Op-Eds

Managing Wild Horse Populations

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Washington, May 1, 2007 | comments

Wild horses are part of American culture that has been celebrated for hundreds of years.  Wild horses are also part of our Texas heritage.

Managing populations of wild horses and burros is critical to the effective stewardship of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.  BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, and cultural resources on the public lands. 

All of us would like to see wild horses and burros thrive in an ecologically balanced environment.  But this cannot happen unless BLM has adequate means at hand to effectively manage horse and burro populations in an environmentally sensitive way.  

BLM has not been able to maintain horse populations at levels that protect wildlife habitat and enable multiple uses of that land.  Why?  The reason is lack of Congressional funding.  The political will is lacking to maintain horse populations at a sustainable level.  By passing H.R. 249, Congress is tying the hands of BLM--removing an effective tool for dealing with the problem of horse and mule overpopulation. 
 
Areas overpopulated by horses cannot sustain populations of wildlife.  Ultimately, not only horses and burros themselves, but the entire ecosystem suffers.  Unless Congress provides sufficient funding to provide necessary care for the horses in long-term holding facilities, which it hasn’t, sales are necessary to preserve the environment of BLM-managed lands.  The existing sale authority is a small but necessary tool in an overall program to manage wild horse and burros on public lands. 

While the public is adopting some horses under a BLM program, horses are not being adopted at a rate sufficient to ease the overpopulation on the public lands.   The people of Texas have stepped up and adopted their fair share of horses, but it is not enough.  For this reason, sales are a necessary tool for effective management.  Perhaps worst of all, the Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2008 called for cutting funding completely for the horse and burro program.  This makes BLM’s job even more difficult.

Last week the House passed H.R. 249, a bill to restore the prohibition of the commercial sale and slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros, by a vote of 277 to 137.  I voted against this bill.  The slow progress that has been made towards achieving sustainable horse populations in recent years will be reversed if BLM lacks the tools and the funds manage wild horses and burros.

 

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