Control Wild Horses was Focus of House Hearing
June 24, 2016

The Bureau of Land Management heard lively testimony this week in a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands that focused on the surging overpopulation of wild horses responsible for damaging rangeland that livestock producers depend on.

Steve Ellis, BLM's deputy director of operations, told lawmakers that there are now about 67,000 wild horses and burros roaming federal rangelands, far more than the 26,700 that experts say the land can sustain. The BLM is concerned, Ellis said, and stressed that more funds and research are needed before the agency can make a significant dent in the overpopulation.

Keith Norris, chairman of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, of which the American Sheep Industry Association is a member, expressed his hope that the hearing and collective testimonies would result in sustained healthy rangelands that support a balance of multiple uses, including wild horses, wildlife, ecosystem services and livestock.

The BLM has the authority to euthanize or sell off the wild animals under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, Norris said. Barring those actions, which he said the agency would reject out of concern about the uproar they would create, BLM needs to begin to immediately sterilize as many mares as it can.

J.J. Goicoechea, representing the Public Lands Council and the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, agreed that mass sterilization is necessary and the sooner the better. The longer it takes, the more horses will die of starvation and dehydration, he said.

Norris stressed the government needs to begin rounding up horses as quickly as possible and sterilize 15,000 to 25,000 animals per year for the next couple of years. After that, he said, it should be only a minor job to keep the population in check.

American Farm Bureau Federation testimony also supported controlling the wild horse and burro populations.

"The rangeland of the West has its share of unique natural resource challenges, not least of which is the burden it carries of an overpopulation of wild horses and burros," Callie Hendrickson, chair of AFBF's Federal Lands Issue Advisory Committee said. "This overabundance is critically damaging the ecology of western rangelands with severe, long-term consequences for the native plants and animal life that call it home."

The National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition testimony and attachments are available on www.sheepusa.org at Issues and Programs then Horse and Burro Coalition.