A 14-member panel assembled by the National Science Academy's National Research Council, at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, concluded BLM's removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.
By stepping in prematurely when food and water supplies remain adequate, and with most natural predators long gone, the land management agency is producing artificial conditions that serve ultimately to perpetuate population growth, the committee said Wednesday in a 451-page report recommending more emphasis on a variety of methods of fertility control to keep horse numbers in check.
The research panel sympathized with BLM's struggle to find middle ground between horse advocates who say the federally protected animals have a right to be on the range and livestock ranchers who see them as unwelcome competitors for forage. It noted there's "little if any public support" for allowing harm to come to either the horses or the rangeland itself.
"However, the current removal strategy used by BLM perpetuates the overpopulation problem by maintaining the number of animals at levels below the carrying capacity of the land, protecting the rangeland and the horse population in the short term but resulting in continually high population growth and exacerbating the long-term problem," the report said.
"As a result, the number of animals processed through holding facilities is probably increased by management," the panel said, adding that "business-as-usual" will be expensive and unproductive. "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."