Costs to manage the animals ranging on public lands and in the holding facilities has grown from $36.7 million in 2004 to $66.1 million last year.
“It’s not sustainable,” said Jenny Lesieutre, Bureau of Land Management wild horse and burro program manager in Cheyenne.
According to the Inspector General’s report, the bureau agrees that its current course is not sustainable for the horses, the environment or the taxpayer.
The Inspector’s report said they did not find any mistreatment of wild horses or burros by the bureau or contractors employed to capture the animals.
Roundups — or gathers as the bureau terms them — are essential to control the mustang population and there is little natural predation to curb numbers, said the Inspector’s report.
Those gathers may be necessary to decrease the equine population, but the bureau is stuck with surplus stock when fewer buyers in tough economic times choose to adopt.
In 1996, 1,311 mustangs from across the West were removed from their respective horse management areas or HMAs. Of that number, 861 were adopted. In 2005, 2,000 mustangs were removed with 421 being adopted. Last year, 1,238 were removed and 134 were adopted, Lesieutre said.
In October of 2009, the bureau gathered 192 mustangs in the McCullough Peaks horse management area. Ninety-four were transferred to temporary holding for future adoption, and the rest, returned to their range.
In September of 2009, 146 mustangs were gathered in the Pryor Mountain horse management area. Fifty-seven were slated for adoption and the rest released.
There are 16 horse management areas in Wyoming. Wyoming’s wild horse count is second only to Nevada with approximately 16,642 horses and 819 burros.
Wyoming has no burros, but Lesieutre’s estimate was 3,985 mustangs.
Wyoming’s AML — appropriate management level — is 2,490 to 3,725. An AML specifies how many horses a particular range can support while accommodating different uses like other wildlife, domestic stock, recreation or natural resource development.
January’s Wyoming wild horse estimate is 3,958, Lesieutre said.
Fertility control to curb overpopulation, gathers and adoptions are tools, not magic bullets.
“I don’t think there is a golden arrow on anything,” Lesieutre said.
Mares can be administered the birth control drug porcine zona pellucida (PZP) during gathers, but PZP is not nearly as effective when delivered remotely by darting, Lesieutre said.
In a small horse management areas, remote delivery can be effective to a degree, but its not so practical in a 2 million acre or more area, Lesieutre said.
Nevada has more than 15 million acres of horse management are range and Wyoming, nearly 5 million.
The McCullough Peaks horse management area (HMA) is more than 110,000 acres with an AML of 100 mustangs. Fifteen Mile HMA, northwest of Worland, is more than 81,000 acres with an AML of 70 to 160 horses. Salt Wells HMA, southwest of Rock Springs, is nearly 1.2 million acres with an AML of 251 to 365 horses, according to a bureau HMA fact sheet.
The bureau needs to adjust its AML, “but of course that’s a very hot subject right now,” Lesieutre said.
The bureau will continue to conduct gathers and adoption proceedings, Lesieutre said.
Without slowing wild horse population growth, the program is not sustainable, Lesieutre said.
The bureau is crafting a five-year strategy to address its horse management program. Congress must approve the plan, Lesieutre said.
“It should be out soon,” Lesieutre said.
“We’re going out to the public for feasible solutions,” Lesieutre said. “We need everybody to give their input and not just one interest group.”
“None of us are in the program because we hate horses,” Lesieutre said, “we’re in the program because we love horses.”