BLM to review Triple B gather in Nevada

Sep 30, 2011

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey has called for a review of existing operating procedures that relate to instances of alleged animal abuse. During the recently completed Triple B wild horse gather in Nevada, more than 1,200 wild horses were removed. Controversy over the gathering tactics ended with U.S. District Judge Howard D. McKibben granting a temporary restraining order to plaintiffs opposing the gathering.

Joan Guilfoyle is the new federal official in charge of stemming the growth of more than 38,000 wild horses and burros that roam 34 million acres over 10 western states, and one of her first trips in her new position was to visit the Nevada roundup.

Guilfoyle joins the program in the middle of potential changes, including increasing the use of fertility drugs to reduce herd growth in hopes of reducing the need for roundups. BLM also plans to adjust the ratios of males and females in herds and geld studs.

Activists have condemned the practice of gelding, arguing it is cruel and ineffective.

At the same time, ranchers have blasted BLM for reducing by a fourth the numbers of horses it plans to gather this year.

The Triple B review will be conducted by a team of BLM employees who will be able to consult with specific non-BLM experts and will look at several incidents, some of which have been videotaped by the public. “The team will carefully review the incidents to determine what happened and to assess the gather operations,” said Abbey. “The review and findings will inform the Bureau’s development of a comprehensive animal welfare plan for the Wild Horse and Burro Program.”

This review is one in a long list of BLM horse management reviews, including one in January 2011 after a video of a mare falling became national news. The conclusion of that review: “The four-member BLM review team concluded that the mare had stumbled or tripped and fell when she lost her footing in a small snow drift. She was not overdriven and did not collapse from exhaustion, the review team found. Following attempts by the helicopter to herd her into the trap, she ran off uncaptured.”

BLM estimates that approximately 38,500 wild horses and burros are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 western states based on data compiled as of Feb. 28, 2011. Lacking natural predators, the herds can double their numbers once every four years. Despite continuous threats from activists and even lawmakers, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandates that once the Interior Secretary “determines ... that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands …, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.” In Fiscal Year 2010, BLM removed 10,255 wild horses and burros (9,715 horses and 540 burros) from public rangelands as part of its overall mission to ensure the health of western public lands for current and future generations.

The estimated wild horse population exceeds by nearly 12,000 the number that BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources. In addition, there are more than 40,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for in midwestern corrals and pastures. In 2010, holding costs accounted for $36.9 million (or 57 percent) of the total enacted Wild Horse and Burro Program budget of $63.9 million.

Activists criticize the roundups, arguing they sometimes injure or kill horses. In addition to the abuse challenges, mounting concerns over cost bring another piece to the debate.

“It’s very expensive to taxpayers and ... it’s very inhumane to the horses that are kept in large holding pens for a very long time,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, in a recent interview. Landrieu has sponsored legislation to prevent horse slaughter and is a member of the appropriations subcommittee that funds BLM.

The cost of BLM’s wild horse program has more than doubled over the past five years. Last year, BLM removed 7,000 more horses from the range than it could find new homes for.

If it must gather horses, Landrieu said the agency should only gather as many as can be adopted.—Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor