New Interior Department report on wild horses calls for more research into population-control methods
RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management needs to step up its research into population control methods for wild horses to help curb the spiraling costs of rounding up the mustangs across the West and housing them in holding facilities, federal inspectors say.
The report Monday by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General mostly defended the BLM roundups that often are criticized by horse-protection advocates.
The OIG said it observed roundups this year in Nevada, Oregon and California and visited several holding facilities, and it found no evidence of inhumane treatment of animals. The office concluded the roundups are necessary to cull the overpopulated herds, which take a toll on the health of the range as their populations naturally double about every four years.
The BLM manages 38,365 wild horses and burros in 180 different herd management areas covering about 32 million acres in 10 western states. Another nearly 38,000 are in holding facilities in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
"The growing population of these animals must be addressed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance of the authorized uses of the land, thus gathers are necessary and justified actions," the OIG report said.
But the report also found there is a need for an "urgent and aggressive focus on research and testing of improved population control methods" to reduce the need for additional holding facilities and preserves.
Leaders of several horse-protection groups blasted the report's findings.
"The BLM has no credibility, and this report is yet another attempt to whitewash a history of abuse, consistently witnessed by individuals on the ground," said Christopher Heyde, deputy director of the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C.
Suzanne Roy, campaign director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said the report was a politically motivated effort "timed to convince Congress to continue funding this broken federal program."
The report said the biggest problem facing the BLM is that its budget for gathering and housing the mustangs has nearly doubled the last six years, from $36.7 million in fiscal year 2004 to $66.1 million last year.
The number of horses in medium- and long-term holding facilities has increased from 22,000 in 2004 to 37,800 in 2010.
And yet if left unchecked, the number of wild horses on the range will grow from the current 38,365 to 238,000 by 2020, the report said.
Heather Emmons, a BLM spokeswoman in Reno, said Monday night the agency was reviewing the report.
The BLM manages some herds by adjusting gender mixes, rounding up some horses and returning others to the range. It also injects some mares with a non-hormonal contraceptive before releasing them back to the wild, but the OIG said the effect of the contraceptives is temporary.
The OIG recommended that the BLM continue to move forward with a plan that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offered last year to establish wild horse preserves in grasslands in the Midwest and East, where forage is cheaper and more plentiful.
But it suggested that be done in concert with other efforts to "minimize and reduce over the long term the need for short and long-term storage facilities."
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-- Scott Sonner, Associated Press
Top photo: A helicopter is used by the Bureau of Land Management to gather wild horses in the Conger Mountains of Utah on Sept. 7. Credit: Jim Urquhart / Reuters
Bottom photo: A wild foal stands next to its mother in a holding corral following a 2004 roundup in Nevada. Credit: Laura Rauch / Associated Press