Emmer: Wild horse populations, bureaucracies are both out of control (column)
May 31, 2018
Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at vaildaily.com.
Wild mustangs are a problem. A fascinating problem. Even captivating.
Just hearing those half-ton, hide-wrapped packages of muscle and bone snort and stomp as they toss their heads can knock your hat in the creek. It is hearty pleasure to visit wild horse herds.
Some of the wild horses' ancestors were turned loose during the Dust Bowl as ranchers went hungry, went bust, then just went. Life in the wild is unforgiving but the horses reproduce quickly. Herds double in size every five years or so, fast enough to damage the range.
So the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) takes thousands of surplus horses off the range every year. Still, there are roughly three times more horses left on the range than it can sustain. Corrals and rented pastures are now home to 46,000 wild horses removed from the open range.
The BLM says it spends $48,000 over the life of each of those surplus mustangs. That's 60 percent of the BLM's wild horse budget https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/about-the-program/program-data. Because they reproduce so fast, what was once a financial trickle is becoming a flood.
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Horse people say about two-thirds of the horses can be trained for riding given sufficient human commitment. Most horse owners cannot justify owning them, except as living souvenirs.
Though they don't know and don't care, the wild horses are rock stars. They have passionate human fans. The BLM could stem the taxpayers' growing losses by selling the corralled wild horses for processing as society routinely does with millions of cattle, hogs and chickens.
Hunting is possible substitute for natural predation, too. There are ways the surplus horses could help support the horses left on the range.
However, the wild horse activists object to managing the corralled horses as livestock or wildlife. Instead, they seem to embrace the Hindu's management of cattle. That would be fine if they ponied up to paid for it.
The BLM bowed to the activists and now keeps the extra horses as permanent guests of Uncle Sam. It defied its own Wild Horse Advisory Board of citizen experts to do so.
For their taxes, wild horse fans get every public service all other taxpayers get. In addition, they get the extra horses tossed in for free.
Maintaining surplus wild horses in corrals is a romantic gesture. If the policy has practical value for society, then it is not obvious. Unavoidably, it siphons resources away from helping poor people or reducing pollution or curing cancer.
Unusual for policy issues, this one is untainted by childish partisanship and big money interests. Yet, how can something with such a simple solution be such an unsolvable problem?
If public bodies cannot make small, simple decisions, then it is no wonder they cannot make bigger, more complicated spending decisions. The price is a public debt is headed for Mars.
Perhaps a peek at the groups involved will help us understand these logjams better.
Wild horse activists are narrowly focused on the mustangs. That's fine. They have successfully wrangled the cost of the surplus horses onto the general citizenry without public agreement. That's selfish and not so fine. Our system should be better able to balance romance with finance.
Should not the BLM guard the public cookie jar? Scholars have long noted bureaucracies are not simply butlers to the public interest . They want their own slice of glory: more turf, bigger budgets, larger staffs. Adding the lifetime care of surplus mustangs to their job serves that goal.
Although the BLM's own citizen Wild Horse Advisory Board recommended selling the surplus horses or euthanizing them, the BLM sided with the horse activists instead.
Politicians quietly slide the invoice for the surplus horses over to our most naive citizens — the kids.
So it is down to us, the general citizenry. We are the last line of defense of the collective interest. The citizens who actually pay the bills should control where their tax money goes.
Our current authoritarians declare, "You must pay for surplus wild horses". Instead, citizens could say, "I can pay for surplus mustangs, or for education for kids in Harlem, or space missions, or something else."
Let's cowboy up for improving democracy. If it's a finished product now, then we will be finished soon.
Vince Emmer is a financial analyst who runs Citizens Due Diligence in his off hours. Reach him at email@example.com.
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