NAS Says Science (and Scrutiny) Scarce in BLM’s Wild Equine Management

A scientific committee assembled by the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) National Research Council has completed a two-year study on the Wild Horse and Burro Program of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The committee’s published report, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward, is severely critical of the way BLM manages these equines on the range, and calls for major changes. Many of the committee’s recommendations, in fact, mirror reforms long called for by AWI and other horse advocates.

AWI’s D.J. Schubert testified before the committee and submitted a detailed written analysis of the BLM’s less-than-logical modus operandi—singling out in particular BLM’s inscrutable, opaque and unscientific approach to determining existing wild horse and burro populations, as well as how many wild horses and burros are “appropriate” in order to maintain ecological balance (referred to as “Appropriate Management Levels,” or AMLs). The scientific committee similarly looked askance at the BLM’s haphazard methodology in these areas.

The NAS report further faults the BLM program for failing to pursue cost-effective and safe alternatives to roundups. Immunocontraceptives such as porcine zona pellucida and GonaCon are mentioned as effective and immediate tools that the BLM should consider in place of the current brutal and destabilizing roundups to remove horses deemed in excess of capacity. (For more on these two contraceptives and how they can be used to non-lethally manage wildlife populations, see “Immunocontraception: Ounce of Prevention Proves Better Cure” in the Fall 2011 AWI Quarterly.)

All in all, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program provides ample evidence that the BLM has been ignoring both law and science in its pursuit of policies that favor corporate livestock grazing interests over the interests of wild horses and burros. AWI will work with members of Congress and the administration to ensure that this NAS study prompts immediate and long-term changes in how wild horses and burros are managed on public lands.