Across the west, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service oversee 13.3 million AUMs (Animal Unit Months) on 250 million acres of public land. A month of grazing one cow/calf combination or five sheep costs $1.35 – a fee well below the present-day cost of $16 to $20 per month to graze livestock on private land.
The direct cost to U.S. taxpayers is at least $123 million a year.
Now a Utah congressman has introduced legislation to allow states and Indian tribes to take over management of wild horses and burros from the federal government. Chris Stewart says the BLM has failed to properly manage horses and burros, and states should manage them because each state faces unique challenges.
The proposal would also give states authority to form cooperative agreements to manage herds that cross over borders.
“The federal government has never been able to properly manage the horses and burros in the west,” Stewart said in a statement. “Every state faces different challenges, which is why it’s important that they have the ability to manage their own wildlife.”
“States and tribes already successfully manage large quantities of wildlife within their borders,” Stewart added. “If horses and burros were under that same jurisdiction, I’m confident that new ideas and opportunities would be developed to manage the herds more successfully than the federal government.”
Anne Novak of the group ‘Protect Mustangs’ criticized the legislation, saying it would lead to states and tribes killing the animals or selling them off for slaughter for human consumption.
“We’ve had firsthand experience with states and tribes managing wild horses, and it’s horribly cruel,” Novak said in a statement. “They ruthlessly remove wild horses and sell them to kill-buyers at auction. Severe animal abuse would be the result of the (legislation).”
The BLM Utah’s numbers show there are an estimated 3,245 wild horses and burros in the state when management levels call for 1,956. It’s an issue that concerns rural leaders that a showdown with the BLM is on the horizon.
“We don’t want this to turn out to be anything like the Cliven Bundy deal. Just because the BLM can break the law does not mean we can break the law,” said Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Under its roundup schedule, the BLM plans to gather 2,400 of the animals through the end of the fiscal year. All but 215 of them will be horses.
Plans call for the removal of 1,535 horses in Wyoming, 285 in Nevada, 200 in Utah, 75 in Oregon, 50 in California and 35 in Idaho. The bureau also plans to gather 140 burros in Arizona, 50 in California and 25 in Oregon.
Some 49,000 horses and burros removed from the range are being held in government facilities throughout several western states. More than 60 percent of the BLM’s annual budget for managing wild horses and burros goes towards warehousing the animals in corrals.