Horse News

Call on Congress Now to De-Fund the Wild Horse Roundups

Commentary by Laura Allen of Animal Law Coalition

The Roundups Need to STOP

Twin Peaks Horses prior to helicopter stampede and capture ~ photo by Terry Fitch

It is no secret that BLM’s program for the wild horses and burros is to round them up, remove them from the range and warehouse them in holding facilities. What is a mystery is why taxpayers would foot the bill for managing wild animals in this way.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, the BLM removed 10,137 horses and 476 burros; 443 mares were treated with the fertility control drug PZP. The total FY 2010 program expenditures were $65 million, of which $44.6 million was spent on roundup, removal and holding.

So far during FY 2011, which began on October 1, 2010, the BLM has removed 5,825 horses and 75 burros and PZP-treated 469 mares. So far in FY 2011, $4.5 million has been spent on roundup and removal; holding costs for FY 2011 are projected to be $38.5 million.

Another 4,686 wild horses and 150 burros are slated for capture and removal from herd management areas this year, 2011. If BLM continues on its present course for FY2011-FY2012, the agency will roundup and remove from the range 28,000 wild horses and burros at a total cost of almost $223M over the life of these animals. This would bring the total number of wild horses and burros held in holding facilities to nearly 46,000. (Though BLM appears unable to keep track of the wild horses and burros trapped in its holding facilities.)

Ginger Kathrens, founder of The Cloud Foundation, recently told the BLM, “Please consider that the removal of a mustang costs already strapped American taxpayers over $2,000 in addition to a possible $2,098 to $470/year holding cost for the rest of the horse’s life if they are not adopted or sold. Why not apply the [these funds] to range improvements, livestock and fence removals, noxious weed treatment, water improvements, and any number of projects that would improve the condition of the [herd] area for wild horses and all the other wildlife species?”

These are not the only costs for taxpayers. The primary reason for removal of these animals has been to make way for cattle grazing. The cattle industry receives a substantial taxpayer subsidy from livestock grazing on public lands. The industry pays only $1.35 per animal under 18,000 grazing permits and leases on 258 million acres of public lands Grazing livestock on public lands is a “$132 million loss to the American taxpayer each year and independent economists have estimated the true cost at between $500 million and $1 billion dollars a year.” Despite this, only 2-4% of beef production is from grazing cattle on public lands.

BLM’s planning documents, the agency’s land use plans and environmental assessments almost always cite degradation of the range and lack of water as a reason to justify roundups and removals of wild horses and burros.  But BLM rarely mentions the thousands of cattle or sheep grazing on these lands, let alone as a substantial cause of any range degradation or use of water.

Yet, in 1990, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the range was in the best condition it had been in during the past century. The GAO found any degradation was the result of livestock grazing and suggested removal of cattle.

To illustrate the absurdity of blaming wild horses and burros for range degradation or water loss, in zeroing out 12 herd management areas in Nye and Lincoln counties, Nevada in 2009, for example, the BLM estimated there were 1,357.43 acres per wild horse in one area, about 350 horses; and 3,377.38 acres per horse in another herd area, about 270 horses. The BLM would have us believe one wild horse per 3,377.38 acres caused substantial degradation of the range and water sources but that the thousands of cattle left there caused no harm at all.

A full year continuing appropriations bill for 2011, H.R. 1, that has been approved by the House of Representatives, would reduce the BLM’s total budget by $2 million but does not restrict the roundup, removal or holding wild horses and burros in facilities. The Obama administration has requested an additional $12 million over 2010 expenditures just for more roundups, removal and holding wild horses and burros. The Senate is considering a year long continuing appropriations resolution for 2011 that would authorize $75.7 million for the wild horses and burros program. It is expected the entire increase as was the case in 2010 would be spent on – you guessed it – roundups, removals and holding.

A vote will be held in Congress on the FY 2011 budget resolution on or before April 8.

In a recent Wild Horses and Burros Advisory Board meeting in Phoenix, Dean Bolstad, a BLM wild horses and burros specialist, announced there would be no more roundups in 2011 unless Congress agreed to the additional funding. A challenge to Congress.

And, another ploy. BLM issued this week for public comment Environmental Assessments (EAs) for roundups in the Three Fingers and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas in southwestern Oregon. The plan is to roundup during the August heat 460 mustangs, 310 of which will be permanently removed from the range, leaving only 75 mustangs. BLM claims as always there is not enough forage or water for the horses, but that is probably because the agency allocates nearly three times more forage and water to cattle than to wild horses in this area.

Despite efforts to improve the image of its wild horses and burros program, BLM seems intent on continuing the roundup and remove wild horses from the range, using helicopters to run down the terrified animals, and then warehouse them in holding facilities. This despite no good information as to the census of wild horses and burros on the range. The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires the BLM to maintain a “current inventory” of wild horses and burros” on the range. The BLM’s own Office of Inspector General found in a 2010 report that the agency’s number lack a scientific basis, oversight or checks and balances.

Also, BLM spends less than 3% of its program budget on monitoring horses on the range. It’s unclear how the agency could really know the number of wild horses and burros that are still free-roaming.

A report recently submitted to members of Congress,  Refuting Fy2011 Budget Justifications and Request to Defund Roundups and Removals, charges “estimates used by the BLM to support funding are not based on the best scientific, peer-reviewed data or state-of-the-art technology. The BLM’s data has proven to be continually inaccurate and unreliable … At this time, all outside authorities, including Congress, rely solely on the data the BLM provides, although its accuracy cannot be verified or substantiated.” For more on the numbers…

What we do know is that BLM has removed wild horses and burros permanently from nearly 21 million acres of lands that were originally herd areas.

The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. Sections 1331 et seq., says that before removing wild horses and burros from the range, a determination must be made that they are “excess”, that there is an overpopulation, and removal is indicated “so as to restore a thriving natural ecological balance to the range, and protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation“. 16 U.S.C. §1333(b)(2) BLM is also supposed to set appropriate management levels, the number of wild horses or burros that a herd area can support.

According to the report, Refuting Fy2011 Budget Justifications, despite “BLM’s stated goal for reducing national wild horse and burro populations to 26,600”, the agency is actually reducing “on-the range populations to the midpoint of Appropriate Management Level (AML) or lower…. without Congressional oversight or approval, without general public knowledge or input”.  In other words, BLM is removing wild horses and burros where they are not “excess”, in violation of WFRHBA. According to the report, more than 2/3 of wild horse herds do not have enough numbers to remain genetically viable.

Even if BLM’s estimate of a 20% annual reproduction rate is correct and if BLM receives funding for its 2011-2012 plans, using BLM’s own numbers, “remaining populations on the range will be less than 5,700 animals.”

And, of course, study after study has demonstrated “these rates [from BLM] are generally inconsistent with all research on reproductive rates”.  3.1%-13% seem to be more realistic annual reproduction rates depending on the area and the herd. Meaning there will likely be far fewer wild horses and burros left than the projection of 5,700 animals.

BLM has other ways of justifying removal of more and more wild horses and burros besides manipulating census or AML: The BLM has authorized itself to divide herd areas into “herd management areas“, something not authorized by WFRHBA. 43 CFR 4710.3-1. In this way, with no statutory authority at all, BLM has limited wild horses and burros’ access to thousands of acres that were historically their herd areas. This is done without thought about the horses’ seasonal migration patterns or available resources. The BLM then removes wild horses and burros from the artificially created “herd management areas” on the basis there is insufficient forage, water or habitat! BLM also targets them for removal if they cross the artificial boundaries into their original herd areas.

Taking this tactic even further, BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, for example, actually plan now to erect a fence to cut off wild horses and burros from traditional summer grazing lands in the Custer National Forest area. There is litigation pending to try to stop this.

More recently, BLM has claimed “emergency” conditions, drought and the like, as reasons for rounding up and removing horses. In the Tuscarora round up, for example, BLM did not mention “emergency” conditions as a reason for the round up in any of its planning documents. Then when horses began collapsing during the 2010 summer roundup from dehydration as they were forced by helicopters to run for miles in the searing heat, BLM claimed the round up was necessary because of drought conditions.

BLM has also labeled wild horses and burros as “feral” or “estray”, which are defined by state law and are generally domesticated horses that have been left to fend for themselves and become wild. It’s not easy to tell the difference between a feral, estray or wild horse. As feral or estray horses, BLM claims they belong to the state and can be rounded up and removed.  BLM ignores that the WFRHBA is supposed to protect “all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States“. 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1332

BLM has opted for roundups and removal of wild horses and burros at great cost to the taxpayer and contrary to the requirements of the WFRHBA which mandates that these animals roam free of “capture” or “harassment” on public lands where there were found when the law was passed in 1971. 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1331 BLM is to manage the wild horses and burros on these lands at the “minimal feasible level” which should mean instead of roundups that BLM removes fences or other barriers to water and traditional migration routes, includes wild horses and burros in a fair allocation of forage, and takes steps to assure they remain self-sustaining and genetically viable.

As District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in the case, Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, Inc. v. Salazar, No. 06-1609 (D.D.C 2009):

“It would be anomalous to infer that by authorizing the custodian of the wild free roaming horses and burros to ‘manage’ them, Congress intended to permit the animals’ custodian to subvert the primary policy of the statute by capturing and removing from the wild the very animals that Congress sought to protect from being captured and removed from the wild. …[T]he statute expressly provides that BLM’s ‘management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level . . . .’

It is difficult to think of a ‘management activity’ that is farther from a ‘minimal feasible level’ than removal.”


Right now before Congress votes on another continuing budget resolution on or before April 8, write (faxes are best) or call your U.S. representative and senators and urge them not to increase the BLM’s budget this year or de-fund the roundups except in the cases of true, verifiable emergencies, at least until the National Academy of Sciences has completed its study of the wild horses and burros program, and we can determine appropriate management for these animals, identify public lands where wild horses and burros could be returned to roam free, obtain an accurate census and set appropriate AMLs to ensure the herds are self-sustaining and genetically viable, and managed at the minimal feasible level.

12 replies »

  1. The number of wild horses in holding (or purgatory as I prefer to think of it) is the only direct result of an action taken for wild horses by the Obama administration. Even prior to election he knew that to keep his promise of good stewardship would be in conflict with private interests deemed precedent. The decision was made to prevent the mass slaughter of wild horses then being planned by the BLM and nothing else, a free reign for Salazar and silence. I will continue to write my senators but I do not even get “lipspeak” back from Durbin. The truth, that the BLM has too many conflicting interests to preside over the Wild Horse & Burro Program, is still being ignored.


  2. It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows this issue why taxpayers continue to foot the bill on this issue. 1.) most don’t even know where their tax dollars are going. Most news reports they hear on this issue are twisted beyond recognition by the same good ‘ol boys who control not only the media, but also our politics as well. the tax paying american public believes what they hear coming over the air waves, and most of that so-called “information” is not info at all, it’s propaganda plain and simple. 2.) Most of the American tax payers reps also don’t know about this issue, nor do most of them care. The public counts on their representatives to do just that; “represent” their interests in Washington D.C., however, if you have reps who don’t know, and/or don’t care about this issue, then we’re dealing with apathy and disinterest, so these reps can be swayed very easily by bargaining with other reps in regard to voting on issues and perhaps getting something they really are interested in by voting a certain way for something another rep is interested in. 3.) in many areas of the country, this is a big issue that is dominated by the powerful lobbies of the cattle industry (and we all know that when the cattle industry had gone after any of us instead of Oprah Winfrey, we would havve been in a world of hurt and devestated financially trying to defend our position. Unluckily for the cattle industry, they went after the wrong person in Oprah because she had the money and clout to defend her position and win), the mining industry, the energy industry and a few other slightly less powerful lobbies. These industries are so powerful, and have so many lobbyists in Washington, that to take them on is a monetary nightmare that our pro-wildhorse and burro groups have not been able to afford. 4.) unlike most of us who are passionate and emotionally attached to wild horses and burros, there are still alot of tax payers out there who couldn’t care less whether the horses and burros are wild and free or not. What they will care about is that their taxpayer dollars are going to support factions such as the cattle industry, and that we literally are forced to pay for this relatively small group of ranchers (approx. 26,000 who only produce 2-3 percent of the beef in the U.S.). While many (or most) Americans are struggling financially just to make ends meet, these greedy people are tooling around in newer model trucks, pulling deluxe newer model living quarter horse trailers (and a rig like this is valued at $75,000+), they own thousands of acres of land themselves, they lease OUR public rangeland for a pittance, AND they also sub-lease out their leased land for several times what they pay—with the tax payers seeing NONE of that money. Now that is one thing MOST American taxpayers will care about it—hell, I care about it AND I am a total horse and burro lover, but if I didn’t care about the horses and burros, I’d still be royally pissed about my money going to pay for private industry and corporations to run their businesses at my expense and I get NOTHING from it–not even a thank you!

    One solution is to rally non-horse and burro lovers to the racket that is our tax payer dollars going to support these cockroaches who repeatledy rape us financially and are always demanding more money for something that does not benefit us in any way. The other group that should care about this issue are recreationalists who like to hike, bike, ride ATV’s, camp, etc on our public land. These factions have always been all about putting up fences, but as long as the federally protected FREE ROAMING wild horses and burros are out ROAMING, they cannot legally put up fences all over the place. Once they are eradicated, they can go forward rapidly with their plan to fence off our PUBLIC range that we tax payers pay for, and then we will be fined for tresspassing, and perhaps maybe even arrested for tresspassing on the range we are forced to pay for. The key is to develop more of a majority presence in Washington D.C. where all of the decisions are made, and let our opposition know that once all of us tax payers band together (and this would be horse and burro lovers, recreationalists, and also taxpayers who just don’t want to pay for private bussinesses to run their businesses at their expense), we ARE the majority, and not only will our opinions be heard, we will dominate what decisions are being made that reflect our wants and needs, and these greedy people who have been running the show for far too long will become non-players.
    Quite frankly, the cattlemen who run cattle on the range could go away tomorrow and NONE of us would even notice. However, if they can run their businesses on their own, and without help from the American taxpayers, then I would respect their position a bit more. Now if they want us to keep paying for them to run their businesses, then they need to learn how to share. We would think that would be fairly easy by our tax dollars going to pay for the drilling of more solar wells, re-seeding the range, etc, however, because the issue has always been about FENCING the range, they want to eradicate all of the horses and burros so they can go forward with fencing. Nip that plan in the bud, and then maybe we can all work together to share the range with horses and burros, cattle and sheep in strictly managed numbers instead of the millions we have out there now, people who like to recreate on the range, carefully place mining operations, and also carefully placed energy operations. It can happen once the idea of fencing OUR public range by these factions is entirely off the table forever.


  3. For a great read there is a new book on Wild Horse Annie. Annie fought for the rights of the horses for years. In fact, the first wild horse Annie law was passed in 1959 but no provisions were really made to punish offenders. So despite the law roundups went on. This book is available at Amazon on Kindle.

    Then in 1971 a new provision was passed that said that people couldn’t use helicopters or fixed winged aircraft to torment or roundup horses. In 1976/77 right before Annie died the law was changed again–back to allowing aircraft.

    It’s not difficult to see that horses are shot from aircraft. In fact, ranchers and others have been known to turn their horses loose with the wild ones just so they can round ’em up. They also dangle tin cans on a long rope–to frighten the horses more.

    The people that do these things are I don’t know what a good word would be. They run horses smack into corrals. They’ve been known to run them into concrete walls. They haven’t just left horses recently without food or water. This has been going on for years.

    And BLM has been spouting the same cow manure for almost 60 years now. Horses reproduce at 20% herd growth a year. Never mind environment or mountain lion kills. It’s also been shown that SHEEP cause some of the worst damage. And guess who owns and runs the sheep–CATTLE RANCHERS. Sheep and cattle don’t eat the same forage. So they can run them together without worry about not having enough for both animals.

    It is just so darn depressing sometimes. The same fight Annie had, fought for and won was turned on its head when she died. And its the horses who lose.


  4. Mar BLM did that when DOJ tried to investigate them before. It isn’t anything really new. BLM likes to muscle people around. I mean what’s the sense of having a little bit of authority if you can’t throw your weight around?

    No new info? Why are we paying for this nonsense? NAS needs to look at everything objectively. And I have to ask–how can they do that with their hands tied behind their backs???? Do we really think that NAS can conduct a fair and impartial investigation if BLM tells them what they can and can’t do?????

    GGggrr what a weekend.


  5. The BLM and USFS are very renege, indeed, in their insistence on decimating the last remaining herds of wild horses and burros and crippling their natural rebound. This is a big set up, a “managing for extinction.” This is no way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, Public Law 92-195! Instead responsibility for what has been done wrongly should be accepted and a contrite attitude adopted and restitution of the wild horses and burros to their rightful herd areas and territorities made throughout the U.S. and principles of Reserve Design employed for truly long term viable, self-stabilizing equid herds, and cut back on livestock grazing and other conflicting exploitative activities, including enormous devastating slob mining projects that suck up and contaminate water supplies for generations to come. Clearly the wild horses have been shameless used as scapegoats for man’s abuses to the land and its ecosystem, as red herrings to detract people from the true causes of ecological devastation — themselves and their resource squandering and nature thoughtless lifestyles. This can be changed but such change will require some effort on the part of us all, but it will be worth it. Good going on this informative and outspoken article, RT!


  6. This is an awesome article. We should all forward it to the link KA provided and other news media. I agree that there is much more at stake here than our wild horses and burros, and as a result of the work of those already mentioned on this blog as well as others, we advocates have had the opportunity to develop a depth of knowledge that our representatives and senators have not had. It is our responsibility to educate them. In some ways this is a very issue. On one side is the wild horse/burro hurters. On the other side are the advocates for the wild horses and burros who seek to prevent the hurters from harming our wild equines.

    The best plan for the BLM would be to voluntarily stop the roundups until after NAS studies all aspects of the program, withhold all PZP until NAS, perhaps in conjunction with independent scientists and researchers establish control herds as well as herds that will test one variable at a time to study the effects of different birth control methods on herds. I am not wild about manipulating sex ratios, but since I don’t know what the normal sex ratio range is, I would suggest that after that is established, scientists study the effects on herd behavior as well as reproduction rates. After this is done, then we take further steps. Regarding gelding of studs and then returning them to the range, this is another approach that should be carefully studied I’m isolation from either PZP or sex ratio manipulation. It is no science at all to collect one herd and apply PZP, sex ratio engineering, gelding, and other fertility controls to one herd. If that is what the BLM is doing, then there is irrefutable, undeniable evidence that the BLM intends to irradiate the herds which is the opposite of their mandate from Congress. If they do not voluntarily comply and try to right the things they have made wrong, then they should be stripped of far more than 14 million dollars. Actually, in the article that appeared in Ecology Law Quarterly, there appears to be a case that could be made that BLM has systematically reduced herd numbers mover am period of six to eight years in order to create non-viable herds that could be removed from the range for that reason alone. I believe we ought to call for a full Congressional investigation into the BLM’s systematic wild horse and burro irradiation program. The BLM has not one single program that indicates that it is doing any on the range management to help wild horses and burros live on the range in compliance with the 1971 Act. Nada. They are destroyers, prevaricators, and predators period.

    We need to be vetting any serious political candidates for 2012 on their views about reform in Interior, the BLM, and most of all our wild horses and burros.


  7. I may be a one issue voter in this next election; it’s too early to tell. However, I recently learned that Governor Romney’s wife was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) eight years ago. After surviving a serious flare in the disease where she was comatose part of the time and partially paralyzed, she asked herself what she always wanted to do, but hadn’t yet. She settled on riding dressage, and she has finally qualified to ride in Grand Prix. Her story is a real testimony to the healing power of horses.


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