December 8, 2021

Management of Wild Horses on Western Public Lands: a New Hope

Speaker: Allen Rutberg, PhD, Director, Center for Animals and Public Policy
Research Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Pathobiology, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Since the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act 50 years ago, Federal agencies have struggled to balance the interests of the horses and burros that the Act charges them to protect with those of competing stakeholder groups, livestock, and wildlife. The agencies’ task of “maintaining a thriving ecological balance,” while assuring the health and long-term viability of wild equid populations is complicated by the boom-or-bust quality of intermountain western ecosystems, increasingly amplified by climate change. Meanwhile, the agencies’ main tool for regulating wild horse and burro numbers, round-ups and removals of “surplus” animals, has failed spectacularly to keep up with the rate at which wild horses and burros reproduce, aggravating conflicts and driving up costs to taxpayers. To try to reduce conflicts and control costs, the Federal agencies have been funding horse and burro fertility control research since the 1970’s. Safe and effective wild horse and burro contraceptives are now out there, but will the Federal agencies figure out how to use them effectively?