Bureau of Land Management Comes Under Fire Over Efforts to Reign in Wild Horse Heards

By Roy York, Staff Member

On June 13, 2011, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a decision to capture all 800 wild horses in two designated preserves in Southern Wyoming, surgically sterilize them, and release only a small number back into the wild, effectively dooming the herd.[1] After significant public outrage, the BLM revised the plan on June 22, 2010, to gather only 90 percent of the horses, spay no mares, and return gelded wild horses to the preserves.[2] The BLM maintained that the number of wild horses in the area was “in excess and subject to gathering and removal.”[3]

After a year of frustration with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar,[4] the Western Watersheds Project, a leading environmental organization, and the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to block the BLM from carrying out the plan. In response, on August 5, 2011, the BLM changed its stance yet again and planned to remove 90 percent of the horses, skew the ratio in favor of stallions, and inject the mares with birth control to slow population growth.[5] The gathering was completed on August, 31, 2011.[6]

The actions of the BLM sparked a federal complaint in this instance, but gathering, relocation, and population control efforts have been a hot-button issue for years. In 2006, wild horse activists filed a complaint in federal court to enjoin the BLM from herd management citing the BLM’s track record of mistreating horses.[7] The BLM came under fire again in 2010 after horse population control efforts went awry in Nevada.[8] The resulting deaths, castrations, and abuse of captured wild horses led to protests from animal rights groups and other activists.[9] Currently the BLM is considering public input on a proposal to eliminate federal reserves for wild horses in favor of grazing land for livestock over the next 15 to 20 years.[10]

The BLM argues that the measures are essential to controlling the growing wild horse population and marinating the viability of herds and horse habitats. Salazar’s revised plan to deal with the overpopulation may end up costing the federal government more money than it is saving by controlling horse population on public land if the BLM continues to come under fire for its practices. Expect this to continue to be an issue in the future as the BLM continues to aggressively fight the overpopulation of wild horses.

[1] Lance C. Porter, White Mountain – Little Colorado Herd Management Areas Wild Horse Gather,Bureau of Land Management Rock Springs Field Office Decision Record (June 13, 2011), available athttp://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wy/information/NEPA/rsfodocs/whitemtn-wind/rev-ea.Par.54148.File.dat/DR.pdf.

[2] Lance C. Porter, White Mountain – Little Colorado Herd Management Areas Wild Horse Gather,Bureau of Land Management Rock Springs Field Office Decision Record (June 22, 2011), available athttp://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wy/information/NEPA/rsfodocs/whitemtn_littlecolo.Par.28805.File.dat/2011_modifiedDR.pdf.

[3] Id. at 1.

[4] Alan Prendergast, Ken Salazar: Frustration riding high over his wild horse plan, Denver Westword(June 14, 2010, 4:45 PM),http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2010/06/ken_salazar_frustration_riding.php.

[5] White Mountain/Little Colorado Wild Horse Gather Decision, Bureau of Land Management Rock Springs Field Office Decision Record (August 15, 2011), available athttp://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/news_room/2011/august/05rsfo-wmlc.html.

[6] Daily Gather Reports, Bureau of Land Management (September 1, 2011),http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/Wild_Horses/2011wmlc-gather/gath-reports.html.

[7] George Knapp, Wild Horse Advocates File Injunction Against BLM, 8NewsNow.com,http://www.8newsnow.com/story/5860063/wild-horse-advocates-file-injunction-against-blm.

[8] Alan Prendergast, Wild Horse Debacle: BLM under fire over roundup deaths, castrations, Denver Westword (April 26, 2010, 3:56 PM),http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2010/04/wild_horse_debacle_blm_under_f.php.

[9] Id.

[10] Alicia G., Days Left to Help Save Wyoming’s Wild Horses,Care2.com (September 4, 2011, 7:59 PM),http://www.care2.com/causes/days-left-to-help-save-wyomings-wild-horses.html.