Spending on “Boondoggle” BLM Wild Horse Program Skyrockets Under Obama

June 11, 2012

Public spending on the obscure program has more than doubled on the Obama Administration's watch

WASHINGTON – Wild horses are called “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” but some observers say the cost of managing them is as out-of-control as the animals themselves.

The federal budget for tending to wild horses and burros has more than doubled during the Obama administration, rising to $75.7 million last year from $36.2 million in 2008. The percentage increase in three years is greater than the entire eight years of the Bush administration.

The rise in spending has generated complaints and fears about the program’s solvency. In 2008, the General Accountability Office warned that “(i)f not controlled, off-the-range holding costs will continue to overwhelm the program.” Then, the cost was $9.1 million. Now it is $13.9 million.

“I am very concerned about us spending $35 million a year to feed horses … We have to protect taxpayers,” said Callie Hendickson, a Grand Junction, Colo. businesswoman who is a member of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which makes policy recommendations to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Some animal-rights activists agree the federal government’s spending on wild horses is excessive, but blame the overspending on federal mismanagement.

Dr. Elliot Katz is founder and president of In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization that has sued the BLM. He said the agency’s policy of using helicopters to round up the animals is “a boondoggle … There’s absolutely no necessity to continue these roundups inhumanely or any roundups at all. It’s a total waste of money.”

The BLM says it manages 38,497 wild horses and burros on federal lands in 10 Western states, including 967 in Colorado. While animal-welfare groups say the total is overstated, they do not dispute that many more live on federally-subsidized private ranges. The BLM says more than 47,000 wild horses and burros live off the range, most in Kansas and Oklahoma.

BLM officials, taxpayer advocates, and ranchers say that the number of federally-subsidized wild horses and burros is excessive. According to the BLM, the agency’s tending to more than 10,000 wild horses and burros on federal lands than is unsustainable.

For ranchers, the wild horses pose an economic threat, grazing on land better suited to cattle and sheep. “They’re kind of a nuisance animal,” said Gary Moyer, president of the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts, which represents many of the state’s large and small ranchers.

For government officials and taxpayer advocates, the wild horses threaten to overpopulate 29-to-33 million acres of Western lands even more. Because wild horses have few natural predators, government officials say their herd sizes can double within four years.

By most accounts, the problem is one of supply and demand: the federal government has too many wild horses and burros and not enough people who wish to adopt them. As the GAO noted in its report, 36 percent few wild horses were adopted in 2007 than compared to the average adoption rates in the 1990s.

For Hendrickson, bureaucratic and economic factors have discouraged the public from adopting a wild horse or burro. “Three years ago, a bale of hay was $4. Now if you can get a bale for $8, that’s a bargain,” she said. “The government does a phenomenal job doing what they do with adoptions, but they need to reduce the paperwork. People have told me they won’t do it, because the forms take too long.”

Hendrickson said she is a tentative supporter of a new BLM policy designed to raise federal revenue for the wild horses program. Ranchers would be paid for caring for some horses on an “eco-sanctuary” in exchange for agreeing to raise money for education and tourism-related activities.

The BLM has taken a step in that direction. It announced in late April that it would conduct a two-year environmental review of a proposed “eco-sanctuary” for 900 wild horses in northeastern Nevada.

Yet the BLM’s own spokesman acknowledges that creating such sanctuaries for wild horses would not put a sizable dent in the agency’s budget. “It’s not a lot of horses, so we’re not deluding ourselves. It’s just part of the overall strategy,” Gorey said.

In addition to a supply-and-demand problem, the federal government has a reduction problem: getting rid of the wild animals is difficult.

The federal government has not destroyed any healthy wild horses since early 1982. And it is unlikely to do so, government officials say. While a federal 1971 law permits the destruction of healthy horses under certain conditions, BLM spokesman Gorey said the American public and Congress “don’t want to put down horses.” (The federal government does euthanize sick, injured, or deformed wild horses, however; it euthanized 3,000 from 2005 to 2007).

With few adoptions and a lack of public appetite for killing horses, the Bureau of Land Management contracts with private ranchers to manage older horses in long-term corrals and facilities.

Its roundups of wild horses have generated complaints from animal-welfare groups for injuring, maiming, and even killing the animals, as has its selling of wild horses to private buyers because the animals can be killed after being sold. “It’s amazing the American people permit this to happen,” Katz said.

Yet government officials say their options are limited. The public doesn’t want them to kill horses, while wealthy animal-rights organizations don’t want them to transported out of their rangelands in the West. As a result, costs for the program rise. “The task facing us is formidable. We have no illusions,” Gorey said. “It’s never been easy, and it’s not going to be easy in the future.”

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

15 Responses to Spending on “Boondoggle” BLM Wild Horse Program Skyrockets Under Obama

  1. Zippy
    June 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    One of the conflicts in Colorado–and I am not surprised you are ignoring it–is woth oil and gas development and Douglas herds in NW CO.

  2. Ellie Miller
    June 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    If we removed the welfare cattle off our public lands there would be no need to round up our protected by law mustangs. In the east if you want to raise cattle you buy a farm and raise them. You do not put them on public land. Money talks and the cattlemen have it.

  3. Glennis
    June 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    You’re worried about taxpayers? What a joke! Turn those poor creatures loose on their homeland…their range land. Don’t harvest them and imprison them! Get that beef off the wild lands and exchange places with the mustangs! Mustangs have Federal protection, not that you’d know it… There are responsible ranchers out there, but not enough of them. Oil…gas…beef…solar… As has already been said, money talks…too bad the mustangs can’t. And why prevent those who CAN from opening sanctuaries?? Someone needs to protect and defend our mustang herds!! BLM is trying to eradicate them!

  4. linda boswell
    June 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I owe horses that I house and feed. In other words, I pay for the feed my animals eat…why can’t the cattle industry out west do the same and leave the wild animals alone? These horses are protected by 1971 law. Running them to death with helicopters is not exactly what I think of as humane treatment of a protected species!

    • JSmith
      December 3, 2012 at 2:17 am

      I could not agree more.

  5. Jan
    June 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

    BLM, you are in violation of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro act. Remove the welfare cattle and give OUR mustangs back their land! The mustangs were not costing us a dime on their own land that was designated for their “primary” use! You caused this mess! You are rounding them up and forcing them to live in unnatural groups at the tax payers expense so your 1% elite can graze their cattle at OUR expense! We will NOT tolerate the slaughter of OUR wild horses and burros!!!!

  6. Monika Courtney
    June 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    The BLM has for decades deceived American tax payers. Cattle bring money, special interests and ranchers get VIP. Wild horses are scape goated. Federal lands have been taken, up to 20 million acres, unjustified. BLM favors cattle raisers needs and wishes at the expense of horses. AML’s are purposely set too low for horses while favoring livestock – this bias is seen in the amount of fed. land allotted to cattle, which is more than 250 million acres, nearly 10times then what is for horses.Between BLM and US Forest Service, 14 million AUM’s for cattle annually, with only 400’000 to wild equids, this is a 35:1 ratio. Bias also in AUM definition: For cattle, one AUM is 1 cow with calf, however for horses, one AUM equals one horse. Discrepancy again, allowing two cows on land for every one horse or burro. Livestock/Hunters/BLM scheme that horses exceed range carrying capacity – it’s all a plot to rid them for their own agenda. BLM needs to be dissolved, it has proven its inflexibility and corruption over and over. The cruel treatment and longterm wipe out plan are an insult to all of us. Read Craig Downer’s new book “The Wild Horse Conspiracy”, it will blow your mind. He has a solution to True Reserve Design – yet BLM is not willing to even consider that as it would hamper their own greed and lies.

    • Lisa LeBlanc
      June 14, 2012 at 12:24 am

      I’d like to add to Ms. Courtney’s comment that wild equines are restricted to designated herd management areas while Public Lands livestock are not.
      I’d also like to add that my tax dollars are used to remove these animals – despite my protests to the contrary – while cattle get free-range on my lands for a pittance that benefits me not at all.
      Ms. Hendrickson was ‘appointed’ to the Board as a representative of the PUBLIC – not simply to further her own beliefs in the eradication of wild horses and burros and horse slaughter. If she can’t equitably represent all aspects of the Public interest, she should step down and allow someone less ‘anti-equine’ to do the job.
      I don’t care what her agenda is; I care about mine, and I have every right to expect her to represent even those things she might find distasteful or move on.
      Since the Bureau of Land Management feels free to utilize my tax dollars in the constant and useless cycle of removing these animals – regardless of my arguments against it – they should feel equally free to use my money to feed and house those animals, safe from slaughter or sale without limitation, for the rest of their lives.

  7. Monika Courtney
    June 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Here is to the welfare by BLM… and how much they care about their “humane treatment” according to JoLynn Worley in her reply to me above. BLM must be exposed, as this must stop.

  8. Cathy Bryarly
    June 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Gary Moyer states “They are kind of a nuisance animal” 967 LEGALLY PROTECTED wild horses in the entire state of Colorado are a nuisance? WOW, really??!! Callie Hendrickson states, “We have to protect the taxpayers.” Yes I agree, so since you are now on the WH&B Advisory Board, maybe YOU can convince the BLM to stop rounding up the horses, rather than spending your time trying to convince the BLM they need to “dispose of” (AKA slaughter) the horses!

  9. bonnie kohleriter
    June 16, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Callie is concerned about 35M for the off the range horses. We have
    to protect the taxpayers. Who is “we”, Callie. I am concerned
    about the 120M for the commercial cattle that graze on our public lands. How are “we” going to protect the taxpayers from them, Callie. If the cattle were removed from the 31 M acres that were to
    be principally for the wild horses and burros,and if the horses in holding were repatriated to their lands, then it seems the taxpayer could save himself the 35M and the 120M. Why should a commercial user of my public lands be allowed to usurp the resources of wildlife and public wild horses and burros.

  10. Lynne Ritzler
    September 25, 2012 at 6:22 am

    So wiping out the horses is not a concern… they did it to the buffalo. Like this country isn’t big enough to allow herds to graze freely. Come on. There is so much empty land in the middle of the country, it looks like recent photos I have seen of Mars. These animals were put here for a reason, as part of nature. Who is man to determine their demise and spend our money ruining the herds.

  11. October 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    i agree they were here first.

  12. Ann M. Marini, Ph.D., M.D.
    December 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    “The task facing us is formidable. We have no illusions,” Gorey said. “It’s never been easy, and it’s not going to be easy in the future.”

    This is what Gorey said at the BLM? Who does he think he is kidding? This is a disgusting comment that reeks of corruption and one that seeks to brainwash the American public. Tom, we are not deceived by your ridiculous and fallacious comments!

  13. December 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Since when is the BLM a friend to anyone except its own law-breaking self- interests? They do not listen to the public, and pretending to do so is hypocritical. Moreover, their means of “management” are cruel.


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