Rangeland Management:

Improvements Needed in Federal Wild Horse Program

RCED-90-110: Published: Aug 20, 1990. Publicly Released: Aug 20, 1990.

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GAO reviewed the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) efforts to: (1) manage wild horses on public rangeland in 10 western states; and (2) remove and dispose of excess wild horses under an adoption program.

GAO found that: (1) due to insufficient information, it could not determine how many horses ranges could support, the extent of degradation they caused, and the number of horses that should be removed from herd areas; (2) despite congressional direction, BLM did not base its removal of wild horses from federal rangeland on how many horses ranges could support; (3) BLM often did not accompany horse removals with a reduction in livestock grazing levels or effective range management, resulting in inhumane range conditions and exploitation; (4) the number of wild horses BLM removed exceeded its adoption program's capacity; (5) BLM terminated the program in September 1988 after negative publicity and congressional pressure, but did not rescind the regulations authorizing such adoptions; (6) many horses remained at prison facilities much longer than the 30 to 60 days needed to halter train them, resulting in increased program costs; and (7) BLM took steps to tighten management of the halter training program, but did not establish standards for the training time or the number and quality of trained horses the prison facility should produce. GAO believes that: (1) BLM will not be able to meet its objective of limiting wild horse sanctuaries' financial support to their first 3 years of operation; and (2) BLM will either have to commit to a long-term financial commitment to the sanctuaries or be prepared to have the horses returned to its custody.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM Instruction Memorandum 90-307 directed the preparation facilities to ship horses under 5 years of age directly to an adoption event. If no adoption event is scheduled, horses may be shipped to a prison facility until adoption is more cost-effective.

    Recommendation: To reduce the costs associated with the disposal of wild horses removed from public rangeland, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to send adoptable younger horses directly to adoption instead of sending them to prison facilities for training.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The BLM handbook on wild horse training was updated on September 10, 1991. The new handbook lays out specific criteria for determining if a horse is halter trained and calls for the training facility manager/supervisor to conduct an evaluation.

    Recommendation: To reduce the costs associated with the disposal of wild horses removed from public rangeland, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to develop a standard for determining that a horse has been halter trained as well as an inspection strategy to ensure that the standard is met before offering a horse for adoption.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A revised BLM manual on wild horse training establishes a 45-day halter training period as well as a 5- to 9-year-old age range for horses best suited to be trained. The manual was revised on September 10, 1991. The Prison-Training program has been restructured, with no more expensive agreements with, or payments made to states. In FY 1990, over $1 million in payments were made to two states.

    Recommendation: To reduce the costs associated with the disposal of wild horses removed from public rangeland, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to establish an average length of time required to halter train a wild horse and an age range for horses best suited to be halter trained, and limit payment to the states to only those horses that meet both those criteria.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A final rule was published in the September 25, 1990 Federal Register. The rule prohibits the use of power of attorney to adopt wild horses or burros when the adoption will result in the maintenance of more than four untitled wild horses/burros in one location.

    Recommendation: To significantly reduce the likelihood that wild horses removed from public rangeland in the future will experience inhumane treatment and slaughter, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to permanently rescind the regulations authorizing fee-waiver adoptions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM issued its revised "Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Management Considerations Manual" in draft form in 1993 but does not intend to issue the manual in final form because a pending BLM reorganization will incorporate the subject matter into an overall BLM range management manual. BLM has also increased its monitoring effort but overall range improvement initiatives are currently on hold pending congressional review.

    Recommendation: To place the BLM wild horse removal process in the context of a more rational strategy of range improvement, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to, after initial population adjustments are made, conduct continued monitoring to maintain wild horse and domestic livestock population levels consistent with what the land can support.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM is implementing a comprehensive management plan throughout the state of Nevada, which takes into account forage availability and range condition. BLM completed the management plan in early 1994 and is currently implementing it.

    Recommendation: To place the BLM wild horse removal process in the context of a more rational strategy of range improvement, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to, in locations where those data indicate that grazing-related damage is occurring, incorporate the requirement for intensive livestock management techniques in permit conditions to reduce the impact of this grazing on the range's resources. Where necessary and appropriate, BLM should also remove wild horses and reduce authorized domestic livestock grazing levels on the basis of the relative numbers of each species on the range.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM issued its revised "Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Management Considerations Manual" in draft form in 1993 but does not intend to issue the manual in final form because a pending BLM reorganization will incorporate the subject matter into an overall BLM range management manual. BLM continues to work on developing range condition and carrying capacity data on wild horse areas but time frames have slipped and overall range improvement initiatives are currently on hold pending congressional review.

    Recommendation: To place the BLM wild horse removal process in the context of a more rational strategy of range improvement, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to expeditiously develop carrying capacity and range condition data in wild horse herd areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM Strategic Plan for Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands was signed on 6/4/92. It contains components that specifically address the issue of unadoptable animals, including: (1) removing only adoptable animals from public lands; (2) continuing efforts to get more animals adopted; and (3) designating public land areas in each state where unadoptable animals can be returned.

    Recommendation: To reduce the costs associated with the disposal of wild horses removed from public rangeland, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to consider a variety of disposal options for unadoptable horses not currently being used and, where necessary, make recommendations for congressional consideration.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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