By Fallon Godwin-Butler, Elko Daily
September 10, 2016
ELKO — As the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting rounded out its last day in Elko, some of the working group recommendations given aligned with public comment and were focused on alleviating the population issue and restoring viable rangelands.
While the first recommendation — to destroy horses deemed unadoptable or sell them without limitation — was recognized as being the least socially palatable, Dr. Robert Cope said it was necessary to look at all options.
During its time in Nevada, the board was given a first-hand experience of the rangeland and horses in the form of a field trip, “where it became so obvious there’s an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource,” he said.
The rangeland was described as the bedrock the burros, wild horses, wildlife and rural communities depend on, said Dr. Julie Weikel.
Cope said it has become apparent the time for discussion was over, instead it is now at a point where “something has got to be done.”
This working group recommended the Bureau of Land Management follow the stipulations of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act “by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible.”
The initial recommendation was approved by all present board members save Ginger Kathrens.
It was asked if more horses could be removed from the wild to put less pressure on the land.
“I would like to see them put some more pressure to get more funds to do more gathers,” said June Sewing.
When asked about his feelings on the measure, member Ben Masters said, citing his age of 27, he was angered about inheriting and having been given messes.
He said his ultimate goal is to have a target population controlled by birth control. Masters didn’t think that could be accomplished through adoption and he would like to pass down a better rangeland to future generations.
“It’s a way of taking the public and Congress … on that field trip,” said Weikel.
The second recommendation — which also found approval, with Kathrens abstaining — focused on the prioritization of sage grouse habitat, when removing excess animals.
Kathrens did so based on a lack of information concerning the amount acres and herds impacted by this decision.
Additionally, it was proposed that the degree of degradation on the range was to be used as a criterion when prioritizing and removing excess animals.
The later caveat includes considering rangelands, which can be “restored and maintained in a healthy status.”
“It’s already past time for some of these places,” said Weikel, explaining this is an attempt to ask the BLM what can be saved.
That recommendation was not meant to “usurp” the priorities of the bureau.
Cope brought up the subject of genetic variability, which was touched upon by Dr. Boyd Spratling Thursday during public comment.
This form of variability or diversity potentially allows for a realistic chance of avoiding the problems associated with inbreeding.
Cope researched how high the numbers of horses would have to be to ensure this from within.
“According to what I heard yesterday, that magic number isn’t 150 it’s closer to 5,000,” he said.
Spratling said this is easily solved by placing studs in smaller herds, for example less than 150.
The conversation soon turned to economic viability by developing relationships with other agencies and departments to “conduct an analysis of socioeconomic and environmental effects on communities.”
Encouragement was given to state agencies and BLM redevelopment advisory councils to submit plans for range rehabilitation and herd management, which would be created to serve various areas based on local expertise and understanding.
The working group recommendations looked toward a theme from Thursday’s public comment to help the resource by dealing with the population and create unification to work with Congress and the Secretary of the Interior. One member of the public asked for the BLM’s hands to be untied.
The issue was called a breakdown of scientific management.
A representative of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said the BLM is not using the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida in a way that is managing the population. Sterilization was also called invasive and barbaric and the board was asked to abandon it in favor of funding acceptable forms of contraception.
It was commonly asked for to remove the horses for appropriate management levels and begin conservation efforts.