Dear Mr/Mrs. President,
American wild horses and burros have been an everlasting symbol of the pioneer spirit of the West for centuries. Unfortunately in the 1950’s, wild horses and burros began disappearing significantly, taking the spirit of the pioneers along with them. In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in order to secure wild horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death, and give the horses land to live freely on. Since the act was passed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been given the responsibility to tend to the requirements of the act for the benefit of the wild horse and burro population.
In 1971 approximately 25,345 wild horses and burros lived on the Bureau of Land Management’s rangelands. In 2015 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reported 58,150 wild horses and burros living on the rangelands, whereas indicates the rangelands cannot sustain such a number. The rangelands will adequately sustain 26,000 wild horses, and this surplus of horses and burros is creating damaging effects to wild horse’s health.
Overpopulation is the cause of dwindling resources on the reservations resulting in death for the wild horses and burros. The land has been overgrazed of essential forage the horses and burros rely on to survive leaving noxious weeds and vegetation detrimental to the horses and burros health. Specifically, veterinarian JJ Goicoechea explained, “They will eat sage when they’re starved, and as you can see there’s absolutely no forage value in this. When horses are hungry and they chew this up and eat it, it will literally make a crow's nest in their intestines, and when it does, they will colic, and they will die.” (Unbranded). Wild horses will eat what is accessible even if the effects are detrimental in order to survive. The reservations do not have enough resources to sustain the large population of wild horses and burros on the rangelands. For instance, JJ Goicoechea has stated, “I have seen the horses starve to death with my own eyes. I’ve watched them eat each other's manes and tails. I have seen a foal nursing its dead mother,” (Unbranded). The wild horses are dying as a result of starvation from the Bureau of Land Management’s inability to control the population.
The overpopulation issue has been noticed for years, but the Bureau of Land Management's efforts to solve the problem are not working. For years wild horses have been captured by the BLM and placed in holding facilities as an attempt to reduce the population on the rangelands. Currently about 46,000 horses are held captive in the facilities. The issue with the holding facilities is the facilities become crowded and the cost of feed and management for 46,000 wild horses is close to 50 million dollars a year. As the population continues to grow, the cost to manage horses in holding facilities increases. Mustang trainer Ben Thamer has stated, “they’re still multiplying at a huge rate in the wild, and those holding facilities are all full, and all the long term holding facilities are full. There’s got to be a point where we quit, you know, pansying around, and just do something about it.” (Unbranded). The holding facilities are not working as a long term solution. The BLM has tried adopting out wild horses to the public from the holding facilities, but the demand is not high. To explain, Gus Warr, the leader of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program of the state of Utah says, “Our adoption demand used to be eight or nine thousand a year nationally. We recently adopted less than three thousand.” (Unbranded). The adoption solution is not a completely effective fix because the demand for wild horses is lower than the number of horses in captivity.
In addition to the low adoption demand, adopting and training a wild horse requires ample time and skill. Mustang trainer Jonny Fitzsimons said, “The fact of the matter is when you adopt one of those horses, more often than not, you’re going to have to spend 90 to a 100 days working with that animal every day. There aren’t that many people who have that kind of time to commit to it. Adopting mustang’s a big responsibility.” (Unbranded). A wild horse needs consistent work and attention to domesticate the horse into the human world. Most people do not have the additional time necessary to dedicate themselves to domesticating horses. A trainer for the wild horses has to possess a high level of experience and skill. In this specific instance, mustang trainer Thomas Glover has claimed, “Stepping into a round pen, a very small area with a wild animal, it’s almost crazy.” (Unbranded). Great skill is required to train a feral animal because a wild horse could kill the inexperienced in an instant if one is not properly skilled for the task.
On September 9th, 2016 the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to propose a new solution to the Bureau of Land Management to euthanize the 46,000 wild horses held captive in holding facilities. The solution did not work because the proposition directly violated everything the 1971 act stands for in protecting wild horses, therefore the BLM turned down the recommendation.
The only viable solution to control the wild horse population is fertility control. The Bureau of Land Management has treated close to 500 horses with birth control, but the agency is not pushing hard enough. Robert Garrot, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Ecology Program at Montana State said, “If we took the appropriate management level that's defined now, 25-28 thousand, and we aggressively used the contraceptive tools that are available, we could reduce the growth rate of that base population to the point that the surplus that we need to take off of the landscape would meet the adoption demand.” (Unbranded). The birth control available currently is known as PZP-22. PZP-22 is 90% effective in mares, but needs to be injected annually. The only issue is wild mares are difficult to get close enough to in order to inject with PZP-22, but with the help of a dart, injecting mares is doable. The most effective PZP-22 injecting system is to capture, dart, and release the mares.
Fertility control is the solution to the overpopulation issue. Resolving the overpopulation issue will take a great deal of effort, but contraceptives will be effective in reducing the wild horse and burro population. As a nation, it is important to take action in order to preserve our wild horse population before all wild horses and burros face starvation, dehydration, and death. The fate of our wild horses and burros relies on the management choices made today.
Bauer, Robert C. "1941 vs. 1971." American Herds. Cindy R. Macdonald, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Bernstein, Lenny. "U.S. Looking for Ideas to Help Manage Wild-horse Overpopulation."Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Morell, Virginia. "Can Birth Control Save Our Wild Horses?" National Geographic. National Geographic Society, Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Unbranded. Dir. Phill Baribeau. Perf. Ben Masters, Ben Thamer, Thomas Glover, Jonny Fitzsimons. Fin and Fur Productions, LLC, 2015. DVD.