? _ RL34690 - Wild Horse and Burro Issues
11-May-2010; Carol Hardy Vincent; 24 p.

Update: Previous releases:
December 1, 2009
December 15, 2008

Abstract: The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (the 1971 Act) protects wild horses and burros on federal lands, and places them under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS). Under the 1971 Act, the agencies are to inventory horse and burro populations on federal land to determine appropriate management levels (AMLs). They are authorized to remove animals exceeding the range’s carrying capacity. First, the agencies are to destroy “old, sick, or lame animals” by the most humane means available. Second, they are to remove healthy animals for private adoption. Third, if adoption demand is insufficient, the remaining healthy animals are to be destroyed; however, the agencies have not used this authority since 1982. The 108th Congress enacted changes to wild horse and burro management. One change provided a tool, in addition to adoptions, for reducing wild horse and burro populations. The agencies were directed to sell, “without limitation,” excess animals (or their remains) that essentially are deemed too old or otherwise unable to be adopted.

BLM has not achieved reduction to the national AML—26,578 for all herds. There were an estimated 36,940 wild horses and burros on BLM lands as of February 28, 2009. Another 31,851 animals were in BLM holding facilities as of September 14, 2009. BLM estimates that approximately 70% of its FY2009 appropriation for wild horses and burros was used to care for animals in holding facilities. A much smaller number of horses and burros are on FS lands— 3,620.

Management of wild horses and burros has long been controversial, with most attention centering on BLM. Among the most contentious issues are whether BLM should destroy healthy animals under the authority provided in the 1971 Act, and sell animals “without limitation” as provided in the 108th Congress changes. Thus far the agency has focused on sales with procedures to protect against slaughter. Other controversial issues include the priority given wild horses and burros in land use decisions; whether, and to what extent, to remove animals from the range; the disposal of healthy animals through the adoption and sales programs; the extent of holding animals in facilities, particularly long-term (pasture) facilities; the use of fertility control to slow the rate of reproduction; and the costs of management and whether funding is appropriate.

Several sets of options are being considered for reaching AML, limiting the number of animals in holding, reducing program costs, and generally improving the care and management of wild horses and burros, primarily by BLM. An October 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office recommended that BLM use different methods to estimate populations, issue a policy to achieve consistency in setting AMLs, provide information to the public on treatment of animals, and develop alternatives to caring for animals in facilities. In November 2008, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board made recommendations to BLM on how to reduce wild horse and burro herd sizes, population growth, and costs of management, among other issues. Selling animals without limitation or euthanizing excess animals were presented “as a last resort.” Also in November 2008, a private individual expressed interest in purchasing thousands of excess animals from BLM to establish a wild horse sanctuary. On October 7, 2009, the Secretary of the Interior, calling the current BLM wild horse and burro program “unsustainable,” announced proposals to establish wild horse preserves for the care of non-producing herds, and to reduce population growth rates through such methods as expanded use of fertility control. Pending House and Senate companion bills (H.R. 1018 and S. 1579) seek to amend the 1971 Act to prohibit the slaughter of healthy wild horses and burros, remove agency authority to sell animals, limit the removal of animals from the range, create wild horse and burro sanctuaries, and expand the areas available for herds, among other changes.

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Topics: Public Lands

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