The Real Cost of Rounding up our Wild Horses and Burros
I don’t even know where to start with this post. The more you read, and learn about this issue, the more infuriated you become. Peeling back the layers on this, is mind boggling. The Real Cost of Rounding up our Wild Horses and Burros is in the millions. Millions of our taxpayer dollars, wasted on an antiquated and corrupt government program. I’m going to say right now, that I had help with the information in this post. Friends who care as deeply about this issue as I do, contributed time, research hours and facts. I feel strongly that all this information needs to be in one, easy to find, easy to read, easy to share place. At the end of this post you can find a PDF to download, print, and share.
These are OUR taxpayer dollars paying for this. Our tax dollars wasted on roundups, holding facilities, and so much more. It’s time the Bureau of Land Management was held accountable.
In my last post, Never Forget what Happened at Onaqui, I said that 435 horses were removed from their homes. Care to venture a guess as to how much that cost? According to USASpending.gov, Shayne Sampson owner of Sampson livestock received $105,710 to run our horses into a pen with a helicopter and haul them off the range.
And then what? Well, according to USAspending.gov G and R livestock based in Delta, Utah was awarded 1.4 million dollars to build the new holding facility in Sutherland, Utah. Many of our Onaqui horses ended up here.
And this is just the beginning. Cattour Livestock conducts most of the wild horse roundups in the west. Based on the figures above on the cost of rounding up 435 horses, it’s not hard to see how they have become millionaires on the backs of our wild horses.
This year alone, the BLM is scheduled to round up 18,000 horses. This chart from the BLM, breaks it down by state, HMA, and how many they plan to remove. The rationale for removing all these horses? The myth perpetrated by the BLM that there are too many horses. For years the BLM has used what they term AML, or Appropriate Management Level, numbers to determine how many wild horses can live in any given HMA. There’s a history of AMLs that can be found in the National Academy of Sciences report. According to that report, even by 2008, BLM had not created consistent methods for setting AMLS nor had BLM provided formal guidance to its field offices on how AMLs should be established. To say that only 200 wild horses can live on 200,000 acres is of course ridiculous. Especially when 1000’s of cattle and sheep are allowed on these very same lands.
So let’s look at some cost breakdowns, and the real cost of rounding up our wild horses and burros. These figures came from this paper published July 29, 2021 by the Congressional Research Service. You can view the full report here. According to this report, the BLM has been provided with an ever increasing amount of money per year to achieve what they determine is AML.
“Since FY2000, appropriations laws have periodically provided BLM with additional funding to achieve AML. For example, BLM received a $14.1 million (69%) increase to $34.5 million in FY2001, the largest annual percentage increase. The intent was to achieve AML over several years and by FY2010 to reduce budgetary needs below the FY2001 level. These goals were not fully achieved, although the on-range population declined and AML was nearly reached in 2007. In FY2010, BLM received a $23.4 million (58%) increase to $64.0 million, the biggest annual dollar increase. For FY2020, expenditures totaled $91.2 million.”
“For FY2021, the appropriation for BLM management of wild horses and burros was $115.7 million, a 14% increase from the FY2020 level ($101.6 million). FY2021 funding was more than five times the amount for FY2000 ($20.4 million) and an 81% increase over FY2010 ($64.0 million), in nominal dollars.”
So where does all this money go? The report is pretty detailed in the spending.
FY2020 Expenditures by Activity
“BLM uses wild horse and burro funding for a variety of activities. Expenditures can differ from appropriations in part due to carryover and transfer of funds. For FY2020, expenditures totaled $91.2 million. Off-range holding accounted for $57.0 million (62%) of expenditures, composed of $30.0 million for long-term care and $27.0 million for short-term care. The next-largest portion, $12.3 million (13%), was expended for program support and overhead. Placement into private care, through adoptions and sales, was $9.8 million (11%). Another $7.0million (8%) was used for gathering animals on the range. The remaining $5.1million (6%) was expended for varied purposes(including <1% for fertility control).”
Now I’m not a financial guru, but this all seems like an enormous waste of our taxpayer money. They are not achieving that mythical AML number, even with massive increases in spending. If I went to my boss, and said “Hey, you give me a big raise this year and I will complete that task you needed doing. Guaranteed.” And then didn’t complete that task, I don’t think I would be getting a raise the next year. In fact, I would probably get fired. So why is the BLM allowed to get away with this? I wrote a post not too long ago, The Definition of Insanity. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over and expecting a different result. Sound familiar?
So what is at the heart of all this? The answer is simple, livestock grazing on our public land. Ranchers pay a pittance to graze their cattle, and sheep on our land. $1.35 per cow calf pair, or 5 head of sheep. This is significantly less than they would pay if they had to rent a pasture, or god forbid buy their own land. The ranchers feel the horses compete with their livestock for food, and water, and cause range damage. This is the second big myth perpetrated by the BLM. The opposite is in fact true. I recommend you listen to this podcast by Eric Molvar on the livestock industry’s destructive impact on our public land. In FY 2020, the BLM permitted 12.3 million animal unit months (AUMs). An AUM is the amount of forage needed to feed a cow and calf, or 5 sheep, for one month. BLM claims there are 86,189 wild horses total on range. And one other thing. When the ranchers say they are feeding America and need to graze on our public land to do that, that’s a lie too. Less than 2% of all beef sold in the US is raised on public land. If public land grazing ended tomorrow, it would have zero impact on the beef industry. The ranchers don’t own our public land, and it infuriates me that they think they do.
What happens to all these horses that are forcibly removed from their homes, and families? They are taken to a holding facility, sorted, separated from their loved ones, stallions are gelded, everyone gets a number, and then they wait, terrified and confused. BLM likes to say these horses get adopted, and it’s all just wonderful. Again, another myth. Currently there are close to 60,000 horses in holding. Some are in what is called short term holding, others in long term holding. The same congressional report, spells this cost out pretty good for us.
“The cost to place an animal into private ownership generally exceeds the revenue. Per adoption, BLM typically charges a minimum of $125 per trained animal and $25 per untrained animal, but the average cost for BLM to complete an adoption(or sale) is approximately $1,500. This cost includes activities to make the animals more marketable, such as training, advertising, and transporting. It does not include the $1,000 incentive BLM has paid individuals for each untrained animal they adopt (since March 12, 2019). In any case, the cost of adoptions is considerably less than the lifetime cost of off-range care; BLM estimated savings of $24,000 per animal.”
Short term facility cost is on average $5 per DAY. I think this number may be low, as the cost of hay has more than doubled this year. What about those long term pastures? The livestock industry has figured out if they pasture our horses, and have the BLM pay them to do it, it can be incredibly lucrative. This report from USAspending.gov shows what people have made by doing this. Millions!!! The very livestock people that want our wild horses off our public land, are at the same time profiting from keeping them.
Is this fiscally responsible? Does any of this actually make sense from a monetary standpoint? The cost of leaving the horses on the range is ZERO. Unless of course the BLM would finally decide to do the right thing and implement on range short term fertility control to reduce the amount of foals. This costs about $200 per mare, per year. A big savings if you ask me.
Asking the American government to be fiscally responsible with our tax dollars shouldn’t be that hard. To me, this seems like a program that could easily be cut, and a huge saving to the American public could be realized. 80% of Americans want wild horses to remain wild and free. And I would bet, that same 80% don’t want their tax dollars spent like this anymore. It’s time our legislators stand up against roundups. It’s time our President stops funding them. It’s time for the BLM to be held accountable. It’s time for livestock to be removed from our public land, especially the HMA’s which were set aside for wild horses. And it’s time for a real, and independent study of each HMA to determine how many wild horses can actually live there.
I have made this blog post available as a PDF Document. Then it can be printed, or shared off line. Real Cost of Roundups