SOURCE: Animal Welfare Institute
“AWI has repeatedly questioned the decisions to permanently remove all wild horses and burros from the range – decisions that continue to be made – without an area-by-area analysis it is impossible to verify the scientific, land use, legal, or other evidence relied on by the BLM to support its decisions.“
We encourage all advocates, both new advocates and longtime advocates, to be sure to read this Animal Welfare Institute report (2012) Overview of the Management of Wild Horses & Burros. AWI presented this to the National Academy of Science. Although this report was issued in 2012, the issues are all current. This report gives an excellent overview of wild horse & burro issues and the mismanagement of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Program. We will be pulling out a few excerpts for some articles, since this report counters all of the false information by sources at the recent National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting, by the livestock grazing activists and in the media.
As the BLM and the livestock grazing activists complain about the “overpopulation” of wild horses and burros on public lands, lets take a closer look at the 22.2 million acres that have been taken away from the wild horses & burros.
We’re hoping that other wild horse & burro advocacy groups and advocates will join us in focusing on, and fighting for, this “tool in the toolbox” that isn’t mentioned by the BLM:
Instead of killing all of our wild horses & burros that are currently in BLM holding facilities, put them back on our public lands.
Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas:
HERD AREA (HA) – Upon passage of the WFRHBA, the federal government surveyed wild horse and burro populations to identify those areas where, as Congress directed, they were to be protected and managed. These areas were designated as HAs. It is not clear exactly when each area was surveyed and whether such surveys were conducted once or multiple times over the course of a year or two. Hence, it is not known if the areas originally designated as HAs for wild horses and burros encompassed sufficient range to meet the needs of the animals throughout the year. At that time, very few studies had been undertaken to understand wild horse and/or burro biology, ecology, behaviors, or habitat needs. It is probable, therefore, that the efforts made to establish wild horse and burro range were ill-informed as to the biological and ecological needs of the species.
HERD MANAGEMENT AREA (HMA) – HMAs were not designated in the 1971 law. It is not clear how the BLM delineates the boundaries of HMAs. Presumably it considers geography, topography, presence of private lands, land use patterns, water availability, forage production, space, cover, and economic and political factors when establishing such boundaries. In some cases, adjoining HMAs are considered as an HMA complex and managed accordingly. Each HMA, as articulated in the BLM Handbook, is to have a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) to provide additional guidance on how each HMA is to be managed. It is not clear how many HMAs have corresponding HMAPs at present.
This excerpt is from pages 143-145 of the AWI report:
Since 1971 for all ten western states that provide habitat for wild horses and burros, HMA acreage represents only 58.8 percent of total HA acreage, reflecting a loss of 22,181,755 acres of potential wild horse and/or burro range.
The nearly 22.2 million acres lost to wild horses and burros includes the land lost to wild horses and/or burros as a result of decisions to “zero-out” the herds or permanently close HAs to their use.
The number of HAs affected, 172 according to 2012 data, encompass a total of 24,898,923 acres (including 19,514,123 BLM acres). Due to the net increase of 2,716,808 HMA acres compared to HA acres in the ten states, the net loss of lands is adjusted to approximately 22.2 million acres. This means that of the 245 million acres managed by the BLM and of the 157 million acres managed for grazing, only 13 and 20 percent, respectively, is available for use by wild horses and burros combined (with a much smaller percentage managed for wild burros).
Even within HMAs, however, the total land area utilized by wild horses and burros is much less, as topographic, geologic, and other factors reduce the amount of land suitable for wild horses and/or burros.
The BLM justifies the loss of the over 22 million acres of wild horse and burro habitat claiming that of the 15.5 million acres under BLM management:
- 48.6 percent (7,522,100 acres) were closed due to a checkerboard land pattern that made management infeasible;
- 13.5 percent (2,091,709 acres) were transferred from the BLM through legislation or exchange;
- 10.6 percent (1,645,758 acres) had substantial conflicts with other resource values;
- 9.7 percent (1,512,179 acres) were lands removed from wild horse and burro use as a result of court decision, urban expansion, habitat fragmentation, and land withdrawals;
- 9.6 percent (1,485,068 acres) were lands where no wild horses or burros were present when the WFRHBA was passed in 1971 or where all animals were claimed as private property;
- 8.0 percent (1,240,894 acres) were lands where a critical habitat component was missing, making the land unsuitable for wild horse or burro use or where too few animals existed to permit effective management.
The remaining 6.7 million acres were never under BLM management. See Figure National 6. Though AWI has repeatedly questioned the decisions to permanently remove all wild horses and burros from the range – decisions that continue to be made – without an area-by-area analysis it is impossible to verify the scientific, land use, legal, or other evidence relied on by the BLM to support its decisions.
The number of HAs has been variable over time. While the number of original HAs is not known, since 2005 the number of HAs has been reported by the BLM to range from a low of 134 in 2005 to 347 in 2012. However, the BLM’s own data is confusing. For example, in 2005 while reporting a total of 134 HAs the BLM separately reports a total of 317 HAs along with another 106 “HAs with no acres in HMAs.” Similarly, from 2006 through 2008, the BLM reports either 105 or 106 HAs “remaining undesignated,” though it is unclear what this means.
The number of HMAs has varied over time. While an annual record of the number of HMAs was not available, as recently as 2008 there were a total of 199 HMAs (GAO 2008). Over the past seven years, the number of HMAs has ranged from 201 in 2005 to 179 today. In some cases, HAs or HMAs were combined, contributing to a smaller number of HMAs while, in other cases, when HAs were permanently closed to wild horses and burros, a number of HMAs were lost.