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Achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program

BLM Report to Congress for Funding Requirements for the Wild Horse and Burro Program

The content of the BLM report has been summarized on this webpage. The full report can be seen HERE

Reference Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, Herd Management Areas (HMA) and Appropriate Management Level (AML)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) provides this report, as requested by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 (Appendix A), to identify “factors for success, total funding requirements, and expected results” to improve management of wild horses and burros.This report also responds to the reporting requirements accompanying the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, so that BLM may obligate the full amount of its appropriation. The BLM’s multiple use mission and commitment to stewarding healthy, working landscapes across the western United States provide the foundation for all the recommendations in this report. The report is further informed by a historical context that reveals an escalating challenge and the need for decisive action to reverse the harm to western landscapes and the wild horses and burros occupying them. The harm inflicted on public lands from excess wild horses and burros compounds yearly as on-range population growth rates and off-range holding costs outstrip the BLM’s ability to manage herds according to the intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, as amended.

As of March 1, 2019, the BLM estimates a minimum population of slightly more than 88,000 wild horses and burros within the 177 Herd Management Areas (HMA) on public lands. This number is more than three times higher than the national total AML of 26,715, with more than 80 percent (146) of the 177 HMAs now exceeding AML. If nothing were done to reduce the annual growth rate of these herds, by 2040, the BLM estimates the on-range populations of wild horses and burros could increase to over 2.8 million

The analysis discussed in this report assumes management of wild horse and burro herds and healthy landscapes in three phases:

1) Stabilize on-range population growth (over the initial 4-5 years); 2) Reach AML nationally (over the next decade after the first phase); and, 3) Maintain AML in perpetuity.

Because the BLM is statutorily prohibited from euthanizing healthy unadopted animals and/or selling animals without limitation to reach AML, the bureau is projected to expend hundreds of millions of dollars in future years to hold unplaced animals. The following specific actions may be required over the next fifteen to eighteen years to implement the strategy described above (the initial five-year costs projected for these activities are shown in the Estimated Funding Table below).

●Annually gather (through both helicopter and bait/water trap methods) between 20,000 and 30,000 animals, and either remove them permanently from public rangelands or return them after application of some form of long-term temporary or permanent fertility control;

●Annually remove 18,000 to 20,000 animals permanently from public rangelands (placed into off-range holding) until AML is achieved;

●Treat (using various temporary long-term or permanent fertility control methods) 3,500 to 9,000 gathered animals annually over the initial 10 years from the time the strategy is enacted, slowly decreasing the number receiving the treatment in the last five years of the strategy; ●Annually place an estimated 6,000 -7,000 animals into private care;

●Procure additional off-range corrals (especially for preparatory activities) and off-range pastures to care and feed for the increased number of animals removed from the range;

●Streamline transportation logistics for movement of animals;

●Identify partner organizations able and willing to facilitate private care placements and house/care for as many of the 18,000-20,000 permanently removed off-range animals as possible; and

●Continue research into improving long-term fertility control treatments and humane permanent sterilization (with a particular emphasis on modern chemical sterilization methods)

Between 2011 and 2019, Congress appropriated $70-$80 million annually for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, but in order to manage the wild horses and burros, funds from other resource programs (for example, programs that benefit from WH&B management actions, amounting to approximately $13 million over the past 8 years) were also used by the Program, so the total annual BLM obligations directly or indirectly related to this program, were approximately $80 million annually.

The BLM could use this experience to achieve AML across all HMAs. In the initial years under this analysis, population growth suppression, removals, private care placements, and off-range holding will continue to be the primary activities within the program. Achieving AML and caring for horses and burros off-range would require significant annual funding increases during the initial 10-20 years to fully realize the BLM’s responsibilities under the Act.

However, achieving AML is only half the goal. Keeping healthy herds on healthy landscapes after AML is achieved will take considerable effort to suppress population growth, place animals into private care, and help the landscape recover from the effects of overpopulation.

When HMAs that are at or near AML

In HMAs where the population is far above AML, multiple gathers over several years would be necessary to achieve AML. In these cases, it is more effective to simply remove as many animals as can be gathered. Once these HMAs reach or are close to AML, then fertility control treatments can be employed more effectively to maintain AML. This is true for two main reasons:

•Most gathered mares are pregnant and even if treated will still give birth to that foal. This would add an animal to the on-range population (half of which would be breeding mares in just a couple years) even if that same mare were gathered or re-treated in a future year; and

•Without first getting close to AML, emphasizing fertility control would significantly prolong the number of years it takes the WHB Program to achieve AML, thus increasing costs for the on-range management activities into the future.

As long as wild horse and burro populations on most HMAs far exceed AML, increased removals are the best method of immediately reducing population toward achieving AML. With animals living to 20-30 years old on the range, even a non-reproducing herd that is 100 percent above AML could take 15 or more years to reach AML through natural mortality alone.

Factors for Success: To remove the number of animals to meet the objectives under this analysis, the BLM would need to:

●Increase the number of corral facilities by 3-4 with about 8,000 new spaces (this includes facilities/spaces potentially added through FY2020 solicitation), with appropriate personnel (2-3 employees per new corral), to receive animals removed from the range and prepare them for adoption, sale, or holding;

●Annually increase the amount of long-term pasture holding space by about 12-14,000 in the first six years, then about 9-11,000 until AML is achieved;

●Increase the number of contractors that perform gathers (both helicopter and bait/water/trap) by 2-3 to a total of 8-9 contracted employees;

●Provide additional removal support staff from other BLM support staff (15-20 additional, including Law enforcement, Public Affairs, Wild Horse Specialists, etc), such as dedicated contracting officers (2-3 additional); and

●Increase other BLM personnel to support gather operations, staffing for transportation logistics, and other key areas (see Pastures and Corrals sections for new staffing requirements indirectly related to removals)

Expected Results: The BLM anticipates it will take up to 20 years to reach the AML of 27,000 wild horses and burros on the range across the West by annually removing 18,000 –20,000 animals. The BLM would then be responsible for the care and feeding of tens of thousands of additional wild horses and burros in holding facilities, which will significantly increase costs.

Funding Assumptions: The estimates in this analysis are intended to identify to the committees the severity of the program challenges in potential resource terms. These estimates should not be construed to imply Administration support for particular levels of appropriations for this program beyond FY 2021. Under this analysis, to gather and remove over 10,000 animals in the initial year, then increasing to 18,000 –20,000 animals annually until AML is achieved, the BLM would require funding at an estimated $9 million (about $850 per animal) in the initial year, increasing to roughly $18 million in year 2 and then after year 4 continuing at about $20 million each fiscal year until a slowdown occurs leading up to achieving AML. See the Estimated Funding Table in Appendix B. Thereafter, removals and overall costs would be reduced.

Landscape Devastation as monitored by the BLM

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