6.7 million acres were never under BLM management.
Of the 15.5 million other acres of land under BLM management:
48.6 percent (7,522,100 acres) were intermingled ("checkerboard") land ownerships or areas where water was not owned or controlled by the BLM, which made management infeasible;
13.5 percent (2,091,709 acres) were lands transferred out of the BLM's ownership to other agencies, both Federal and state through legislation or exchange;
10.6 percent (1,645,758 acres) were lands where there were substantial conflicts with other resource values (such as the need to protect habitat for desert tortoise);
9.7 percent (1,512,179 acres) were lands removed from wild horse and burro use through court decisions; urban expansion; highway fencing (causing habitat fragmentation); and land withdrawals;
9.6 percent (1,485,068 acres) were lands where no BLM animals were present at the time of the passage of the 1971 Act or places where all animals were claimed as private property. These lands in future land-use plans will be subtracted from the BLM totals as they should never have been designated as lands where herds were found roaming; and
8.0 percent (1,240,894 acres) were lands where a critical habitat component (such as winter range) was missing, making the land unsuitable for wild horse and burro use, or areas that had too few animals to allow for effective management.
(The percentages above were current as of July 25, 2011.)
Myth #4: The BLM is managing wild horse herds to extinction.
Fact: This charge is patently false. The current on-the-range population of wild horses and burros (approximately 37,300) is greater than the number found roaming in 1971 (about 25,300). The BLM is seeking to achieve the appropriate management level of 26,500 wild horses and burros on Western public rangelands, or nearly 11,000 fewer than the current West-wide population. The BLM also actively monitors the genetics of each herd by sending genetic samples to Dr. Gus Cothran at Texas A&M University. Dr. Cothran furnishes the BLM a report on every sample with recommendations for specific herds.
Myth #5: The BLM removes wild horses to make room for more cattle grazing on public rangelands.
Fact: This claim is totally false. The removal of wild horses and burros from public rangelands is carried out to ensure rangeland health, in accordance with land-use plans that are developed in an open, public process. These land-use plans are the means by which the BLM carries out its core mission, which is to manage the land for multiple uses while protecting the land’s resources. Livestock grazing on BLM-managed land has declined by nearly 30 percent since 1971 (when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) -- from 12.1 million Animal Unit Months (AUMs or forage units) to 8.9 million AUMs in 2012.
Myth #6: The BLM lacks the legal authority to gather animals from overpopulated herds or to use helicopters in doing so.
Fact: This assertion is false. Section 1333 of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandates that once the Interior Secretary "determines...on the basis of all information currently available to him, that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to remove excess animals, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels." Section 1338 of the law authorizes the BLM’s use of helicopters and motorized vehicles in its management of wild horses and burros.
Myth #7: Gathers of wild horses by helicopter are inhumane.
Fact: This claim is false. The BLM's helicopter-assisted gathers are conducted humanely, as affirmed by three recent independent reports (see below), and have proven to be more humane, effective, and efficient than other types of gather methods when large numbers of animals need to be removed over wide areas or rugged terrain. Helicopters start the horses moving in the right direction and then back off sometimes one-quarter to one-half mile from the animals to let them travel at their own pace; horses are moved at a more rapid pace when they need to be turned or as they reach the entrance to the capture site. Helicopter pilots are better able to keep mares and foals together than horseback riders; pilots can also more effectively move the animals around such barriers as deep ravines, fences, or roads.
The mortality rate during wild horse and burro gathers is typically about one percent or less. In Fiscal Year 2011, the number of deaths occurring during gathers was 0.91 percent (99 horses died out of the 10,892 horses and burros gathered) -- that is, less than one percent of the total number captured. About one-quarter of one percent of the animals gathered (0.22 percent or 24 of the 10,892 gathered in 2011) died or were euthanized because of injuries or accidents that occurred during capture. Most of the gathered animals that need to be euthanized, however, are put down as an act of mercy because of preexisting conditions, such as limb deformities or old injuries that happened on the range. Some deaths also occur soon after horses are brought into captivity, usually associated with older horses or those that are very thin or in poor condition when gathered. Some of these already weakened horses, many of which would likely die on the range if not gathered, are examined by veterinarians and BLM staff and are euthanized if they are unlikely to improve or do not respond to treatment. Others adapt to captivity and do well after they get adequate feed and water and make their initial adjustment to domestic life.
Two reports issued in the fall of 2010 (one by four independent, credentialed equine professionals and one by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General), plus another report released in 2011 by the American Association of Equine (Veterinary) Practitioners, found -- without any ideological or political bias -- that the BLM’s gathers of wild horses are conducted in a humane manner. The Inspector General determined that the BLM’s gathers are "justified" and reported that the agency "is doing its best to perform a very difficult job."
Myth #8: If left alone, wild horses will limit their own population.
Fact: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that wild horses will automatically limit their own population. There were an estimated 25,300 wild horses and burros in 1971, and those numbers rose to a peak of more than 60,000 before the BLM was authorized and able to effectively use helicopters for gathers. If left unchecked, Mother Nature would regulate the wild horse and burro population through the classic boom-and-bust cycle, where the population increases dramatically, food becomes scarce, and the population crashes through starvation.
Myth #9: The BLM overestimates the number of wild horses and burros on the range.
Fact: This assertion is false. Currently, most BLM field offices in the West use a "direct count" method that involves the counting of each wild horse and burro actually seen during aerial surveys. This method, the Government Accountability Office concluded in an October 2008 report, results in an undercounting of herd populations. A new BLM directive, known as an Instruction Memorandum, seeks to correct this undercount by using two principal methods of survey that account for a range of error. The two survey methods, which will be implemented in a multi-step process, are known as "simultaneous double-count" with sightability bias correction and "mark-resight" using photographs. The new directive, prompted by the GAO report, can be accessed at this link.
Myth #10: The Government Accountability Office, in a report issued in October 2008, found that the BLM has been mismanaging the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Fact: This claim is completely false. The GAO made no such finding. The full report can be accessed here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0977.pdf
Myth #11: Wild horses are native to the United States.
Fact: This claim is false. The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today's American wild horses should not be considered "native." American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were released or escaped captivity in modern times. Over this 500-year period, these horses (and burros) have adapted successfully to the Western range. Regardless of the debate over whether these animals are native or non-native, the BLM manages horses and burros on public lands according to the provisions of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which describes the animals as "wild" rather than feral.
Myth #12: Two million wild horses roamed the United States in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
Fact: This mythical figure has no historical basis; it is complete speculation. In a book titled The Mustangs (1952) by J. Frank Dobie, the author noted that no scientific estimate of wild horse numbers was made in the 19th century or early 20th century. He went on to write: "All guessed numbers are mournful to history. My own guess is that at no time were there more than a million mustangs in Texas and no more than a million others scattered over the remainder of the West." (Emphasis added.) Mr. Dobie's admitted "guess" of no more than two million mustangs has over the years been transformed into an asserted "fact" that two million mustangs actually roamed America in the late 1800s/early 1900s. When it comes to the historical wild horse population, a substantiated and more relevant figure is the number found roaming in 1971, when the BLM was given legal authority to protect and manage wild horses and burros. That number was 17,300 mustangs (plus 8,045 burros), as compared to today's population of 31,500 wild horses (plus 5,800 burros).
Myth #13: Under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, BLM-administered public lands where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971 are to be managed "principally but not necessarily exclusively" for the welfare of these animals.
Fact: The law's language stating that public lands where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971 are to be managed "principally but not necessarily exclusively" for the welfare of these animals relates to the Interior Secretary's power to "designate and maintain specific ranges on public lands as sanctuaries for their protection and preservation" -- which are, thus far, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range (in Montana and Wyoming), the Nevada Wild Horse Range (located within the northcentral portion of Nellis Air Force Range), the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range (in Colorado), and the Marietta Wild Burro Range (in Nevada). The "principally but not necessarily exclusively" language applies to specific Wild Horse Ranges, not to Herd Management Areas in general. The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR, Subpart 4710.3-2) states: "Herd management areas may also be designated as wild horse or burro ranges to be managed principally, but not necessarily exclusively, for wild horse or burro herds."
Myth #14: The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR) specifies that the BLM is to allocate forage to wild horses and burros in an amount "comparable" to that allocated to wildlife and cattle.
Fact: The Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR, Subpart 4700.0-6) states that "Wild horses and burros shall be considered comparably with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans." This regulation means that in its development of land-use plans, the BLM will consider wild horses and burros in a manner similar to the way it treats other resource values (e.g., cultural, historic, wildlife, and scenic, as distinguished from authorized commercial land uses, such as livestock grazing or timber harvesting).