Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The BLMs Take on the Pickens' Plan

The Bureau of Land Management is grateful to Madeleine Pickens for her interest in helping the BLM deal with the challenges of managing wild horses and burros, both on and off Western public rangelands. The BLM is committed to continuing its discussions with Mrs. Pickens to address these challenges, which include the effective management of wild horses and burros and the protection of taxpayer dollars expended through the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Last November, Mrs. Pickens offered to take over the care of thousands of wild horses that the BLM holds in facilities across the United States by setting up a private foundation that would care for the animals at no cost to the government, potentially saving American taxpayers millions of dollars.

Mrs. Pickens’ more recent proposal seeks a BLM stipend of $500 per horse, per year for the life of each horse. Under this plan, Mrs. Pickens' foundation would first take about 10,000 wild horses currently in BLM short-term holding facilities (corrals), the costs of which are significantly greater to the BLM than those of keeping horses in long-term holding (pastures).
To realize these potential savings to the BLM, however, Mrs. Pickens’ sanctuary plan would need to meet certain requirements for wild horse management.

First, Mrs. Pickens’ plan to care for these animals at $500 per horse, per year is similar to the long-term holding contracts that the BLM currently has with private landowners in the Midwest, where about 22,000 unadopted or unsold animals are cared for at an annual cost of about $475 per horse. The animals graze on private pastures in Oklahoma, Kansas, and South Dakota, where forage and water are abundant. In contrast to these annual contracts, Mrs. Pickens has asked the BLM to commit to lifetime payments. Because Congress appropriates the agency’s funding on an annual basis, the BLM is not authorized to make such an unlimited commitment.
Second, Mrs. Pickens’ plan proposes to take the animals from private pastures and facilities and instead graze them on private and public lands on a large ranch in Nevada. However, current Federal law prohibits the BLM from using allotments associated with that ranch for grazing wild horses. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act restricts animals to the areas where they were found roaming when the Act was passed in 1971. Unfortunately, none of the BLM grazing allotments that Mrs. Pickens proposes for her sanctuary were areas where wild horses roamed in 1971.

Congress would have to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to address this aspect of Mrs. Pickens' proposal.
As an alternative, the BLM has offered to advertise a holding contract on private land and welcomes a bid from Mrs. Pickens’ foundation. Open bidding on such a contract would ensure that taxpayers get the maximum benefit from their investment.

The BLM is committed to working with Congress, stakeholders, and the public to ensure the welfare of wild horses and burros, both on and off public rangelands, while also protecting these Western lands from the destructive effects of herd overpopulation.


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