RENO — At the urging of a bipartisan group of House members, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is asking for an independent review of its wild horse and burro program by the National Academy of Sciences.
BLM officials said the two-year, $1.5 million study would determine whether the agency is using the best science available in managing wild horses and burros on Western rangelands. BLM managers estimate that 38,000 wild horses and burros roam 10 Western states, and half are in Nevada.
The study tentatively set to begin Jan. 1 would focus on population estimation methods, annual herd growth rates and population control measures, agency officials said in a statement released Friday.
The announcement came a month after 54 House members signed onto a letter that Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pleading with him to halt a series of wild horse roundups under way in the West.
The letter recommended that the National Academy of Sciences be assigned to review the BLM’s plan to cull about 12,000 of 38,000 wild horses and burros from the range and either send them to long-term holding facilities or put them up for adoption.
Nevada Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus were among those who signed the letter that maintains the gathers are based on a “deeply flawed policy.”
“Nevada’s wild horses and burros are a treasured part of our Western heritage, but we continue to struggle with the management of these herds on public lands,” Berkley said Saturday. “My hope is that this study will provide a new blueprint for addressing the many challenges we face in protecting wild horse and burro populations in Nevada and other Western states.”
Titus said she was pleased the BLM acted quickly in response to House members’ request for the study.
“In the meantime, I again urge the BLM to halt roundups until the failings of the current program are addressed,” she said Saturday.
Activists said they support the independent review but only if it’s coupled with an immediate moratorium on all BLM roundups of wild horses from the range. There will be too few genetically viable herds left to study at the present rate of roundups, they said.
“I expect the NAS report to be enlightening regarding the lack of science in BLM’s decisions aimed at ridding the West of our wild horse and burro heritage,” said Ginger Kathrens, director of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado. “A moratorium right now is essential so that NAS will have a few viable herds left to study.”
The National Academy of Sciences is a nonprofit source of scientific advice that enlists the nation’s top experts to address a wide range of problems.