The BLM currently manages 88,000 wild horses residing on 26.9 million acres of public lands across 10 western states. About 37,000 horses removed from rangelands west of the Mississippi River now reside in BLM-contracted PORPs and in Off-Range Pastures (ORPs) located in the high and central plains. While the ORPs aren’t open to the public, visitors can typically visit PORPs to view the animals.
Coronavirus-related social distancing orders from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have rendered the PORPs off-limits to visitors, but they have not relieved contractors of their duties as the mustangs’ caretakers.
Scott Fluer, the BLM’s acting off-range branch chief, said contractors continue to monitor their herds as well as video-conference with BLM inspectors.
“Our contractors have really stepped up,” said Fluer. “They understand this is an all-hands endeavor and that quality care remains a top priority for everyone.”
But some wild horse advocates believe shuttering facilities to the general public and canceling on-site, in-person inspections might compromise the quality of care the wild horses receive.
“We’ve had an ongoing concern about lack of public access to long-term holding facilities, and the coronavirus pandemic just makes it more concerning, because the once-a-year tour BLM organizes to one or two of these facilities will now be canceled,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.
Meanwhile, the lack of public access might relegate horse care during the lockdown period, said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action.
“I believe the lack of public scrutiny from visitors provides the opportunity for the BLM and its contractors to become lax and put the welfare and safety of the horses on the back burner,” Irby said “So they’re likely to do the bare minimum when comes to taking care of the horses in holding.”
According to the BLM, the PORPs will reopen to visitors when those states’ lockdown, social distancing, and other COVID-19-related public health orders are rescinded.