This story was updated at 2:35 p.m. EDT.
The Bureau of Land Management stepped up roundups of feral horses and burros from federal pastures just weeks before it planned to scale back rallies in favor of fertility control.
BLM in this fiscal budget cycle that began Oct. 1, 2021, has already mustered a record 15,040 wild horses and burros, permanently removing 13,930 animals from federal rangelands, according to figures the bureau emailed E&E news today.
The 13,930 permanent removals to date surpass the previous record of 13,666 feral horses and burros in fiscal year 2021, BLM said.
Those numbers don’t even include several ongoing feral horse roundups – two at Nevada’s Triple B and Blue Wing resorts, and a third along the California-Nevada border in the Twin Peaks herd management area. – which will eliminate more than 4,000 wild horses and burros from overpopulated and parched federal lands in both states.
On top of that, this week BLM held a roundup event at the Piceance-East Douglas HMA in Colorado that removed 867 wild horses.
And BLM yesterday released a draft environmental assessment on a planned roundup of 190 feral horses, which likely won’t begin until next month, in the Bordo Atravesado HMA in northern New Mexico. There are 230 wild horses in the HMA, which can support around 50 animals.
There are currently 82,384 feral horses and donkeys roaming 27 million acres of federal herd management areas in 10 western states. That’s three times the maximum number of 26,785 animals that BLM says federal rangelands can support without causing damage to vegetation, soils and other resources.
“We are holding rallies like this to ensure the health of public lands within the complex as well as the health of wild horses and donkeys in the area” due to “severe drought conditions,” said Kathleen Rehberg, director. from BLM Nevada’s Humboldt River Field. Office, which oversees the Blue Wing complex gather.
This weekend, BLM plans to begin a roundup to remove 450 horses from HMA Blawn Wash and Bible Spring Complex in Utah.
The “excess feral horses” at Utah’s two HMAs “are located in semi-desert landscapes where forage and water are extremely scarce due to prolonged drought,” said Paul Briggs, director of the BLM’s Cedar City field office overseeing the roundup.
He said harvesting, along with fertility control, will begin to restore “a prosperous and natural ecological balance in the region and maintain that balance well into the future”.
The increase in roundups, ongoing and planned over the next two months, is troubling wild horse advocates.
Holly Gann, director of government relations for the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), said in an emailed statement to E&E News that the “best way” to control herd sizes is through the expanded use of ” human, efficient and much less”. expensive fertility control vaccines that keep these animals wild and free.
But, Gann said, BLM “continues to underinvest in this common sense solution.”
BLM plans to scale back the roundups, starting with the next budget cycle which begins Oct. 1. The office announced the policy change in fiscal year 2023 budget documents last spring.
BLM plans next year to reduce the number of animals it removes from federal pastures to around 10,000, while increasing fertility control treatments, most likely through the expanded use of animals darted with the porcine zona pellucida, or PZP (green wireMay 6).
That would be less than half of the 22,000 animals BLM is currently working to round up and remove this year, and less than the 13,666 animals it removed from federal herd management areas in 2021.
It’s unclear how close BLM is to that 22,000 goal. BLM did not respond to a request for the latest round animal count prior to publication.
BLM’s fiscal year 2023 budget justification document prepared for Congress owners highlights rising costs for housing, feeding and caring for animals herded into out-of-reach pens and corrals , as well as private and public pastures. He notes that BLM spent $77.6 million in fiscal year 2021 to care for and feed animals, which is about 64% of the total Wild Horse and Burro program budget.
As of July, BLM held 58,800 wild horses and burros in out-of-reach corrals and holding facilities, according to bureau data.
The three ongoing rallies in Nevada and California have already added thousands of feral horses and burros to the list of animals BLM now cares for in out-of-reach facilities.
At the Triple B complex in Nevada, BLM removed 735 wild horses and 1,407 horses from the Twin Peaks HMA in California. At the Blue Wing complex, BLM removed 489 burros.
The increase in BLM gatherings since 2020 has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of feral horses and burros on federal courses.
BLM reported earlier this year that as of March 1, there were 82,384 wild horses and burros on federal courses – a 13% decrease from the 2020 record of 95,114 (E&E News PMApril 12).
The feral and burro roundups have been controversial, and BLM has been dogged by allegations that its adoption incentive program that aims to place herded animals into private care has led some new owners to sell the animals. horses at livestock auctions with known buyers from slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
BLM has made adjustments to the program. But the AWHC released a report last month that found those tweaks weren’t working yet.
The group says its report shows that since 2019, at least 840 animals removed from federal ranges and adopted into private care through BLM’s adoption incentive program have met that fate, providing “irrefutable” evidence that BLM allowed “a flood of wild, untrained mustangs and burros” to be sent “down the cull pipeline,” said AWHC investigations manager Amelia Perrin (green wireJuly 26).
On top of that, a Colorado BLM detention facility for herded animals awaiting adoption suffered an equine flu outbreak that killed 145 horses.
A subsequent report commissioned by BLM found that the East Cañon Complex, which uses inmates to train herded animals to prepare them for adoption, is “understaffed in several respects.” This, the assessment concluded, affects “preparation, vaccination and hoof care of animals in the facility” (green wireJune 7).
The assessment also found “several instances” where feral horses brought to the Cañon City, Colorado detention facility had not been vaccinated, including animals “that had been in the facility for some time.” .
Overall, the roundups need to stop, said Gann, the AWHC official.
“The BLM is wasting millions of tax dollars a month to inhumanely round up wild horses and donkeys with helicopters, deprive them of liberty and families, and confine them to overcrowded detention facilities to await a fate that, even in 2022 lands way too much in the slaughter pipeline,” Gann said.