By David Louis, Rawlins Daily Times
April 5, 2016
RAWLINS — Many factors contribute to the health of Wyoming’s open rangeland.
From climate and drought to soil conditions, human recreation to energy development, land managers agree that the northern plains habitat is a fragile ecosystem.
Of all the variables, many believe that the single most significant threat comes from the competition for food by animals that graze upon the land.
At the center of the controversy is the competition for food between Wyoming’s wild horse population and livestock.
Wild horse advocacy groups such as The Cloud Foundation and American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) maintain that fewer than 2,500 wild horses remain in Wyoming and graze on 2 percent of the land grazed by livestock.
Wild horses, advocates say, are restricted to 3.2 million acres of public rangelands in Wyoming while livestock graze on 18 million acres.
Bureau of Land Management’s recent announcement of its plans to remove of all wild horses from checkerboard lands within and outside of the Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town Herd Management Areas (HMAs) this fall has wild horse advocates crying foul.
“Here we go again,” said Deniz Bolbol, communications director for AWHPC.
According to the BLM, wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, the agency removes thousands of animals annualy to control herd sizes as part of its management of public rangeland.
According to 2015 BLM population surveys, there are approximately 232 wild horses on checkerboard lands within the Great Divide Basin HMA, 242 wild horses on the Salt Wells Creek HMA and 26 wild horses within the Adobe Town HMA.
The checkerboard wild horse removal is not a population management action related to maintaining appropriate management levels. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires that the BLM remove wild horses from private land, if requested by the land owner.
The removal, in conjunction with BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office, is also required under the provisions of a court-approved 2013 Consent Decree between the BLM and the Rock Springs Grazing Association, which provided a schedule for the removal of wild horses from checkerboard lands within the three HMAs.
“What we have here is BLM in the consent decree willingly entered into a backroom deal with the ranchers. Of their own free will, they took the deal and we’ve known from day one they were going to use the consent decree to round up more and more horses and that’s what we’re getting,” Bolbol said. “It’s really the Rock Springs Grazing Association saying to the BLM ‘jump’ and the BLM saying ‘how high do you want us to jump?’ This is another illegal round up and another example of the American taxpayer left holding the bucket for the Rock Springs Grazing Association.
“It’s really just disgusting and the epitome of everything people say they hate about government.”
Dealing with the west’s wild horse population is a costly endeavor. Congress appropriated more than $77.2 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program in fiscal year 2015. Of the total $75.1 million spent, holding costs accounted for $49 million. Roundups and removals cost $1.8 million. Adoption events cost $6.3 million.
The BLM estimates there are slightly more than 58,000 wild horses and burros on 42 million acres of federally managed rangeland in 10 western states. Wyoming’s population is estimated at 3,760.
As of February, the BLM’s short-term holding facilities at Rock Springs, Wheatland and Riverton housed nearly 570 wild horses and burros, with 16,330 in BLM holding facilities throughout the U.S. A total of 30,614 wild horses and burros are in long-term holding pastures and 534 in eco-sanctuaries.