SJR3 — Urges reduction of feral horses and burros in the Great Basin
The Senate Joint Resolution No. 3 (SJR3) was originally introduced on February 25, 2021 “urges Congress to provide funding to reduce the wild horse and burro populations to appropriate management levels (AML).”
With a current population of over 47,000 animals in Nevada, 12,000 of which being above AML, immediate action is required to protect critical habitat for native species and to preserve this iconic western nonnative.
Feral horse and burro populations across the West
In October of 2020, the Congressional Research Service reported that “BLM has set the upper limit for AML for all wild horse and burro herds on its lands at 26,770. As of March 2020, the number of animals on BLM lands significantly exceeded this figure—95,114, or more than triple the AML. BLM manages wild horses and burros in 177 herd management areas (HMAs) in 10 western states. Nearly half of all the HMAs and more than half of the animals are located in Nevada.”
The BLM, under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, is granted the power to regulate and manage these populations to maintain healthy and consistent AMLs. That being said, the congressional research service states that “since 1982 the agencies have not used this authority to destroy healthy animals. Most recently, the FY2020 appropriations law (P.L. 116-94, Division D, §419) prohibited the use of funds for the destruction of healthy animals and for sales of animals that result in processing into commercial products. Most appropriations laws since FY1988 have contained a similar prohibition on BLM funding.”
Advocates of SRJ3 such as the Nevada Chapter of the Wildlife Society sent out a letter to their members stating that “We desperately need long-term solutions for maintaining healthy horse and burrow populations and conserving crucial habitats for fish and wildlife….Scientists and wildlife professionals are united in their call to change current management practices. They support the use of the best available science and adaptive management and advocate for increased funding for federal agencies to help reduce horse and burrow populations.”
The Nevada Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers had this to say when asked about their stance on the issue “SJR3 is a loudspeaker announcement to Congress that we here in Nevada need something done about the massive overpopulation of feral horses and burros. We're on the cusp of ecological catastrophe...We need H&B populations reduced to AML as soon as possible, then we can talk about long term population control.” They go on to say “SJR3 represents an honest assessment by a broad coalition of conservationists looking to prevent mass die-offs and suffering of horses, burros, as well as native species... Everything needed to solve this problem exists in the Horse & Burro Act of 1971, we just need the political will to implement it."
There have been several attempts in the almost 50 years since the passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act to appropriately manage populations, but those efforts have been thwarted by organizations that would allow for the feral horse numbers to rise to the point of starvation, terminal dehydration, and extreme overpopulation.
These organizations rely upon emotion-based reasoning and public polls. Groups such as the American Wild Horse Campaign would have wildlife managers and policymakers base their decisions on popularity contests “Polls show that 86 percent of Nevadans agree that wild horses are defining symbols for our state and want them protected and humanely managed.” They go on to claim that by eliminating predator hunting, the populations of feral horses will level off. They also argue that we should cut back on the amount of land that cattle are allowed to graze so that feral horses can grow to an even greater population “reductions in livestock grazing in BLM Herd Management Areas would benefit both wild horses and burros and wildlife, by freeing up forage for larger, more sustainable populations.” See their statement here.
The fact of the matter is that feral horses are not going anywhere anytime soon, but they cannot be allowed to continue as an ever-populating species. There is no other animal of its size with its roaming/grazing capacities that wreaks havoc on landscapes like it does while being allowed to go unchecked. Feral hogs across the United States destroy millions of dollars worth of crops each year yet wildlife management agencies are at least attempting to manage hogs and recognize them as a species that requires swift management. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we live in a time when wildlife will balance itself, mankind has had too much of an impact on wild places and wildlife for there to be any chance of self-stabilization. Allowing for nothing to be done is allowing for the continuation of horses to die in extremely inhumane ways. If you would like to see some of these impacts for yourself please view Horse Rich and Dirt Poor.
I urge every one of you to please take the time to thoughtfully and cordially submit your opinion to the Nevada state legislature through their online form, or written comments can be submitted by email to SenNR@sen.state.nv.us. The next work session of SJR3 is on Thursday, April 1 at 3:30 pm. We have an opportunity to greatly impact the future of the Great Basin or we can allow the continued status quo of destroyed riparian areas, overpopulation, and negligence towards our wildlife and wild places.