NATIONAL REPORT — Animal-welfare groups and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have butted heads for some time about wild-horse gathers, but BLM recently announced it will work more closely with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to develop a "new normal" for doing business in the future.
BLM's announcement was made in response to a July 13 HSUS report on the subject. The unsolicited HSUS report was initiated in January 2011 and sent to BLM just days before the agency was set to resume its summer gathers.
"The BLM has faced withering criticism over its decisions to gather and remove too many horses from public lands and to conduct its gathers in ways that cause harm and suffering to the horses," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of HSUS says in a prepared statement. "If BLM is going to continue to gather horses, it must rehaul its procedures, and this report provides a blueprint for that."
BLM received thousands of comments from the public on strategy documents for the wild-horse and burro program as of fall 2010, HSUS notes. "Nearly all of these comments criticized BLM's management program and urged more protection of wild horses and burros," adds HSUS.
Following the comment period, BLM leaders acknowledged the desire to rework the program, announcing in February 2011 that it would accelerate its own reform efforts.
"We've taken a top-to-bottom look at the wild-horse and burro program and have come to a straightforward conclusion: We need to move ahead with reforms that build on what is working and move away from what is not," BLM Director Bob Abbey said in February. "To achieve our goal of improving the health of the herds and America's public lands, we need to enlist the help of partners, improve transparency and responsiveness in the program, and reaffirm science as the foundation for management decisions. It will take time to implement these reforms, but as a first step we are aiming to increase adoptions and broaden the use of fertility control."
As a result of this announcement, BLM commissioned a study, due in 2013, from the National Academy of Sciences on wild-horse management. The study will examine population growth, fertility control and the capacity for wild horses on public lands.
BLM says it welcomes HSUS involvement and concern and appreciates the group's offer to create a panel of experts to review its operating procedures.
The HSUS report included several recommendations for BLM, including requiring the installation and use of real-time cameras on contractor helicopters during helicopter drive-trapping gather operations and requiring the installation and use of real-time cameras on traps, corrals and temporary holding pens.
The report urges increased transparency on the part of BLM, and it makes recommendations to the agency on the future of its fertility-control programs. BLM already had plans to step up its Catch, Treat and Release (CTR) programs, but HSUS says it would like to see BLM increase its use of fertility-control agents from the roughly 39 percent of mares currently treated to about 65 percent—the number HSUS says must be treated for fertility control methods to be effective.
HSUS is urging BLM to suspend trapping operations when temperatures are above 90 degrees and below 32 degrees.
"Every year, the HSUS routinely fields hundreds of complaints from our supporters, constituents and concerned citizens about the BLM's failure to suspend helicopter drive-trapping gather operations in extreme weather conditions," HSUS notes.
BLM says it is already working on increasing the number of mares participating in CTR programs and will work with HSUS on the other recommendations.
"The BLM will carefully review all recommendations of the HSUS and will continue its work to maximize the transparency, humaneness, safety, and efficiency of wild-horse and burro gathers," the agency says.