My Turn: Is BLM mismanaging wild horses?


How many New Mexicans realize the damage being done to our state’s wild horse herds by the Bureau of Land Management?

Of the two remaining Wild Horse Management Areas, Jarita has been managed to a point where it is no longer genetically viable. The proposed roundups at Jicarilla, New Mexico’s largest herd, will reduce that herd to a perilous level as well.

In 1971 Congress unanimously passed The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act which states: “... wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West ... It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the areas where presently found (1971) as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

Unfortunately, over the years the clout of this progressive, ecologically balanced law has been thwarted by possessive people with strong economic power; 53.8 million acres were designated for wild horse and burro use in 1971; today only 31.6 million remain.

More than 50,000 wild horses and burros languish in long term holding, while some equine authorities estimate the number of free-roaming horses is 20,000.

The fate of New Mexico’s horses is at stake. The BLM Preliminary Environmental Assessment on the Jicarilla Wild Horse Management Area (JMA) proposes the round up of 272-333 wild horses in winter 2013.

Currently the herd is estimated at about 400 horses; BLM’s “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) for this herd is 73-128 horses. The BLM claims, “Excess wild horses need to be removed before an overpopulation compounded with other escalating problems such as drought severely degrade resources, induce suffering in wild horses and wildlife, and lead to an emergency situation.”

However, the scientific data on accurate population counts is questionable.

According to E. Gus Cothran, the leading equine geneticist, the minimum number of horses needed for a herd to be genetically viable is 150-200 adult horses.

The proposed use of helicopters for round up instead of bait trapping is also an issue of concern. Helicopter roundups are inhumane, traumatizing and life threatening assaults. Horses are stampeded over long distances at high speeds, across steep and rocky terrain.

Broken legs and necks are not uncommon. Foals are often run until their hooves separate from their legs. Family units are separated causing even further trauma.

The BLM says that horses will be put up for adoption, however, its fair to say that most of the horses will end up in long-term holding facilities which the BLM admits are already full.

The BLM claims that the round ups are necessary because of rangeland degradation, and place the blame on the overpopulation of horses. Yet, on the 108,000 acre JMA the wild horses share their legal home with 259 Cattle, 201 Elk and 1862 Mule Deer, 562 oil and gas wells, and 121 miles of associated access roads on the herd area. On average each well impacts 3 acres of rangeland. Oil and gas development will most likely increase. 

The BLM is charged with balancing multiple uses on Federal Lands. But of the 245 million acres BLM manages, only 11 percent is designated for wild horses and burros, and on those lands only 2 percent of the forage is allocated to wild horses.

Obviously, on land designated for wild horses and burros,  other wildlife, livestock, and oil and gas have been given higher priorities. Our nation’s wild horses have become a scapegoat, victims of greed and special interests.

The Jicarilla Herd now faces the same fate as 160 herds zeroed out by the BLM since 1971. Jarita is already close to extinction. But there is still hope. Public outcry against the roundups is loud but needs to be louder and more widespread. Your input is needed.

Who is to blame? We can blame the BLM for following out-dated, unscientific strategies for population control and rangeland management; the Secretary of Interior for promoting the BLM assault against wild horse and burros; the oil and gas companies for their greed; the ranchers who enjoy the benefit of grazing their livestock cheaply on federal land.

But the bottom line is this.  If our state’s, if our nation’s wild horse herds are managed to extinction as many predict, we have no one to blame but ourselves for not speaking out and taking action.

For questions or information on what you can do contact me, or check the websites below:

Paula King, a writer and wild horse activist, and her husband Ron live in Ranchos de Taos.



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