The other side of the wild horse story: Thompson said ranchers support management options

(Riverton, Wyo.) – On Monday, August 25th, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board of the Bureau of Land Management met at Central Wyoming College. On the weekend before the meeting, board members toured Southeast Fremont County Herd Management Areas and inspected, for themselves, “the wide range of multiple uses and the condition of the natural resources,” said Fremont County Commission Chairman Doug Thompson, who attended Monday’s meeting in Riverton. “They were also able to hear directly from the people who deal with wild horses on a daily basis, people who could rarely go to their meetings in large metropolitan areas,” where those bi-annual meetings are typically held.

County10.com reported Monday on a protest held by various wild horse advocates, held outside of the board meeting on the lawn of the Morefeld Student Center. See that story here. Thompson provided the following report on what happened inside the meeting room and he presents “the other side of the wild horse story.”

By Doug Thompson, Chairman, Fremont County Commission

The message to the Board from ranchers and wildlife advocates was varied in detail, but was  clear—non-management, delayed management, distracted management is unacceptable.  Upon passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, the federal promise of timely effective management to agreed upon levels was given.  Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) were established and efforts to manage undertaken.

Doug Thompson

Doug Thompson

Today, there are twice as many horses as agreed upon across the West.  Control measures—birth control, gathers, removals, adoptions, long and short-term holding—are proving ineffective, because of capacity, funding, and litigation problems.  So what?  Without effective control of all large grazing species, the rangeland resources are in danger of irreparable damage.  Currently, the numbers and impacts of two of the three major classes of large grazing species-wildlife and livestock-are managed.  Livestock numbers are evaluated annually and adjusted depending upon precipitation, range condition and trend.  Wildlife populations are controlled through annually set hunting seasons.  But the horse numbers are generally uncontrolled, because of inadequate federal funding, obstructionist lawsuits, and bureaucratic inefficiency.

Some horse advocates have called for the elimination of all livestock or ranch killing reductions.  It was factually stated that if all livestock were removed and the horse numbers left unmanaged and “running free”, that at some time in the future irreparable damage will occur.  This fact brought an angry outburst from the horse advocates, and a meeting ending disruption.

Concern was expressed by wildlife advocates that unmanaged wild horses are a threat to Wyoming’s world class wildlife populations.  Of specific focus was the Greater Sage Grouse.  The one common thread from the sage grouse conservation brain trust is that wild horse populations must be kept at or below AML.  Failure to do so will very likely precipitate a listing under the ESA.

Comments were presented explaining the difference in grazing impacts of horses, livestock, and wildlife.  Livestock grazing impacts are managed by density, duration, forage potentials and numbers.  In this area they are only on the range 4 to 6 months, and can be removed if conditions dictate.  Wildlife numbers and impacts, being evaluated annually, can be modified if necessary.  But horse numbers management is sporadic at best.  Regularly scheduled removals have been halted, new population controls are mostly halted, holding facilities are full and some are closing because of feed costs.  Any potential control measures are immediately litigated and the BLM is undertaking multi-year, redundant, studies before attempting anything.  It appears there will be no effective management in the near future.  Horses are on the range 12 months per year impacting the range and must have some control.

The local ranching community and wildlife advocates asked the Board for effective and timely birth control measures, use of all the management tools allowed by the Act, removals down to appropriate management levels, and cooperative broad-based management, including State, local, and tribal governments.  They also asked that in the socio-economic analysis that the negative impacts of federally subsidized adoption on the private horse industry be considered.

Finally, the Board heard clearly that the local ranchers do not want the elimination of the wild horse populations, just timely, effective management and control to protect the rangeland resources that all are dependent upon.