It appears someone at the Bureau of Land Management has come to the belated conclusion that keeping nearly 50,000 “wild” horses and burros in short-term corrals and long-term pastures, which results in the taxpayers feeding them at a cost of $50,000 apiece for their average 25-year life span, is not the best solution to the problem.

Earlier this month the BLM announced it will initiate 21 research projects with a goal of being able to properly maintain a sustainable population of wild horses and burros on the open range, which would be a relief to the horses, the rangeland,  water resources, ranchers and other wildlife.

Because they have virtually no natural predators, wild horse herds can double in size in four years. But since Congress refuses to fund the slaughter of unadoptable horses and burros, which was the designated remedy for excess animals under the original Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, more than 60 percent of the BLM’s $70 million annual budget for managing wild horses and burros is consumed by warehousing the animals, one of the largest corral complexes is in Palomino Valley near Reno.

Back in 1971 there were about 25,000 wild horses and burros on the range, but since then the number of animals on public lands has more than doubled to 58,150 — 9,000 of those were born in the past year alone.

Of course, the BLM is pursuing this research endeavor in the manner it knows best — spending our money. It plans to spend $11 million over 5 years.

The BLM says it will spend that money on university and U.S. Geological Survey scientists, primarily to develop longer lasting fertility-control vaccines, as well as efficient methods for spaying and neutering wild horses.

“Given the cost of caring for horses off the range and the difficulty of finding qualified adopters, it is clear that this challenge must be solved by addressing population growth on the range,” Mike Tupper, BLM Deputy Assistant Director for Resources and Planning, was quoted as saying in the BLM announcement, showing a knack for the obvious. “The BLM is committed to developing new tools that allow us to manage this program sustainably and for the benefit of the animals and the land.”

The specifics of the research projects include:

— A one-year project that will aim to develop a minimally invasive surgical sterilization method for wild horse mares that requires no incisions.

— Two projects that aim during a two-year period to develop different surgical approaches for tubal ligation in mares.

— A six-month project that will determine whether an existing accepted surgical sterilization procedure commonly used for domestic mares can be safely conducted on wild horses.

— A two-year project will focus on further study of Gonocon, an approved and labeled contraceptive vaccine for equids.

— A two-year study to develop a new, permanent contraceptive vaccine for wild horse mares.

— A four-year project that will attempt to develop a new delivery vehicle for porcine zona pellucida (PZP) — a temporary contraceptive currently used in some wild horse herds – that would increase the duration of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

— A three-year project for the development of an injectable agent that would inactivate hormones and decrease female and male gonad viability.

Nowhere is there even a suggestion of one of the most practical means of mitigating the overpopulation of the herds — humane euthanasia of sick and injured animals with their carcasses sold commercially to defray the cost to taxpayers. But that would take an act of Congress, which is even slower to act than the BLM.

Meanwhile, in another rare display of logical decision making this summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that wild horses are not eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act, because they are not a distinct and native population. The decision came in response to a petition from two wild horse advocacy groups, who claimed the wild horse is threatened with extinction, even though the real problem is overabundance.

We welcome any effort by the federal land bureaucracies to save tax money and protect the open range.

— TM