Monday, July 22, 2013

Improving management of wild horses and burros

How to manage the feral horses and burros of the western United States has been the subject of heated debate for some time.

A recent scientific review found that the current practice of removing free-ranging horses is counter-productive. The review concluded that the current approach promotes a high population growth rate, and that maintaining horses in long-term holding facilities is both economically unsustainable and contrary to public expectations.

Most free-ranging horse populations are growing at 15 percent to 20 percent a year, meaning these populations could double in four years and triple in six years.

With no intervention by BLM (the U.S. Bureau of Land Management), the horse population will increase to the point of self-limitation, where both degradation of the land and high rates of horse mortality will occur due to inadequate forage and water. In addition, periodic droughts, many of them severe, in the western public lands cause immediate and often unpredicted impacts.”

The report noted that there is little, if any, public support for allowing such harm to come to either the horse population or the land itself. However, the current removal strategy used by BLM actually perpetuates the overpopulation problem by maintaining the number of animals at levels below the carrying capacity of the land. Although this protects the rangeland and the horse population in the short term, it results in continually high population growth and exacerbates the long-term problem.

To manage horse populations without periodic removals, the committee concluded that widespread and consistent application of fertility control would be required.

Here's a video in which Committee chair Dr. Guy Palmer of Washington State University shares key findings about using science to improve the BLM wild horse and burro program.

The full report is available online.

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