Rangeland Impacted by Wild Horse and Burro Overpopulation

Wild horses on public land has created an uproar between animal rights groups and animal agriculture groups.  Both sides have agreed, the overpopulation of wild horses and burros has grown to a troublesome level.

Wild horses and burros have taken up rangelands in 10 Western states using up resources, over grazing and creating hoof compaction. Agriculture and animal rights groups are working to come up with a solution to the nearly 90,000 wild horse overpopulation. Experts estimate that up to 18,000 foals are born each year. At the rate of 20% growth per year, the current 50,000 horses could turn into 88,000 by 2029. 50,000 other wild horses are being held in corrals costing $50 million annually. 

The Trump Administration will not pursue lethal measures such as euthanasia or selling horses for slaughter to deal with what officials say is an ecological and fiscal crisis. Acting Director Casey Hammond of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says that is not an option with the current overgrowth. 

The Policy

Ag groups are asking for a change in policy. An outdated policy went into effect in 1971 with the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Under the responsibilities of the federal government,  the population of wild horses and burros population was to stay at 26,000. If the population exceeded that number, the Bureau of Land Management could use lethal measures to lower the wild horse population to a manageable number. 

Animal rights groups requested limitations on the act in fear of inhumane treatment of the horses and the possibility of the population to be wiped out. Congress stepped in with restrictions on that act. Those restrictions have led to a drastic increase in the population that was once 31,000 in 2005 to the 88,000 on range today.

Both sides of the argument agree slaughter the enticing answer, although ag groups stressed the importance of controlling the over population before it exceeds any further.

Potential Solution 

Both sides of the argument have discussed the options of sterilization, conception control, safe adoption and euthanasia to the horses. Sterilization, conception control and safe adoptions are the option of choice, although costly and not as efficient as the matter at hand requires. 

Horses generally do not have predators and quickly overpopulate what rangelands can support. Officials also say they consume food on rangelands used for raising cattle and can cause problems for native wildlife.