Wild horses and burros in eleven Western states enjoy protection under the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Yet as grazing by domestic livestock continues through advancing drought and climate change, these feral ungulates—along with native wildlife—are feeling the pinch of degraded habitats and depleted food and water sources.
The BLM is tasked with managing wild horse and burro populations, but is uneven in its consideration of feral ungulate impacts on range conditions versus those of domestic livestock. In 2013 the agency collaborated in the production of the USGS publication Summary of Science, Activities, Programs, and Policies That Influence the Rangewide Conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse. In this publication, for purposes of calculating the impact of wild horses and burros on the sage grouse, the agency considers all Greater sage-grouse habitat areas occupied by wild horses and burros as areas of direct impact by wild horses and burros. In contrast, to calculate the impact of domestic livestock on sage grouse, the agency only considers sage grouse habitat area within grazing allotments that have failed the LHS standard for wildlife. As a result, the agency claims that wild horses and burros have nearly double the impact of livestock on Greater sage-grouse habitat; if the agency used the same standard to calculate impacts it would find the livestock impact more than six times that of wild horses and burros.
The discrepancy is magnified, of course, due to the agency’s under-representation of allotments that have failed standards due to livestock.