That complex, intensive approach would substantially benefit from a commitment by BLM to support an integrated team of competent, dedicated scientists. Cooperation among reproductive experts, animal behavior specialists, rangeland and ecosystem scientists, wildlife population modelers and demographers, and geneticists would help to achieve the program’s goals. By supporting such a team, BLM would be able to generate the scientific data needed to inform, explain, and defend management decisions.
Furthermore, as recommended strongly by the National Research Council Committee on Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros in its 1980 and 1982 reports and by the authoring committee of this report, using social science to proactively identify issues that may cause tension with parties interested in horses, burros, and the multiple uses of public lands could help BLM to address some of the criticisms expressed to the committee by members of the public. Increasing the transparency of data used to inform management decisions would probably also improve how the agency is perceived by the public.
In the short term, more intensive management of free-ranging horses and burros would be expensive. However, addressing the problem immediately with a long-term view is probably a more affordable option than continuing to remove horses to long-term holding facilities. The committee recognizes that for over 40 years BLM has managed horses and burros in an environment in which there are often incongruent mandates and mandates not accompanied by the required financial resources, attempting to manage the land for multiple uses (including but not limited to free-ranging horses and burros), to preserve a thriving natural ecological balance, to prevent rangeland deterioration, and to respond to concerns voiced by a variety of stakeholders. Meeting those myriad, and often conflicting, demands may not be possible. At the time the committee was preparing its report, BLM districts seemed to be struggling with many of these demands independently. However, there are steps that BLM can take and, in some cases has already taken (such as its work with USGS), that could help the agency to address its mandates more successfully. Further investment in science-based management approaches and in helping districts to apply them consistently cannot solve the problem instantly, but it could lead the Wild Horse and Burro Program to a more financially sustainable path that manages healthy horses and burros with greater public confidence.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management). 2012. Minutes of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting, April 23-24, Reno, NV.
Bolstad, D. 2011. Wild Horse and Burro Program. Presentation to the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee to Review the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Management Program, October 27, Reno, NV.
GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office). 2008. Effective Long-Term Options Needed to Manage Unadoptable Wild Horses. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Kirkpatrick, J.F. and A. Turner. 2008. Achieving population goals in a long-lived wildlife species (Equus caballus) with contraception. Wildlife Research 35:513-519.
NRC (National Research Council). 1980. Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros: Current Knowledge and Recommended Research. Phase I Final Report. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
NRC (National Research Council). 1982. Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros. Final Report. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.