Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey announced Friday that he is calling for a review of the adequacy of existing operating procedures that relate to instances of alleged animal abuse during the recently completed Triple B wild horse gather carried out in Nevada in a complex northwest of Ely and southeast of Elko.
More than 1,200 wild horses were gathered and removed during the gather, toward the end of which U.S. District Judge Howard D. McKibben granted a Temporary Restraining Order to plaintiffs opposed to the gather because of his concern that a helicopter was flying too close to a horse being rounded up.
The review, to be conducted by a team of BLM employees who will be able to consult with specific non-BLM experts, will look at several incidents, some of which have been videotaped by the public. вЂњThe team will carefully review the incidents to determine what happened and to assess the gather operations,вЂќ said Abbey. вЂњThe review and findings will inform the BureauвЂ™s development of a comprehensive animal welfare plan for the Wild Horse and Burro Program.вЂќ
Abbey added, вЂњThis fact-finding review is aimed at advancing the BLMвЂ™s ongoing efforts to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices. Any resulting changes in Bureau-wide standard operating procedures will apply to gather contractors, BLM employees, and volunteers.вЂќ The findings of the review, which complements the BLMвЂ™s effort to make the Wild Horse and Burro Program as transparent as possible, will be posted on the Internet (at www.blm.gov).
The BLM estimates that approximatelyВ 38,500 wild horses and burros (aboutВ 33,000 horses and 5,500 burros) are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states based on the latest data available, compiled as of February 28, 2011.
Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years вЂ“ even with increased efforts to administer fertility control to wild horse mares. As a result, the agency must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to protect rangeland resources, such as wildlife habitat, from the impacts of overpopulation.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandates that once the Interior Secretary вЂњdetermines…that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public landsвЂ¦, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.вЂќ In Fiscal Year 2010, the BLM removedВ 10,255 wild horses and burros (9,715 horses and 540 burros)В from public rangelands as part of its overall mission to ensure the health of Western public lands for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.
The estimated current free-roaming population exceeds byВ nearly 12,000В the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. Off the range, there are more than 40,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term corrals and Midwestern long-term pastures.
In the most recently completedВ fiscal year (2010), holding costsВ accounted for $36.9В million (or 57 percent) of the total enacted Wild Horse and Burro Program budget of $63.9 million. The Government Accountability Office, in an October 2008 report, found the programвЂ™s mounting holding costs to be unsustainable.
In response, the BLM is finalizing a new wild horse and burro management strategy as part of its ongoing effort to reform the Wild Horse and Burro Program and put it on a cost-effective, sustainable track.