The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages about 33,100 wild horses and burros on 199 Herd Management Areas (HMA) in 10 western states. Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, as amended, BLM is to protect wild horses and burros, set appropriate management levels (AML), maintain current inventory counts, and remove excess animals to prevent overpopulation and rangeland damage. Over the years, various stakeholders have raised issues about BLM's management of the animals on and off the range. GAO examined (1) BLM's progress in setting and meeting AML; (2) BLM's management of animals off the range through adoptions, sales, and holding facilities; (3) BLM's controls to help ensure the humane treatment of animals; and (4) what challenges, if any, BLM faces in managing for the long-term sustainability of the program. GAO surveyed and analyzed documents from 26 of the 44 BLM offices that manage wild horses and burros.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||1. To improve the management of BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to finalize and issue the new Wild Horse and Burro Program Handbook that establishes a policy for setting AML to ensure that AML is determined based on consistent factors across HMAs into the future.|
|Department of the Interior||2. To improve the management of BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to continue to adopt and employ statistically based methods to estimate animal populations across HMAs, such as those being evaluated by animal population researchers, to improve the accuracy of population estimates integral to BLM's management of wild horses and burros on the range and in planning for capacity needed for excess animals once they are removed from the range.|
|Department of the Interior||3. To improve the management of BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to continue to track the number of animals harmed or killed during the gather process in a centralized database system and determine what information on the treatment of gathered animals, short-term and long-term holding animals, and adopted animals could easily be provided to the public to help inform them about the treatment of wild horses and burros.|
|Department of the Interior||4. To improve the management of BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to develop cost-effective alternatives to the process of caring for wild horses removed from the range in long-term holding facilities and seek the legislative changes that may be necessary to implement those alternatives.|
|Department of the Interior||5. To address BLM's noncompliance with the act, as amended, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to discuss with Congress and other stakeholders how best to comply with the act or amend it so that BLM would be able to comply. As part of this discussion, BLM should inform Congress of its concerns with (1) the act's requirement for the humane destruction of excess animals and (2) the possible slaughter of healthy horses if excess animals are sold without limitation, under certain circumstances, as the act requires.|