Reality sets in on feral horses |

Reality sets in on feral horses

On Sept.9, reality appeared to take hold when it comes to feral, aka wild horses. The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met in Elko and made a totally unexpected recommendation on that date. They recommended to the Bureau of Land Mismanagement that the BLM euthanize or sell “without limitation” the unwanted horses and burros currently in captivity and on western ranges.

The nine member board voted eight to one to make the recommendation. The recommendation was made after the board toured several western ranges.

Now for some boring background on the board. First, their recommendations are non-binding but usually taken seriously by BLM. The makeup is appointed members from diverse backgrounds and experience. They make recommendations regarding animal husbandry, resource management, and management of wildlife as pertaining to feral horse management and protection.

One of the newest members is Ben Masters, who was in and produced the documentary film “Unbranded” where he and three others rode adopted mustangs border to border from Mexico to Canada. I watched this documentary, which while definitely pro-mustang was not excessively so.

Masters said “Right now we are witnessing an ecological disaster on tens of millions of our beloved western landscapes…I have seen it first-hand.”

The official BLM response was its usual politically correct blather. They want healthy range lands but acknowledge the extreme overpopulation of feral horses. Their statement offered no solutions or endorsement of the board’s recommendation, but encouraged people to adopt more horses.

Interestingly, the board’s recommendation came the same day that BLM announced they were suspending one of its research projects in Hines, Oregon, to find safe ways of spaying feral mares. The decision was stated to have been because BLM could not come to an agreement with numerous litigants over the program.

There are, by BLM’s counts, over 70,000 horses on ecosystems that can support 27,000 horses. I suspect that number is low. There are an additional 45,000 horses in captivity. BLM says it will cost about $50,000 to maintain each horse over its lifetime. That is over two billion dollars.

Yes, that has certainly worked so far. That is why the feral population continues to grow, as does the population in captivity, while adoptions decline.

To be fair, BLM has its hands tied. Every time the BLM tries to take a common-sense action, it is met with lawsuit after lawsuit. The original intent of the Wild Horse and Burro Act has been perverted by numerous decisions made by under-informed judges or those sympathetic to the horse cause, not understanding the adverse long-term effects those decisions have on the ecosystem but the horses themselves.

For example, the law allows feral horses in captivity that are unadoptable to be sold or euthanized in the most humane way possible. While euthanasia is acceptable to the Humane Society for unwanted pets, that process has been deemed cruel for horses.

An uncontrolled horse population can double in four years. What happens after the livestock and big game are pushed completely out of the ecosystem? At some point the horses will reproduce themselves beyond the capabilities of their feed source. When livestock are gone, much of the water resource will not be maintained, so they may die of thirst before hunger.

Sadly, most judges have no rural background or concept of this, so they side with those tugging the heart strings. Those “do-gooders” must not see that they are contributing to the eventual demise of the feral horse if things stand as they are.

How do we fix this well-intended but out of control law? The first step is to get BLM off of the PC fence. They cannot implement the board’s recommendations, but their support is critical in going to Congress to change the law. Contact the state BLM office in Reno and voice your support for the board’s recommendation. Congressman Amodei is on board with fixing the problem but let him know your view. The same goes for Sen. Dean Heller, and hopefully Congressman Joe Heck. If Catherine Cortez-Masto is elected, her history as Nevada attorney general shows her to be against any reasonable control of feral horses.

Let me close by saying that I have rarely encountered anyone who supports total eradication of the feral horses. All that most people informed on the issue want is a reasonable way to get the horse population under control and maintain it there. That appears to be the position of this advisory board as well.

Tom Riggins’ column appears every other Friday. He may be reached at