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Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board at a meeting in Oklahoma City

SEP 2016: The Wildlife Society (TWS) Government Affairs Director, Keith Norris, provided testimony to the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board at a meeting in Oklahoma City on September 8. Norris provided oral testimony on behalf of TWS and the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, of which TWS is a founding member and currently chairs. TWS and the Coalition are concerned about the growing population of free-roaming horses and burros due to the detrimental impacts they have on the rangeland ecosystem.

The Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was established to advise the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Chief of the Forest Service (FS) on the protection and management of horses and burros on BLM and Forest Service lands. The National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition is a diverse group of organizations that strive for a well-vetted, science-based approach to the issue. Alongside TWS, Coalition member organizations from the National Association of Conservation Districts and the American Farm Bureau Federation came to speak to the advisory board about the concerns they also have for rangeland health.

According to the BLM, the management level, approaching 31,000 wild horses, has exceeded ecological sustainable levels, and Norris stated that “the increased rates of removals from public rangelands is the most effective and timely way to reach an ecologically tolerable level of horses and burros”. He encouraged the expeditious completion of research into population growth suppression methods so they can eventually be applied in the field, but stressed that since no effective or affordable fertility control method currently exists, the immediate focus should be on removing horses and burros from the range to protect rangeland health.

Members of the advisory board are from differing perspectives and beliefs as to how horses and burros should be managed. Members of the board include wildlife management, veterinary care, livestock management, and humane advocacy.

Although the scientific approach has merits, the population growth of these wild horses and burros has met the test of a “pragmatic view of the obvious”. The cost may exceed the reasonable approach to control and efforts to “house” these animals and feed them becomes a huge burden.

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