Management practices are facilitating highrates of population growth.
BLM’s removalshold horse populations below levels affected byfood limits. If population density were toincrease to the point that there was not enoughforage available, it could result in fewer pregnan-cies and lower young-to-female ratios andsurvival rates. Decreased competition for foragethrough removals may instead allow populationgrowth, which then drives the need to removemore animals.
Predators will not typically control popula-tion growth rates of horses.
Because predatorslike mountain lions and wolves are not abundantin Herd Management Areas, the potential for predatorsto affect free-ranging horse populations is limited.Mountain lions require habitats different from thosefavored by horses, and the committee was unable to ndexamples of wolf predation on free-ranging horses in theUnited States.
The most promising fertility-control methods forfree-ranging horses or burros are porcine zonapellucida (PZP) vaccines and GonaCon™ vaccine forfemales and chemical vasectomy for males.
Thisconclusion is based on criteria such as delivery method,availability, efcacy, duration of effect, and potential for side effects. Although applying these methods usuallyrequires gathering horses and burros, that process is nomore disruptive than the current method of populationcontrol — gathering and removal — without the further disruption of removing animals. Considering all thecurrent options, these three methods, either alone or incombination, offer the most acceptable alternative toremoving animals for managing population numbers.
Maintaining Genetic Diversity
Protecting the long-term health of free-ranging horse and burro populations includes maintaining their geneticdiversity, which is necessary for herds to respond to andsurvive changes in the environment. The committeeexamined evidence on the genetic diversity of these herdsand reached the following conclusions:
Management of horses and burros as metapopulationsis necessary for their long-term genetic health.
Geneticstudies of horses on 102 Herd Management Areas showthat the genetic diversity for most populations is similar tothose of healthy mammal populations, although geneticdiversity could change over time. Little is known aboutthe genetic health of burros; the few studies that have beenconducted reported low genetic diversity compared todomestic donkeys. To achieve optimal genetic diversity,managers could consider the collective populations of several Herd Management Areas as a single population.Management options include intensively managingindividuals according to their genetic makeup within HerdManagement Areas, moving horses and burros amongthese areas, or both.
Recording the occurrence of diseases and clinical signswould allow BLM to monitor the prevalence of geneticconditions that affect population health.
Such data havenot been recorded and integrated to date. Surveillance of these mutations would be possible if blood or hair samplesare collected during gathers. Over time, regular samplingwould reveal whether a particular Herd Management Areahas a higher occurrence of a given mutation that mightaffect the tness of the herd.
Improving Management and Transparency
The committee examined various aspects of how BLMmakes management decisions about free-ranging horseand burro herds and communicates them to the public, andconcluded the following:
It is unclear whether or how the results of theWinEquus model are used in management decisions,and the input parameters are not transparent.
BLMcurrently includes the results of WinEquus, a computer program that simulates how horse populations wouldchange with management actions such as removal or fertility control, in its gather plans and environmentalassessments. Given appropriate data, WinEquus canadequately simulate such changes. However, the resultsdepend on the values of input parameters — for example,age-specic foaling rates or the sex and the age composi-tion of a herd — and various management options selected by the user when setting up the simulations. These parameters were rarely provided in gather plans andenvironmental assessments, and in most of the revieweddocuments WinEquus output was copied and pasted withno explanation or interpretation of the results. It wasdifcult to determine if results were used to makemanagement decisions or were offered as justication for decisions that were made independently of modelingresults. A clear description of the input parameters andoptions selected by the user would help the public assessthe reliability of WinEquus modeling results. In addition,a clear explanation of whether or how results of populationmodeling were used would improve transparency.
The Wild Horses and Burros Management Handbook lacks specicity.
Issued by BLM in 2010, the handbook provides some degree of consistency in goals, allocation of
Free-ranging horses, Onaqui Herd, near Dugway, Utah