Comments on NAS’ Critique of BLM’s Broken Wild Horse & Burro Program
To their credit, the NAS critique of BLM totally discredits the BLM’s unscientific management methodology, particularly re: gauging population levels. Unfortunately, they prescribe a primarily pharmaceutical remedy for a problem that hasn’t been established yet, i.e. ‘over-population’. How can you assert that there is overpopulation of wild horses and/or burros when you:
1. Don’t know what the population of horses or burros currently is, in a given HMA
2. Have no data-driven basis for gauging how many horses or burros a particular HMA can support. In practice BLM treats all habitats as being pretty much the same, and as resource poor, by requiring 1000+ acres/ horse or burro.
The NAS report also buys into BLM’s myth that wild horse & burro populations are increasing at a fairly constant rate of 15-20%/ year regardless of some radical differences in range quality between one HMA and another….
as well as radical differences in the structure, health and genetic viability of one herd vs. the next.
3. Fail to address the impacts of cattle and sheep upon rangelands, and upon wild horse reproductive success and recruitment rates
What I most appreciate about the NAS report is that they confirm key criticisms made by advocates, and ignored by the BLM, for a very long time including:
1. the BLM’s population numbers are speculative at best, and fictitious at worst !
2. the roundups are a counter-productive and inhumane solution to a problem (overpopulation) which may or may not exist in a given locale, at a given time.
3. the frequent and aggressive regime of roundups actually stimulates increased reproduction, migration and over-population, at -least where enough equines survive the roundups or can migrate from adjacent herd areas. This creates a viscious cycle wherein aggressive roundups create a need for more frequent and aggressive roundups.
Glaring omissions in the NAS report include:
1. The question of what constitutes “fair and balanced” apportionment of forage and water between horses and livestock on a given HMA, -which is critical to ascertaining whether the range is being overgrazed, how much, and by what animals. Without exception, livestock are allocated the lion’s share of available forage, typically upwards of 80%, -where data is even available.
2. what to do with the 37-50,000 horses and burros now languishing in long and short term holding. including what proportion should be returned to their rightful range, on what schedule…. etc. Until this ‘overpopulation problem’ is addressed, there will continue to be a wild horse ‘population crisis’ and a costly one at that.
3. How to induce an agency accustomed to being regarded by the world at large as the default authority on public rangeland capacity and on wild horse and burro population levels residing on them, to begin managing both on the basis of actual, current data rather than on data, or fudged numbers, of varying age and veracity and hence with questionable credibility.
Overall, though, the NAS panel indicted a sadly flawed, broken program in desperate need of a total makeover, starting with a basic need for fresh data and a scientific approach vs. the “Trust us because we’re the authorities on public lands and the wild equines that live there” which has prevailed for 40+ years that BLM has been tasked with managing this priceless heritage for all of US.