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Nevada's Wild Horses

Wild Horses, Symbols of the West, Kicking Up Controversy


wild horses burros, adoptions adopting wild horses, Nevada wild horses, BLM wild horse burro program

Wild burros at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center north of Sparks, Nevada.

Photo by Stan White / BLM Nevada

Possible Wild Horse Solutions

"In the end, we need 33,000 good homes. If we can't find them, we only have a few options. These are very tough decisions," said Stokke, referring to the horses already in holding facilities.

One option is to stop gathering horses off the range, thereby halting the accumulation of animals in holding facilities and the rising price of keeping them there. BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson, in a recent story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, said stopping roundups would result in severe damage to rangelands and the starvation of many horses. "To me, the most inhumane thing would be to see these animals suffer and die slowly on the range. It's a cruel death," said Stokke. It would also violate the mandate contained in the 1971 law requiring BLM to maintain and protect healthy horses on healthy land. A combination of adoptions and euthanasia is something that needs to be considered, Bisson said to the Associated Press, because of budget constraints and the need to comply with the law.

BLM already has authority to euthanize wild horses and burros. According to the BLM Factsheet, a 1978 amendment to the original law "authorizes the BLM to euthanize excess wild horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist."

Since 2004, BLM has been selling horses and burros that are either at least 10 years old or have been passed by for adoption at least three times. Authority to do this was enacted in an amendment to the original law. So far, sales have only been to buyers planning to provide long-term care, but there is a provision to sell "without limitation," meaning the animals could be put to any lawful use once title passes from BLM to a private owner.

The option to carry on with business as usual also exists. If current adoption, removal, and holding policies are continued, it is estimated costs would reach $77 million by 2012. The appropriation for 2008 is already less than that for 2007 by $1.8 million, so it does not appear that there is sufficient political support to continue the program as it presently exists.

According to Stokke, there is currently no practical fertility control agent for wild horses. What does exist is about 90% effective for the first year, if applied at the right time of year. The nature of horse herds roaming across vast Nevada ranges makes this a tough proposition. However, BLM is working on a research project with the American Humane Society to develop a birth control agent that is both highly effective and works over a span of several years.

Value-Added Wild Horses

BLM supports programs designed to enhance the value of wild horses to potential adopters. In partnership with the Mustang Heritage Foundation, BLM helps subsidize the training of wild horses so they are more attractive as adoption candidates than those fresh off the range.

BLM also works with some state corrections departments. In Nevada, inmate trained wild horses are available for adoption through the Nevada Department of Corrections, Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City. At various times, public auctions of trained horses are also held. For more information, please call (775) 861-6469.

Congressmen Want to Know More

Nick Rahall, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and Raul Grijalva, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, wrote Bisson an official letter, dated July 9, 2008, spelling out their concerns regarding possible action by BLM with respect to changing current wild horse and burro policies and practices. They have a lot of questions about how and why BLM finds itself in a position of having to consider euthanasia for wild horses and burros. They are requesting that BLM take no further action until a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report about management of the wild horse and burro program is received and reviewed by Congress, BLM, and the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. The report is due in September, 2008.

Submit Your Comments on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program

At this point, BLM is exploring all the options legally available for managing the wild horse and burro population. If you would like to provide comments and information as a member of the public, the BLM website has an online form for submitting comments.

Wild Horse and Burro Information from BLM

Adopting a Wild Horse or Burro

Private Wild Horse Advocacy Groups

Private wild horse advocacy groups offer various points of view on wild horse issues. Proposals being floated include more effective birth control, putting more effort into promoting wild horses as a tourist attraction, and providing tax breaks to large land holders willing to provide long-term care and grazing to animals removed from the range. Sources:
  • Interview on 7/10/08 with Susie Stokke, Wild Horse & Burro Program Lead for BLM Nevada, Resources Division.
  • Factsheet: Challenges Facing the BLM in its Management of Wild Horses and Burros, June 30, 2008, Bureau of Land Management, Public Affairs Office, Washington, D.C. Contact: Tom Gorey (202) 452-5137.
  • Reno Gazette Journal, 7/1/08, 7/7/08.
Full Disclosure: I am a volunteer with the BLM Nevada State Office, primarily involved with photography work.
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