Headlines from July 20th regarded the euthanasia of Mustangs controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. I have to admit, being one who sees overpopulation of all species as a problem (including humans), the euthanasia of wild horses and burros didn’t come as a surprise nor did I scoff at the idea.
When a rebuttal was printed in the New York Times claiming that cattle grazing was the problem resulting in the destruction of the western landscape, my first thought was, “Here is another save all the animals campaign.” I don’t want to see animals suffer, nor do I want to see animals euthanized, killed, or slaughtered for human convenience, but we can’t save them all and quite honestly, it’s our fault that so many animals end up in this predicament.
Here’s part of the wild horse story you don’t see.
Livestock grazes US federal lands in 16 Western states. The BLM doesn’t have an actual “count” of the livestock that grazes these lands. However, they can estimate the numbers by the grazing fees assessed which is computed through an Animal Unit Month (AUM); the AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.
“I have mixed feelings about the Wild Horse’s existence.”
In the Fiscal Year of 2007, the number of AUMs actually used on BLM managed land was 6.8 million, with 12.6 million AUMs available. So, they sound good by having a little over half of what was available actually used. Now, if my math is correct, that would mean 6.8 million AUMs equal APPROXAMATELY 650,000 livestock grazing BLM lands in 2007.
The BLM does know they have approximately 33,000 wild horses and burros running on these lands. This would equal 396,000 AUMs which is much less than the 12.6 million AUMs allowed on the land.
I’m wondering how these horses are causing such devastation to the landscape.
The underlying concern is financial; of course. Horses are not cheap to care for, and prices of horse care is only going to rise. Is this the fault of the Wild Horse and Burro? No, of course not. Fiscal shortages for BLM horse care sounds like a problem of mismanaged funds within the BLM program. They are currently “boarding” 30,000 once-wild horses in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. These 30,000 mustangs were captured and never adopted.
The BLM is stating that the boarding costs for these 30,000 excess Wild Horses will reach $26 million. The BLM has a $37 million budget for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, leaving only $11 million for other expenses.
I think financially, the argument for euthanizing the “unwanted” wild horses is sound. But, when they throw land conservation aspects into the mix, I question their motivation. IF conservational issues are a concern AND these horses were posing a threat to the balance of the western range land, their pro-horse-euthanasia argument is weak AND the livestock grazing should be evaluated FIRST.
Because a decision was made to conserve the Wild Horse and Burro in the United States and unless we are going to deviate from that decision, raising beef on public lands SHOULD come second. Additionally, these “ranchers” whose cattle, sheep, and goats roam on public land should be footing some of the bill for the Wild Horses and Burros.
The Mustangs and Burros are competing with cattle, goats, and sheep, three animals known to devastate grasslands, ranges, and forests. The numbers of livestock allowed to graze should be cut, substantially (below the numbers that are currently grazing, not the number allowed) and there should be a fee assessed to each AUM that goes directly to the Wild Horse and Burro program.
“The ranchers can’t afford that” or “The ranchers won’t do that.”
What? Tough, they are using public land and paying a VERY minimal fee to do so. These ranchers ARE making a profit with their livestock, and the government is footing some of their bill. This is ludicrous!
There is no doubt paying to “board” 30,000 horses is an astronomical debt, and assuming horse adoption rates will continue to be stagnant, the number of “boarded” horses will grow. How then does the BLM control the population without euthanizing a large number of horses?
It has to cross someone’s mind that the Wild Horse is now just sitting in a pen waiting for it to be over
In 2006, the BLM White River Field Office gathered 500 Wild Horses and selected more than 300 of those and applied a state of the art birth control pellet to many of those released back into the wild. This is a temporary birth control method, only lasting 22 months, but something to consider for the majority of the population. This, at least, would put a hold on the growth of the population for some time, effectively saving money over a 22+ month period, even if the upfront cost to administer the birth control might be large.
Something else I found interesting was that the BLM catches Wild Horses that are in areas that might be hit with draught, wild fires, and other “disastrous” conditions that could be detrimental to the wild horses in that area. My question is they claim these Wild Horses have no natural predators to naturally balance their population. However, wildfires, draughts, and other natural catastrophes are generally a very effective way to “control” populations of wild animals. Of course, starving to death isn’t something you want to see happen, however, these animals ARE wild and if you are going to “cull” some of the population, why not have that done naturally. Without even allowing the animals to “suffer”, knowing an area where these wild horses WOULD in fact end up dying do to “natural” causes, why not euthanize those horses on the spot at that time INSTEAD of catching them and putting them in a holding facility?
For the 30,000 horses that are currently at long term holding facilities or being “boarded”, I wonder if there is another way to provide long term care for these horses at a smaller cost? It’s hard to say since it is costing them approximately $887 per horse per year, which works out to a little over $72 a month. Cheap in my opinion; I would love to be paying that much for board!
Of course, these horses are most likely easy keepers, I’m sure they are just out in large pens, and receiving minimal care outside of hay and water. But, in all honesty, are these horses happy in the holding facilities? Quality of life tends to weigh in my mind. Sure, an adopted Wild Horse can be happy with no human interaction out in a big field with some other horses. But, put them in a dry lot with a large herd for years and it has to cross someone’s mind that the Wild Horse is now just sitting in a pen waiting for it to be over.
I have mixed feelings on the Wild Horse’s existence. On one hand, it isn’t their fault they are running free in the West, and they are still intriguing animals whose concept help many Americans embrace the true feeling of “freedom”. However, they are in fact a feral animal that isn’t “supposed” to be there. So, how do we allow these feral creatures their freedom without hurting the natural inhabitants of the ecosystem? Cut down on the livestock!
Wow, didn’t I already say that?
There are too many of everything is this world today (including, and especially, humans).
I hate to repeat myself, especially when I walked into this topic thinking the crazy, “save the all the animals” people were over-simplifying the situation. Bu, as far as the ecological balance of range land goes, the Wild Horses are outnumbered by livestock. The American people have to decide what is more important: beef or the Wild Horse
I pick the Wild Horse.
Financially, the BLM needs to evaluate their income from the ranchers through fees on their land use that directly funds the Wild Horse and Burro program, birth controls for population of Wild Horses and Burro’s on the range, culling of animals that would otherwise die of nature induced deaths (fire, draught, weather), and create a more lucrative funding source by collaborating with a non-profit to raise funds to care for the long term care of horses being “boarded”.
There are too many of everything in this world today. It’s just not fair to put down animals IF the problem is our cause. This problem Wild Horse population is OUR problem. We created it, we miss-managed it, and we should not euthanize 6,000 animals to fix it. The American Wild Horse population will only continue to grow without a more thorough plan to cover the issue long term.
I would advocate for more horse adoptions, but in all honesty, there are so many horses out there in need of a home, the Mustangs are probably on the bottom of the list.
The crazy animal fanatics are not out of line. It is the misinformed public that needs to be aware of the needs, the wants, and the reality of the Wild Horse situation.
Overpopulation needs to be addressed, but not just with Wild Horses.