A potential conflict between those seeking to protect the Greater Sage Grouse and wild horse and burro advocates reared its head Thursday.
The issue came up during a meeting of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council when the BLM’s Nevada wild horse and burro manager pointed out the overlap between horse and grouse territories, especially in Northern Nevada.
He said there are many horses in sage grouse core habitat areas and, in fact, those horse populations are larger than sustainable in most of those management areas.
“I believe there’s evidence to suggest the use of habitat by horses can impact the sage grouse,” Alan Shepherd told the council.
He said the impact those horses are having on grouse habitat needs to be studied.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I’m not sure where it’s going to go.”
Shepherd said the Bureau of Land Management believes the horse population in Nevada should be managed to keep it at a sustainable 27,000 animals. At present, he said there are more than 40,000 wild horses roaming the range in Nevada. But he said BLM can’t get that population down.
“We don’t have the money,” he said. “Our facilities are at capacity.”
As a result, he said more than 70 of the 80 wild horse management areas in Nevada are over capacity according to the 2013 census and that population will grow by nearly 5,000 animals a year unless a solution is found.
He said from his point of view, public lands need to be managed for multiple users.
“When you get too many of anything, it can cause impact,” he said. “You can’t let one user of public lands affect all the other users of public lands.”
Members of the council asked to include a statement in their management plans urging Congress to follow the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 — including the portions that directs the Interior “Secretary to the destruction of old, sick and lame animals to maintain the health of the herd.
Shepherd told them Congress annually puts s special rider on the horse and burro management budget that prohibits using any of the funds to destroy healthy horses.. He said despite the language in the original act, the annual rider states that BLM cannot euthanize horses just because they are excess.
The council is charged with developing a plan to prevent the listing of the grouse as an endangered species. State officials as well as miners and ranchers say that listing would be devastating to their industries.