by Bonnie Kohleriter
MYTH 1 26,500 wild horses and burros are to be on our public lands in 10 states, as that number was on our public lands in 1971 when the Wild Horse and Burro Law was passed. Wild horses and burros are in AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, and WY.
FACT 1 No census of numbers of wild horses and burros was done in 1971 when the Law was passed in December of that year. The 1971 Law did not say the number of wild horses and burros that could be on our public lands. 26,500 is an arbitrary, non-evidenced based number.
MYTH 2 Wild horses and burros are on our public lands everywhere and they are destroying our public lands.
FACT 2 The BLM manages 245 M acres of our public lands. About 3 M livestock are on 160 M acres, wildlife is everywhere, and wild horses and burros are limited to 29 M acres in areas called Herd Management Areas (HMAs). Within the HMAs about 400,000 livestock that reside here as well are allocated 82% of the forage while the wild horses and burros are assigned 17%. In 1971 the wild horses and burros were in Herd Areas (HAs), but the BLM said those areas were too difficult to manage so they drew circles within the HAs and called them HMAs. Unbeknown to the animals where the boundaries are when they go into HA land, they are fodder to be removed without question.
MYTH 3 The BLM has 177 herd management areas (HMAs) for wild horses and burros giving the illusion horses and burros are in those areas.
FACT 3 The BLM has only 160 HMAs where wild horses and burros are now found. The other areas don’t have any horses or burros in them, or are part of the military or forest service or are double counted. The BLM had 339 HMAs initially, but little by little has zeroed them out.
MYTH 4 The BLM sets “Appropriate Management Levels” (AMLs) for the wild horses and burros in each area. It sets a low number at which the animals should be and allows them to breed to a higher number after which it gathers, removes and reduces the animals to the low number again. The overall low number is 17, 810 and the high number is 27,500.
FACT 4 “Appropriate” is inappropriate. Allowing only 17,810 horses and burros in 160 areas in 10 western states is a species that is threatened or endangered.
MYTH 5 The BLM says it strives to have healthy horses on healthy rangelands.
FACT 5 Dr. Gus Cothran, the retained geneticist for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, says the following: Conservation geneticists maintain a minimum of 150-200 animals is needed in a herd with 50 effective breeding animals to have sufficient genetic variability for continued long term viability. Of these herds, only 28 herds have 150-200+ horses allowed in them, and of these herds, only 3 herds have 150-200+ burros allowed in them. In other words, 82% of the herds don’t have appropriate allowable numbers in them for continued health and viability.
MYTH 6 The herd members intermingle with the herd members in other herds so the individual numbers within a herd don’t matter.
FACT 6 Intermingling of the herds has not been scientifically researched and validated, and established by the BLM.
MYTH 7 Horses and burros can be imported from other herds to sustain genetic viability.
FACT 7 The 1971 Law says the horses are supposed to be “where found.”
MYTH 8 The BLM strives to have a “thriving, natural, ecological balance” on our public lands with a multiple use mandate.
FACT 8 The wild horses and burros are not a thriving species, the arbitrary numbers are not natural, and the numbers are not in balance, (27,000 vs. 400,000) in the ecological environment in which they are to be distributed. The National Academy of Sciences addressed this Myth in 2013, in Chapter 7 of its report, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program.
MYTH 9 The BLM asserted 67,000 wild horses and burros were on our public lands in 2016 and 47,000 were in off the range holding facilities. The number of livestock within the 27 M acres needs to stay there as they feed the world. The number of livestock have been reduced by 35% from 1971-2014.
FACT 9 Livestock within the HMAs provide less than ½ of 1% of the United States meat. The number of livestock have been reduced due to overgrazing and drought. Cow/calf size has increased by 1 ½, offsetting the reduction in number of allowable livestock. Though ways of counting wild horses and burros have improved, counting continues to be a challenge. Reducing the number of livestock only within the HMAs and increasing the number of allowable wild horses and burros has not been explored. The Cattlemen’s Association and now the Gas, Oil, and Mining Industries are powerful competitors and lobbyists for our public lands on which the wild horses and burros depend.
MYTH 10 The BLM is mandated by the 1971 Law to manage, protect, and control the wild horses and burros on our public lands.
FACT 10 Look at the BLM’s budget. The BLM, unlike wildlife and livestock groups, does ever so little to manage and protect the wild horses and burros on our public lands. The BLM doesn’t tend to water, forage, or space (fence) issues. The BLM’s focus is on control, hiring contractors to gather and remove animals, hiring contractors to house animals off the range in short-term corrals or in long-term pastures, hiring contractors to move animals around the country for adoptions, and hiring administrators to complete the paperwork.
The BLM does not engage in using fertility control treatment (PZP) as a way to keep the wild horses and burros on the range though volunteers stand ready to help. Up to now only four small herds have used this control method but now five more larger herds are involved in its use. In 2013, 509 horses received PZP, in 2014, 384, and in 2015, 469, paltry numbers. The BLM does not engage in promoting recreational tourism on the range which could and would bring in money and in which volunteers stand ready to help. The BLM has considered sterilizing mares but the procedures are dangerous for the mares and foals and the BLM is researching geldings to be used in on the range horse and burro herds.
MYTH 11 The National Advisory Board of the Wild Horse and Burro Program and the horse advocates on the 9 Regional Advisory Councils are available to advise on what is best for the future of the wild horses and burros.
FACT 11 The advisory board members are people with livestock, wildlife and land interests, not with wild horse and burro interests. They are cattlemen and livestock vets. They are not horse and burro geneticists, equine vets, biologists and ecologists, recreational entrepreneurs, volunteer coordinators.
This is a broken program in need of change and a different direction. This is a program that needs to focus on ways to retain wild horses and burros on our public lands in controlled but healthy numbers, and to focus on providing them with adequate water, forage, and space.
Wild horses evolved in the Americas. They left during the Ice Age 10,000 years ago and were domesticated in Europe. They were brought back to the Americas and were left to be wild again when automation was introduced. They were used to settle our country and to fight our wars in WW1 and WW2. Today, they are symbols of our past of the Wild Wild West. They are symbols of our freedom. We as Americans are charged to be stewards of them. They need to be managed and protected on our public lands, controlled in genetically healthy numbers, and when those goals are met, in my opinion, then given fertility control treatment.