What are the problems with managing BLM horses, and what solutions are agencies and advocates presenting?

In October 2008 wild horse protection advocates, scientists, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Deputy Director Henri Bisson gathered at the Wild Horse and Burro Summit in Las Vegas, Nev., to strategize a solution to the BLM’s excess horse problem. Sponsored by the South Dakota-based International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB), the meeting was wild horse advocates’ most recent attempt to persuade Bisson to abandon euthanasia as a herd management option.

“The situation is beyond control,” said ISPMB President Karen Sussman. “Euthanasia is not an option, so we have to get people to work together.”

“Euthanasia is not an option, so we have to get people to work together.”–Karen Sussman, ISPMB President

The BLM made international headlines on June 30, 2008, when Bisson announced the agency would consider exercising its long-held right to use euthanasia as a way to cope with increasing wild horse herds and a shrinking budget.

According to BLM Senior Public Affairs Specialist Tom Gorey, wild horse herds can double every four years. Currently there are 33,000 wild horses and burros on the range. Meanwhile, 22,000 horses age 5 years and older are turned out on pasture at long-term holding facilities, where they will live out their lives. Another 8,000 potentially adoptable horses are held in short-term corral facilities until they are placed in private homes.

In 2007 the BLM spent $22 million of its $39 million budget on holding facilities. Costs for 2009 are projected to account for $26 million of the agency’s total $37-million budget.

“Three-quarters of our budget goes for holding facilities,” Gorey says. “We contract with private ranchers to maintain