ALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. — The top Democrat on a congressional subcommittee
on public lands said Wednesday that he wants to work with well-meaning U.S. land
managers to overcome decades of mismanagement of wild horses and fix outdated,
“broken” roundup policies he says prioritize livestock over mustangs.
After touring a government corral with more than 1,000 horses, Arizona Rep.
Raul Grijalva said he finds it disturbing that the number of captured horses and
burros in holding pens now slightly surpasses the estimated 40,000 on the range
in 10 Western states.
“Those numbers should disturb people,” Grijalva said, adding that it makes no
sense to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to round up horses from
their native range when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has no room to store
“It’s not a question of blame,” he told reporters outside the BLM’s Palomino
Valley holding facility north of Reno. “It’s a question of a policy and
management strategy that has consistently failed in preserving and sustaining
the wild horse legacy of this country.”
Grijalva, ranking member of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public
lands and environmental regulation, said he hopes to work with BLM to develop
legislation that would lead to a “sound management plan with the maximum amount
of habitat that the wild horses use … as opposed to a management plan that is
constricted around holding pens.”
He pointed to a recent independent scientific report recommending the agency
move away from roundups and put more emphasis on the use of contraceptives and
other fertility control methods to manage horse populations.
The 14-member panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences’ National
Research Council concluded that 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 cull the 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 ultimately serve to perpetuate population growth, the
committee said in a 451-page report in June.
BLM spokeswoman Erica Szlosek said Wednesday that the agency welcomed the
congressman’s visit. She said it continues to review the academy panel’s
“The NAS report did not call for an end to the gathers. It looked at different
options on the range, population control, growth depression, those kinds of
measures,” she said. “We’ve been reading the report and we are parsing out
chapter by chapter different parts to different specialists at BLM to look at
the range of possibilities.”
The number of animals at holding facilities surpassed the estimated number on
the range earlier this year for the first time since President Richard Nixon
signed the Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. BLM estimates there are
about 40,000 wild horses and burro on the range, about half of those in Nevada.
The scientific panel said the agency averaged removing 8,000 horses from the
range annually from 2002 to 2011. Last year, it spent 60 percent of its wild
horse budget on holding facilities, more than $40 million.
Grijalva said livestock outnumbers mustangs by margins of 3-to-1 or more on
many federal lands designated as horse management areas.
“It should be a shared resource,” he said, adding that he believes the
political and fiscal landscape of the debate has changed significantly since the
NAS panel concluded the agency has a “very broken management system” that is
“When advocates are passionate about an issue — as advocates for the wild
horses are — sometimes unfortunately you dismiss that as being ‘a point of
view,'” he said.
“I think what the academy did is validate it. You have an independent
validator that said these are the findings after rigorous study and these are
the areas in which we see significant faults, and things must change or this
situation will get worse,” he said.