The Obama Administration is in the process of creating sweeping new policies to determine the future of our national forests for generations to come. These policies, known as the Forest Planning Rule, lay out the “rules of the road” for the U.S. Forest Service to manage its 155 national forests and 20 grassland areas nationwide, which include 37 designated wild horse and burro territories.
Currently, the Planning Rule is silent on wild horses and burros, even though they are protected by federal law on Forest Service lands.
Many individuals and groups that value the heritage of wild horses and burros fear that government agencies including the U. S. Forest Service and the BLM have ulterior motives, wanting to rid public lands of wild horses and burros and turn them over to cattle ranchers and mineral extraction companies.
In February, Director of the Bureau of Land Management Bob Abbey announced that following an extensive public process, the agency is accelerating fundamental reforms to how it manages wild horses and burros on public lands.
These reforms respond to the input of more than 9,000 members of the public who commented on last year’s Wild Horse and Burro Program Strategy Development Document through public meetings and written statements.
The proposed strategy announced today includes reducing the number of wild horses removed from the range for at least the next 2 years; reaffirming the central role that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)’s on-going review of the program will have on science-based management decisions:
- increasing adoptions;
- significantly expanding the use of fertility control to maintain herd levels;
- improving its care and handling procedures to enhance the humane treatment of the animals
- opposing the killing or slaughter of wild horses or burros as a management practice.
The BLM has commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to review previous wild horse management studies and make recommendations on how the BLM should proceed in light of the latest scientific research. The NAS review is expected to be completed in early 2013.
Specifically the study will look at the methods for population modeling, the annual rates of population growth, fertility control methods, evaluation of carrying capacity of various lands to support wild horse herds, genetic diversity in wild horse herds, and predator impact on wild horse population growth.
Issue Procedures to Facilitate Long-term Care by Partners -- The BLM will release within the next 30 days specific procedures by which members of the public can apply to enter into partnerships with the federal government for long-term care of wild horses that are removed from the public rangeland.
Increase Science-Based Fertility Control. The BLM proposes to significantly increase the number of mares treated with fertility control – from 500 in 2009 to a target of 2,000 in each of the next 2 years during the NAS study, pending sufficient budget allocations. Director Abbey said the BLM’s ultimate goal is to make various fertility control measures the primary means to maintain healthy population levels. He said the BLM intends to work closely with the Humane Society of the United States to implement and monitor this expanded effort.
Reduce Removals – The BLM intends to reduce the annual number of wild horses removed for at least the next 2 years from 10,000 to 7,600 – a level that would essentially maintain the current number of wild horses and burros on the range. The NAS review would be completed in early 2013. Abbey said that while drought or other emergencies may require the removal of more than 7,600 animals, the BLM has decided to adopt this more conservative approach pending input from the NAS regarding the number of horses than can be safety and humanely left on the open range.
In addition, Director Abbey said the BLM will continue to strengthen areas on which it has already started. These include:
Enhance Humane Animal Care and Handling Practices. Director Abbey said the agency will conduct thorough reviews and add appropriate controls to the agency’s contracts and policies to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices. This will apply to both gathering contracts and short-and long-term holding facility contracts.
Promote Volunteerism in the Management of Wild Horses. The proposal calls for increased engagement of the public by enhancing public outreach, recruiting local volunteers to assist in monitoring the health of the rangelands where animals roam, and encourages partnerships to increase herd-related ecotourism.
Improve Transparency and Openness. Director Abbey also said it is important to reaffirm throughout the agency the BLM’s fundamental commitment to transparency in all facets of the wild horse and burro program.
This includes increasing public viewing opportunities during gathers and at short-term corrals and long–term care facilities to the highest extent possible without compromising the safety of staff, members of the public, or the animals. The BLM is also committed to the accurate, prompt, and public release of information related to the program.