BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT PROPOSES AGGRESSIVE PLAN TO ERADICATE WILD HORSES AND BURROS ON FEDERAL RANGELANDS
The Trump administration is proposing an aggressive plan that would permanently remove as many as 20,000 wild horses and burros off federal rangelands annually, costing as much as $900 million in the first five years, according to a long-delayed report to Congress.
The 33-page report entitled, "An Analysis of Achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program", lays out BLM's three-phase plan that would allow the agency to reduce the roughly 90,000 wild horses and burros living on federal rangelands across the West to sustainable levels in 15 to 18 years.
It does not include any consideration of euthanizing animals or selling rounded-up animals without ensuring they are not transferred to foreign slaughterhouses, as did a previous BLM report submitted to Congress in 2018. Instead, the new report proposes not only to capture and permanently remove roughly 20,000 animals a year, but also to round up an additional 9,000 animals a year to be treated with "some form of long-term temporary or permanent fertility control" before returning them to the range.
BLM, in an emailed statement, said the report "outlines a comprehensive, non-lethal population control strategy to address chronic overpopulation of wild horses and burros and their impact to BLM-managed public lands." The bureau, the statement added, wants to work "with Congress, its partners, state and local governments, and the private sector to ensure healthy wild horses and burros continue to thrive on healthy public rangelands for future generations to enjoy." It's not clear what Congress will think of the plan — or the hefty price tag. A spokesman for the House Natural Resources Committee said the panel is still reviewing the document.
BLM under the plan would also continue research "into improving long-term fertility control treatments and humane permanent sterilization (with a particular emphasis on modern chemical sterilization methods)." All this could reduce growing populations of wild horses and burros to the appropriate management level (AML) of about 26,715 animals in the next two decades, according to the report. The cost of the strategy — starting at $116 million the first year and increasing to $238 million by the fifth year — comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the nation's economy.
The new report proposes not only to capture and permanently remove roughly 20,000 animals a year, but also to round up an additional 9,000 animals a year to be treated with "some form of long-term temporary or permanent fertility control" before returning them to the range.
But the alternative of maintaining the status quo could be far worse, the report concludes. "If nothing were done to reduce the annual growth rate of these herds, by 2040, the BLM estimates the on-range populations of wild horses and burros could increase to over 2.8 million," the report says. Such a density of animals would lead "to catastrophic harm to the land, to other species, and to wild horses and burros themselves."
BLM is roughly nine months late submitting the report to congressional appropriators. They requested last year that BLM prepare the report. BLM acting chief William Perry Pendley told reporters last fall that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was partly responsible for the delay. "I will tell you the Secretary was unhappy with previous documents that we prepared on this subject, and he gave strict orders that we're to prepare a thoughtful and well-reasoned document to deliver to the Hill; anything less we're not going to send up there," Pendley said.
The delay sparked seven Democratic members of Congress to press Bernhardt in a letter to finalize and submit the report. It also prompted appropriators to insert language into the fiscal 2020 funding bill withholding $21 million for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program until 60 days after the report is submitted
While the latest version considers only nonlethal strategies, its insistence on ramping up wild horse and burro roundups and continuing research into permanent sterilization did not please most wild horse and animal welfare groups. The answer to reducing herd sizes, those groups say, is ramping up fertility controls, along with smaller-scale roundups and removals that ensure the animals are protected and population levels are reduced.
But BLM disagrees. The report concludes that using only "short-term fertility control vaccines at any scale" will not result in a significant reduction in herd sizes. "The analysis suggests the most effective way to achieve [appropriate management levels] is to annually remove a large number of animals permanently from the range," the report says, "especially since a high percentage of mares captured are pregnant at the time of capture."
"The number of animals annually removed is the dominant variable controlling total program costs," it adds. "Therefore, the annual projected removals are critical to containing program costs and achieving AML." Once the herds sizes are reduced to an appropriate management level, the report says, "fertility control would become a relatively more cost-effective strategy, with permanent sterilization options being more cost-effective in the long run than temporary sterilization which must be repeated."
Source: E&E News
The Trump administration plans to test a single-dose birth-control vaccine that could help control growing wild horse and burro herds. At issue is a research project that would be conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and the Agriculture Department to test the one-dose oocyte growth factor vaccine on about 16 mares that have already been removed from overcrowded federal rangelands.
BLM says the vaccine holds the promise of rendering mares infertile for three years or longer. Currently, the most common birth-control vaccine for wild horse populations is porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, which lasts for only about a year and requires multiple doses.
BLM late Friday issued a final environmental assessment and decision record signed by BLM Nevada Director Jon Raby advancing the plan. The decision is open for administrative protests for 30 days.
BLM estimates there are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros trampling federal herd management areas — more than three times the number of animals the rangelands can sustain without damaging vegetation, soils and other resources.
The final EA and decision record follow President Trump's fiscal 2021 budget request last month that referred to wild horses and burros as an "existential threat" to the health of federal rangelands. It asks Congress for an additional $15 million to take steps to increase roundups and fund research for more effective methods of sterilization and birth-control techniques
If successful, the one-dose vaccine by itself would not be enough to reduce herds to appropriate management levels. But it would help to control populations once they have reached sustainable levels.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's National Wildlife Research Center, which will partner with BLM on the one-dose study, has tested a different version of the proposed vaccine. It required multiple doses but lasted two years.
If the latest one-dose vaccine proves effective, BLM will still need to go through a "separate decision-making process" and site-specific analysis before using it on wild horses on the range, the final EA says.
The plan to test 16 mares — currently being held at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., as part of an inmate program to train the wild horses for adoption — includes a provision to study the behavior of the treated mares for three years against a "control" group of 16 untreated mares.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of calls for action. One of the latest comes from Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R), who is proposing that Congress allow the Interior Department to take dramatic steps to reduce wild horse and burro herds on federal rangelands.
Lee wants to allow the Interior secretary to exempt the use of helicopters and other motorized vehicles in animal roundups from National Environmental Policy Act requirements. He also wants to waive NEPA mandates regarding sterilization of the animals, as long as the procedure is performed by a "licensed professional."
Lee's proposal is included in an amendment to a broader energy package led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The full Senate is expected to vote on the package this week.
Lee's amendment, which is not expected to be approved, would allow the NEPA waiver after the secretary determines "that an overpopulation of wild free-roaming horses or burros exists on a given area of public land, and that action is necessary to remove excess horses or burros."
Source; E&E News
The Bureau of Land Management appears to have adopted acting chief William Perry Pendley's position that the growing number of wild horses and burros is perhaps the biggest threat to the health of federal rangelands. President Trump's proposed fiscal 2021 budget requests Congress provide an additional $15.3 million for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program — to $116.8 million from $101.5 million in the current budget cycle.
BLM estimates there are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros trampling federal herd management areas — more than three times the number of animals the rangelands can sustain without damaging vegetation, soils and other resources. Pendley has said the 88,000 wild horses and burros in the West pose an "existential threat" to federal rangelands.
Congress appears to agree the issue is worthy of additional funding. Congress allocated $101.5 million in fiscal 2020 for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, which was roughly $21 million more than in fiscal 2019. But appropriators withheld $21 million for the program in fiscal 2020 until 60 days "after the Bureau submits a comprehensive and detailed plan for an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy".
Congress requested the plan from BLM early last year; it directed that, among other things, BLM outline specific strategies, and the estimated costs, to reduce herd sizes.
That plan was due to Congress last August; BLM is expected to finalize and submit the plan in the coming weeks. Pendley has estimated it will cost $5 billion and take 15 years to reduce growing herds on federal rangelands to sustainable levels
Source: E&E News
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