On Friday, Friends of Animals reported that the Bureau of Land Management had committed to a process to return wild horses back to the Warms Springs herd management area (HMA) in Oregon and that it will take comments on its decision during a 30-day period.

From Oct. 2-23, 2018, 845 wild horses were removed from the HMA, essentially wiping out the herd. While we are bolstered by the BLM’s commitment to return wild horses to the Warm Springs HMA, we are adamant that returning a measly 66 horses to the HMA, as proposed in the determination, is not enough.

BLM’s artificially low appropriate management level for the Warm Springs HMA is 96 to 178 horses. However, 6,134 cattle are allowed to graze in the West Warm Springs and East Warm Springs grazing allotments, which are located in the Warm Springs HMA.

From a scientific perspective, the largest threat to wild horses on U.S. lands is the management of herds to artificially keep individual herd numbers low. It is a matter of population genetics. The Equid Specialist Group of IUCN Species Survival Commission recommends minimum populations of 2,500 individuals in a connected area for the conservation of genetic diversity and currently there are no wild horses herds that have a large enough population to meet the recommendation. And experts have warned that a loss of genetic variation is a real concern when populations are managed with a target size of fewer than 500 horses. 

Friends of Animals will be submitting comments to also address other red flags in the document BLM released Friday. One issue is timing — the earliest BLM says it will release wild horses back to the range is June 2019. However, spring is the best time to release the horses back to the range because range land grasses have a high nutritional value at that time, according to wildlife ecologist Craig Downer.

Downer pointed out that the BLM is likely motivated by ranchers who want the nutritional spring grasses for their cattle and sheep. “They’re just trying to cheat the wild horses,” he said. “The BLM’s heart is not in the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. They are just trying to cater to ranchers and big game hunters.”

Other issues include the agency’s plan to PZP all of the returned mares and the current inventory of 30 horses still remaining in Warm Springs reported by the contractors. However no formal inventory has been conducted yet.

“We’ve long regarded the Bureau of Land Management as the nation’s worst government agency given their contempt for free-living wild horses and devotion to appeasing Oregon’s ranchers who flood public lands with thousands of ill-fated cows, and pay ridiculously low grazing fees,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “FoA has no reason to believe BLM’s claim that 30 or more horses remain in Oregon’s Warm Spring range, but their tolerance of only 96-178 horses is preposterous. When BLM says only approximately 66 wild horses who were violently yanked from their homelands could return to freedom, FoA says the BLM needs to see that it’s out-of-step with public sentiment, which favors free-living wild horses on the range. Restitution should be made for treating hundreds of wild horses like vermin, and that starts with returning the first 200 now stuck in holding prisons to their Warms Springs herd management area.”

Comments have to be postmarked by March 17, 2019, and sent to: Warm Springs HMA Removals to AML DNA, Burns District BLM, 28910 Hwy 20 W., Hines, Oregon 97738. Comments can also be submitted to the BLM website.