Save the horses

Yet another federal land management effort is doing more harm than good. Everybody put on your shocked face.

An independent, 14-member panel assembled at the request of the Bureau of Land Management to review wild horse roundups found the costly interventions do nothing to control population. In fact, the program has led to overflowing holding pens. The removal of nearly 100,000 horses from Western rangelands over the past decade, ostensibly to ease ecological damage and thin overpopulated herds, has completely missed the mark.

The panel recommended less federal meddling, more fertility control and more of letting nature take its course — a refreshingly honest appraisal that’s probably not what the BLM expected to hear from a group it appointed via the National Science Academy’s National Research Council.

Too often, authorities at all levels of government bill taxpayers for “studies” that call for more taxpayer money being thrown into another bottomless pit. Land management empires are no different.

The desert Southwest has seen more than its share of boondoggles that were supposed to save wild animals. In 2008, the government conducted one of its many interventions on behalf of the purportedly threatened desert tortoise population. When 770 desert tortoises from Fort Irwin were released into the California desert, 90 percent of them were promptly devoured by predators, leading to the program’s suspension.

Government biologists made the assumption that tortoise numbers were declining because of habitat destruction and disease. It was more a matter of the food chain playing out, with predators such as the coyote and raven ravaging the tortoises in the desert wild.

As most animals will attempt to do (if left alone long enough), the tortoises adapted. As of a few years ago, officials had rounded up more than 10,000 tortoises right here in the Las Vegas Valley, so the animals have no problem repopulating; they just like being able to find some vegetation and water, and they don’t like being eaten. Smart critters.

Not to be overlooked is the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish, on the verge of extinction. Decades of spare-no-expense federal protection have cut its population, found only in a cavern 90 miles west of Las Vegas, by more than 90 percent.

Likewise, the horse roundup is just another example of wasteful federal overreach, of an unneeded army of bureaucrats deciding that because they have the authority, they have all the answers.

For the sake of the animals, can we get some sequester cuts here? Wild horses would have a much better chance of thriving if the feds just disappeared and left the animals alone. Nonprofit advocacy groups have far more incentive to render aid and monitor the well-being of herds; if the horses suffer or die off, the groups will lose their donors.

The sooner the BLM gets out of this business, the better.