Wild Horse and Burro Issues Page: 3 of 6
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lands by wild horses and burros was 381,120 animal unit months (AUMs) and by
livestock was 6,835,458 AUMs. Forage consumed on FS lands by wild horses and burros
was 32,592 AUMs and by livestock was projected by the FS to be 6.6 million AUMs. An
AUM is the amount of forage to sustain an animal unit (a cow with calf) for one month.
Removal. A long-standing controversy is whether to remove wild horses and
burros from the range. Some animal rights and conservation groups believe they should
roam freely. Others stand by a 1990 Government Accountability Office (GAO)
conclusion that removals have not demonstrably improved range conditions, because
livestock consume more forage and cause more degradation to riparian areas. Other
wildlife, conservation, and livestock interests agree that reduction of horse herds protects
range resources and balances wild horse and burro levels with wildlife and domestic
livestock. Many livestock groups contend that wild horses and burros are more
environmentally destructive than domestic stock because they graze year round without
limit, whereas the time, place, and quantity of cattle grazing is controlled. Where drought,
fire, and other emergencies reduce forage, domestic livestock usually are removed first
to protect forage for wild horses and burros, according to BLM. The debate on the extent
of damage by wild horses and burros versus livestock continues because of value
differences and lack of definitive data on forage consumed and range degradation.
BLM is determining AMLs based on population censuses and range monitoring in
tandem with removal efforts. The agency takes into account natural resources, such as
wildlife and vegetation, and land uses, such as grazing and recreation. Determining
AMLs and removing animals to achieve AMLs are controversial. Concerns involve the
lack of an environmental analysis of overall removal efforts, removal of animals below
AML, and removal of entire herds. While 317 herd areas were identified initially, BLM
currently manages wild horses and burros in 201 HMAs. Some herds were combined,
while others were removed because they roamed on private lands or were not suitable to
retain, according to BLM. Other removal issues include the effect on the genetic viability
of herds, increased reproduction of remaining horses, and accuracy of supporting data.
As shown in Table 1, more horses and burros were removed from the range in
recent years - due to weather conditions, efforts to reach AML, and other factors - than
could be adopted. Critics contend that a disproportionate share of funding is used for
removal versus adoption. BLM has reached AML in 116 of the 201 HMAs, and continues
to remove animals to achieve AML. While wild horses and burros on the range have been
reduced to the lowest level in decades, reaching the national AML has eluded BLM.
Likely reasons may include the high population growth rate of horses and burros,
inadequate funding, insufficient interest in adoptions, and poor program management.
Animals that are removed may be offered for adoption, sold, or sent to holding facilities.
Adoption. The primary disposal method for healthy animals has been through
adoption. From FY1972-FY2005, 258,783 horses and burros were removed, of which
208,637 were adopted (others died of natural causes or were sent to holding facilities).
The base fee to adopt a wild horse or burro is a minimum of $125, although the BLM
Director may reduce or waive the fee. In most cases, competitive bidding is used and the
fee is the highest bid over the base. New owners can receive title after a one-year wait,
with certification of proper care during that time. An individual may receive title to no
more than 4 animals per year. BLM has established other conditions for the
transportation, feeding, and care of wild horses and burros.
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Vincent, Carol H. Wild Horse and Burro Issues, report, December 9, 2005; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc820870/m1/3/: accessed February 17, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.