Feds Seek Ways to Combat Overpopulation of Wild Horses

Wild horses drink from a watering hole outside Salt Lake City on June 29, 2018. Harsh drought conditions in parts of the American West are pushing wild horses to the brink and forcing extreme measures to protect them. Federal land managers have begun emergency roundups in the deserts of western Utah and central Nevada. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

BOISE, Idaho (CN) – The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and the Bureau of Land Management met Wednesday in Boise to discuss some of the challenges currently facing public land management, most notably the issue of horse and burro overpopulation.

The Bureau of Land Management accepts recommendations from the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board on how to best navigate land management issues. Representatives from both entities, including animal and wildlife experts, were in attendance during Wednesday’s meeting.

The main item of the agenda was to discuss the ever-growing issue of horse and burro overpopulation on both public and private lands. The BLM reported that close to 100,000 wild horses and burros populate the ranges and wilds of the United States, a number that is over triple the population size experts consider to be sustainable.

With another 45,000 horses and burros under the direct care of the BLM, care that taxpayers fund with tens of millions of dollars per year, this kind of overpopulation is an issue that is both pressing and costly.

“There exist no easy solutions to this challenge,” said John Ruhs, Idaho State Director of the BLM. “Right now, sustaining these lands and populations for future generations is a top priority for the BLM.”

The board and the BLM discussed several strategies officials are employing to combat overpopulation. The foremost strategy was that of supporting adoption of horses and burros under the BLM’s care by suitable private citizens.

Heather Tiel-Nelson, a public affairs and horse specialist, spoke on the importance of supporting such programs.

“Getting horses adopted by private owners is crucial, and is a meaningful step forward on this issue,” she told the board.

The BLM reported that while horse adoption programs were first introduced in 1978, the past decade has seen a tremendous refocusing on this strategy, with many viewing it as the most significant tool that can be used to manage population sizes. The past five years alone has seen a significant increase in private individuals adopting from BLM facilities.

Bruce Rittenhouse, acting Wild Horse and Burro Division Chief, stressed to the board how improved marketing and revamped programs have helped to make adoption a successful strategy.

“I think better marketing has certainly played a part in getting those numbers up,” Rittenhouse said to the board. “There was also some great community engagement with our Horse Adopting Incentive programs, where certain people could be eligible to receive $1,000 for adopting an animal at a BLM adoption event.”

Rittenhouse also highlighted a new online horse adopting website, where individuals could preview and adopt BLM horses directly online.

The board also covered the issue of horse training programs and the partnerships that keep them active. Most notably, they discussed a program that allows inmates in federal penitentiaries to help train wild horses. This training, Rittenhouse says, helps increase adoption rates.

“Untrained animals are always less likely to be adopted compared to trained animals,” Rittenhouse said.

Rittenhouse and the board also discussed the ongoing work on creating humane and safe sterilization procedures.

“Fertility control is very much the big stallion in the room,” Rittenhouse told the board. Rittenhouse said investing in both surgical and nonsurgical procedures that limit fertility in horses shows much promise in keeping future population growth in check.

The board recommends the BLM receives an increase in funding so that it can continue to invest in these kinds of adoption programs and overpopulation strategies. The BLM, however, said their budget is allocated and directed solely by Congress.

Both the board and the BLM say that the conversation on overpopulation is ongoing, and that it will continue to be a top priority until meaningful progress has been made.

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