Wyoming legislators join wild horse conversation

Farm Forum

Wyoming lawmakers on Oct. 13 critiqued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recent wild horse roundup, insisting the agency’s strategy isn’t working.

Members of the Select Federal Natural Resource Committee are working alongside Gov. Matt Mead’s office to inform the public about their concerns regarding wild horse management in the state. The committee decided at their Oct. 13 meeting in Casper to draft a resolution to bring attention to the mustangs’ effect on the state’s rangelands.

Committee members said proposals for stricter management of the horses are often the victim of public perception.

“We really need to try to tell the true story of where these horses are from and the other side of the story,” Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said. “Every opportunity we have to educate and get the facts will be helpful.”

The joint select committee members said that Wyomingites concerned with the maintenance of the land and the wild horses’ effect on other species and the ranching industry are losing out to the more vocal wild horse advocates who oppose removing horses from the range.

BLM horse management projects account for $76 million of the agency’s national budget. The BLM pays approximately $5 per horse daily to hold horses in short-term holding facilities. With space running out in those holding facilities, members of the committee voiced concern for the future of the range, comprising the checkerboard lands in southwestern Wyoming.

“We have to remember that these horses have a huge impact on BLM lands out there that other people have to use,” said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

Mead is also working to better educate the public on both sides of the wild horse issue with the help of the Western Governors’ Association.

Jeremiah Rieman, the governor’s natural resources policy adviser, said Mead will be working with other western governors to draft a public relations campaign that will convey the state’s position on wild horse management.

Those in attendance said the BLM’s system is broken and the status quo is not acceptable.

“The problem is this is a cyclical problem that keeps repeating itself,” said Jim Magagna, executive vice president at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “The horses are getting removed from the checkerboard, but horses will move back on to the checkerboard. You help the problem, but you don’t solve the problem.”

Magagna said the BLM will likely have to round up horses in the checkerboard area again in the next three to four years.

BLM officials agreed.

“We need something now,” said June Wendlandt, BLM wild horse and burro specialist. “Research is great, but we can’t wait for more research. This has been a problem for years, and we need solutions.”

Legislators hope to draft a resolution for the upcoming legislative session that regardless of passage would provoke more discussion of the issue.