This week’s program on wild horses points out how frustrating and difficult many land issues are and can be. To be sure, everyone involved is struggling to find a good solution.
The BLM is faced with trying to manage a problem that has political mandates and societal pressures placed upon them, without the proper funding to get the job done under current restraints. The ranchers who spend most of the time on the range trying to maintain the health of the rangelands so they can graze, are asked to reduce their herds to accommodate the horses to a point of non-profitability, or even economic ruin. Animal lovers are frustrated that the range won’t support the herds and want even more rangeland to protect the icon of the free American west. And taxpayers look at a staggering cost to keep a herd of 100,000 animals on the range and in holding pens around the country. Estimates of $44,000 per horse per lifetime creates a burden of 4.4 billion dollars by the way I do the math (and the cost may actually be higher per horse out on the range).
For the BLM’s part. They are aware that the herds are far above sustainable levels for the health of the range. But they face tremendous pressure when they try to remedy the problem. When they do a gather, animal rights groups create a media frenzy that makes their efforts look bad because it “scares” the horses, and occasionally there is an equestrian casualty. Then the press, and subsequently constituent sensitive legislators come down on them.
Their adoption program is not working because the horses simply aren’t in demand. Even with adoption costs as low as $100.00 they aren’t able to move enough of them to even make a dent in the supply. However, once gentled and broken, they do make remarkable horses, particularly at cutting cattle from the herd. Further, a provision found in the Omnibus Act passed this year, the USDA now bans euthanizing healthy wild horses and burros in its care or from selling wild horses or burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products. Prior to the Omnibus, a 2004 change to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act allowed excess wild horse and burros to be sold by the BLM without restriction, if they were more than ten years old or had been unsuccessfully offered for adoption at least three times. However, during that period from 2004 to 2014 it was the policy of the BLM not to sell or send any wild horses or burros to slaughter. Their own policy decisions and now the new law leave them with only two options, get additional funding to warehouse the excess range horses, Make the Ranchers withdraw from the range and allow the horses to expand, or do nothing and destroy the range. None of the options are good ones.
The ranchers who are the only ones able to make the range produce any economic benefit whatsoever without extensive federal subsidy (alternative energy) and hence the only ones able to invest in range improvements and maintenance, are not only providing forage and water for their herds, but also the native wildlife, as well as the horses. Their margins are quite slim, and the lines between a good year and a bad year is a very small number. Yet while they are the ones improving the water and the range, they are the ones being asked to reduce the herds and withdraw from the land. If they do that, their businesses will collapse and their one asset on the range, the water rights, will be lost. So their frustration is understandable, as is there suspicion that the federal government will by virtue of the impasse, capture all the water in the west.
In many counties where the wild horses roam (particularly in western Utah and Eastern Nevada), ranching is their biggest industry. The loss of jobs and tax revenue to provide basic community services would be an economic disaster for these counties. Finally as taxpayers we see yet another program where the hands of one federal agency tie the hands of the other, and neither one is responsive to the people most affected by the problem (pronounced citizens of rural counties).
The obvious solution is to return to the 2004 change in the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act and have the BLM actually choose to follow the provisions. That is to maintain the herd at manageable levels, allow the animals to be put up for adoption 3 times, then if they don’t find a home, euthanize them or put them on the market. as a commodity. The fault really lies with us, because we always want uncle sugar to provide the easy solution, so that we don’t ruffle any feathers, and all the special interests will not play upon our collective guilt. It is time for us as a nation to stop feeling guilty about everything and realize that we have to be a part of difficult decisions and be realistic about them.
That approach is required on this issue, because with the herds doubling in size every four years, we will destroy the range or bankrupt the BLM (hence us) if we don’t.
My thoughts, I welcome your reply.