Eagle: Wild horses victims of recession, too
EAGLE, Colorado – Wild horses are feeling the effects of recession, as federal authorities find fewer horse owners willing to take on extra animals.
At a wild horse auction run by the Bureau of Land Management in Eagle, Colorado Saturday, only 10 of 39 horses were adopted. Most went for the minimum bid of $125.
The trend is a national one. In 2002, more than 7,700 wild horses were adopted nationwide. Last year, the number was 3,700.
“In today’s economy, horses are more of a luxury than a hobby,” said Fran Ackley, head of the agency’s wild horse and burro program in Colorado. “Right now, we’re just feeding a lot of these horses. Nothing else to do with them.”
About half the wild horses were gathered from the Sand Wash Basin in northwestern Colorado and the Book Cliffs area north of Grand Junction.
The backlog of unadopted horses is leaving the government with a higher tab to care of them.
Last year, the BLM spent $27 million on housing and caring for unwanted wild horses and burros. Officials say the tab could rise to $85 million by 2012 if private adoptions don’t pick up.
“We’ve got the money for this year and next,” Ackley said. “But after that, I don’t know. We’re going to have to figure something out.”
The BLM is currently holding about 30,000 wild horses and burros in long-term holding facilities. The agency reports about 36,000 horses wild on the range, which Ackley said is about 10,000 horses too many.
Under a 1971 law, the BLM manages some 33,000 wild horses in 10 Western states, mostly descendants of domesticated horses and burros that escaped or were set loose long ago.
Without any predators in the wild, horse populations can grow quickly, putting a strain on land designated by the BLM for habitat.
Each year, government agents take thousands of horses and burros off the range and put them up for adoption. More than 220,000 have been adopted since 1971.
But with fewer adoptions, the agency has begun experimenting with other ways to manage wild horse populations.
The BLM has attempted to limit reproduction through the infertility drug Porcine Zona Pellucida. The agency has used two methods of administering the drug: shooting mares with a contraceptive-laced dart, and feeding the horses pellets containing the drug. But the drug has fallen short of agency expectations.
“It helps,” Ackley said. “But it’s not the end-all, be-all tool we’d hoped for.”
Federal law allows the agency to euthanize unwanted horses, but Ackley told the Aspen Daily News the agency has yet to put down a healthy horse.
David Boyd of the BLM says the public needs to talk more about the problem of excess wild horses.
“At a certain point, if more and more of our budget goes to caring for these captive horses, we won’t be able to do our job in other areas,” he said. “What we’re looking for is a balance. We want to keep the wildlife healthy, the range healthy and the horses healthy.”
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Snow usually comes and goes in this part of the state. A forecasted storm is expected to stick around for a while. Forecasters are calling for snow to persist throughout the weekend in the high country, with a prospect of a couple of feet of powder by the time the storm starts to diminish on Monday.