The overpopulation of wild horses on federal lands has been an issue for years. There are currently over 88,000 wild horses and burros on land that has been determined to be suitable for 26,500 horses. When the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act went into effect in 1971, the goal was to stop and reverse the declining wild horse population.
Little work was done to determine the horses' actual needs before the law was passed, said Joe Stratton, supervisor of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Mid-Continent Wild Horse and Burro Corrals at Elm Creek, NE. He expanded that no rangeland management plans were put in place, nor were seasonal ranges and other factors taken into consideration.
The acting head of the BLM, William Perry Pendley, has said that it will take $5 billion and 15 years to get control of the overpopulation of wild horses on federal lands. Pendley feels that a critical step in getting control of the population is to increase adoptions of the wild horses and burros. Currently there are 10,000 animals in adoption facilities; additionally, 38,000 wild horses over the age of 5 are on privately owned, off-range pastures. The BLM contracts with landowners to care for these older horses.
Stratton said that all BLM plans are dependent on federal funding; the new federal budget has not yet been approved. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $35 million package of proposals that was supported by entities like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Once the horses are corralled off of BLM lands, they're sorted by age and gender. The receive vaccinations and blood tests, and the stallions are gelded. Horses in poor condition are cared for individually. The horses are then delivered to various holding facilities.
The Elm Creek facility receives animals based on what types of animals they already have in their care. Also considered are the amount of available pen space and the number of horses that fit on a truck. There are currently 145 horses and seven burros available for adoption at the facility. In addition, there are 59 horses that are not yet old enough to be adopted.
Stratton notes that every adoption helps the BLM decrease the number of horses they have in holding, trending toward a more-sustainable wild horse population.
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