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The Wild Horse Problem: An Opportunity to Amend the Wild Free- Roaming Horses and Burros Act

Mar 15, 2022

Andrea White

Volume 48 (2021) - Issue 2

Although wild horses are largely considered non-native species in the American West, their majestic beauty has long captivated the minds of the public. In 1971, rapidly diminishing horse populations led to the enactment of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHBA), to protect wild horses from “capture, branding, harassment, or death.” WHBA proved to be so successful that Congress amended it in 1978 to grant the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) greater ability to manage horse populations.

In 2019, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) sued BLM for violating the WHBA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act. AWHC is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 that “is dedicated to preserving American wild horses and burros in viable free-roaming herds.” AWHC argued that BLM needed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for their proposed geld and release policy (“geld and release plan”) within the Antelope and Triple B Complexes Gather Plan (“gather plan”). The purpose of this geld and release plan was to allow more male horses that would otherwise be in captivity to roam free.

Currently, BLM manages wild horse populations by capturing wild horses and placing them in long-term storage facilities. This storage is expensive: in 2018, BLM had 44,000 horses in captivity, at an annual cost of $50 million. Without prioritizing fertility control treatments, this excessive storage will continue. WHBA should instead be amended to prioritize fertility control methods, as was advocated by BLM’s geld and release plan, instead of policies such as long-term storage.