Managing the Wild Horse Population with a Singular, High-Tech Solution
In a perfect world, there would be enough land, forage, and water for all creatures to flourish. The world is not perfect and the populations of some species, some of them native and others introduced, are growing at an unsustainable pace, outstripping resources and efforts to reach manageable numbers. The consequences can be dire. Starvation. Drought. Disease. Death.
America’s free-roaming horse population is a striking example. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set the Appropriate Management Level of wild horses and burros on BLM lands at 26,690 animals. Currently, there are an estimated 90,000 horses, more than 60,000 over the level set by the government. The problem is exploding. Herd sizes double every five years.
To counter population growth, the BLM removes thousands of animals from the range each year at great cost. In fiscal year 2018, the BLM spent more than $81 million on roundups, holding pens and feeding 50,000 horses, adoption programs, and other activities. The federal government recently approved an additional $21 million for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. However, the new money can’t be touched without an aggressive plan that includes scientifically sound, safe and humane fertility control tools.
While equine contraception works, only 702 BLM horses received fertility control treatments in 2018. Among the reasons? Here are two. Currently, vaccinations are delivered by hand after horses are rounded up and penned or administered via individual darting. Neither approach is designed for large-scale population control. Current methods are also costly; up to $3,000 per animal when the expense of roundups is included.
BLM Acting Director Perry Pendly claims it will take $5 billion over the next 15 years ($333 million a year) to get the BLM’s free-roaming horse and burro population under control.
Further complicating matters is wild horses aren’t limited to BLM lands. They also live on other state, federal and tribal lands, placing the actual population over 300,000. If nothing is done, in five years the wild horse population could be as high as 600,000. Let that sink in.