 40 percent more than the feds think those lands can sustain. But the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to round them up and adopt them out have been costly, ineffective and unpopular, with critics charging that horses are unnecessarily harmed and even killed.

Earlier this week, the agency stopped a roundup in northeastern Nevada after gathering just 1,300 of the 2,000 wild horses it had planned to remove from the range, saying that high winds and the dispersal of the horses made it too difficult to continue. The Associated Press reports:

Activists said it made more sense financially to leave the horses on the range on two ranches — in and around the Antelope Complex -- that the wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens purchased to serve as a mustang sanctuary.

"The BLM could have postponed the roundup until fall in order to take advantage of philanthropist Madeleine Pickens' cost-savings alternative to house Antelope horses on her private lands adjacent to their home range instead of shipping them thousands of miles to distant government holding facilities," said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

The BLM earlier rejected Pickens' proposal to accept some of the mustangs, saying it wouldn't save taxpayers' money and it didn't include enough water and forage for the animals.

Also this week, in response to more than 9,000 public comments received over the past year, the BLM has announced “fundamental reforms” in its management of wild horses. For at least the next two years, it will round up 3,000 fewer animals each year -- just 7,000 annually -- and work to increase adoptions. It's pledging to form more partnerships with private groups -- like Pickens -- for long-term care of some horses. The agency will also quadruple the number of mares receiving contraception, to 2,000 per year.

The plan also includes a review by the National Academy of Sciences to ensure the latest research is applied to wild horse management policies. The BLM is taking comments on the plan through March 30 -- to add your two cents, write to [email protected] with “Comments on Strategy” in the subject line.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

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