Milestone for Wild Horse and Burro Act comes amid record roundups 

By: - December 3, 2021 5:55 am

A band of wild horses in the Northern Nevada Virginia Range. (Photo courtesy of the American Wild Horse Campaign)

The Bureau of Land Management will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act on Dec. 15, as it’s engaged in “the biggest taxpayer-funded wild horse roundup in its history, aided by a year-long PR campaign promoting roundups as beneficial to wild horses, wildlife, public lands and public interests,” according to the Western Watersheds Project, a non-profit environmental organization.  

The organization contends the BLM’s plan will slash herds “from an estimated 86,000 animals down to 27,000 — about the same number that existed when Congress established wild horse herd management areas (HMAs) for their principal use and protection 50 years ago.”

Nevada is home to an estimated 42,994 wild horses and 4,087 burros, according to the federal government.  

“Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene,” the 1971 Act says. 

Today, wild horses and burros are blamed, some say wrongly, for damaging rangelands that generate income for the federal government.  

“The Bureau will spend $59 million to roundup wild horses and burros, plus $43 million annually to care for them, so the agency can collect an additional $955,800 per year from cattle and sheep ranchers,” for public lands grazing fees, says a news release from the Western Watersheds Project, which is among a number of organizations that allege the BLM is misleading the public about the treatment of wild horses. 

The organization says BLM press releases “incorrectly state that roundups ‘save taxpayers money’ and ‘protect rangelands from deterioration,’ and make other claims that are unsupported by the government’s own data.”

“Rangeland health reports show widespread damage across public land caused by livestock, not wild horses, yet wild horses are blamed and removed while the livestock remain,” the release says. 

The Current reported in October the damage caused by livestock in Nevada is largely unknown because the BLM has reviewed less than half of the land allotted to ranchers in the state, according to BLM data obtained through a public information request by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.   

According to PEER’s report based on BLM field office data, the BLM has granted 782 allotments of public rangeland to ranchers in Nevada, covering 43.2 million acres. Of that, it has failed during a multi-year process to assess more than half —  481 allotments totalling 24.7 million acres. 

PEER’s database shows satellite images overlaid on BLM’s allotments, revealing the land’s condition, according to the organization. Of the more than 18 million acres of assessed land, only 3.5 million met BLM standards for soil condition, vegetation and water.

“By its own yardstick, BLM is a poor steward of our federal rangeland,” PEER Advocacy Director Kristen Stade said in a release in October, adding the government’s grazing fee of $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) is a fraction of comparable fees on private land. “These ultra-low fees appear to subsidize land abuse.”

An AUM is the amount of forage a 1,000-pound cow and her unweaned calf will consume in one month.

The BLM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.