Wild Horse Education

Fast Facility Foray

We take a fast flip to facilities in “Wild Week.” We published two pieces that focus on the frame on-range, the “in the wild” part of wild horses and burros. A bit of history, the formation of the framework of advocacy for wild horses on our public lands.  You can access part 1 HERE. Part 2 focuses on regulation and policy, where we need to advocate to “keep wild horses wild” and part of why that breaks down. You can access part 2 HERE.

Advocacy for the wild, begins in the wild.

However, one of the places where the symptoms of the broken on-range program can be seen clearly are the ever burgeoning holding facilities.

The BLM and their preferred partners have driven this program to collapse. Watching facility numbers can always give you a clear picture of the timeline. Many that jumped onboard the “Path Forward” back in 2017 said they did so “to stop BLM from killing horses in holding.” What this partnership actually accomplished was giving the range to industry, turning ranges into experiment zones with mishmashes of fertility control and cramming so many wild horses into holding that talk of “killing” is part of an ongoing circle. No reform happened, no matter how many times someone typed that word into a press release, and the cost of the program has gone through the roof while the agency continues to ignore basic on-range planning, failures to address habitat preservation. On range, it costs nothing to house a wild horse. (Fiscal 2023 began today. We will have a more extensive piece coming soon.)

Transparency in the off-range program went from bad to abysmal. Any progress that had been made prior to 2016 was tossed aside in the “deal.” We have seen an increase in off-limits to public view facilities/numbers and actual data on those facilities is hard to come by, even under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Instead of including a specific facility report as part of the “gather update” as BLM once did, they now publish a “numbers sheet.” (NOTE: The old style used to have daily intake at facilities and vet reports loaded into the daily “gather update” on the BLM website. This attempt at transparency was short lived as reports showed deaths each week that sometimes ran in the dozens, like at Eagle in 2010. We still believe BLM only made this attempt because litigation was active.)

BLM also has a page online that they label “off-range corral” . It is  interesting to note that the url for the page is different than the title page and calls it “sale/adoption-centers.” This page is simply a page to contact these facilities to adopt. The pages do not include intake, shipping, vet reports, deaths or render reports.

The numbers sheet has 3 categories: preparation, maintenance and pasture. However, maintenance facilities (off-limits to public viewing) are being used for preparation (intake from the range, branding, etc.).

No matter what term BLM uses (corral, pasture, adoption center) they are all holding facilities. BLM used to just say “short-term” and “long-term.” However, instead of program reform the BLM went through a public relations reform and tried to soften vocabulary.

In a program based on “numbers games,” let’s play:

At the beginning of fiscal 2022 BLM reported that the capacity for holding facilities was 72,133. They said they had an actual 56,676 wild horses and burros in those facilities.

The BLM tried to approve another “off-limits” facility in Winnemucca (that is now facing 2 legal challenges, one ours) to hold 4000 on 100 acres.

From August to September 2022 they increased the capacity of other off-limits to the public facilities. Broken Arrow (Indian Lakes Rd, Fallon, NV) went from a capacity of 2800 to 7600.

In September of 2022, BLM said the capacity of all facilities is now 78,191 and the total number of wild horses and burros in those facilities is 63,922.

Note: We are not sure how BLM could remove over 20K in a 12 month period and the total in holding only rise by 7,246 in the same period. Even if BLM did not capture anymore horses, according to the 20-25% birthrate for those mares (using the BLM on-range estimate because mares would still give birth in holding after capture) the numbers should rise, not fall. Even if BLM adopted out 7,000 (an extremely high estimate) the numbers still feel off. BLM should publish death statistics (where in the system are they happening? Right after the roundup? Or are the euthanasia numbers rising for older horses? How many long-term facilities were approved to use the captive bolt in the new policy?)

If the mares coming off the range demonstrate the foaling rate that BLM says they do on-range (BLM says they do not roundup horses during foaling season and most mares get pregnant right away; gestation period for a horse is 11-12 months) then about 3500 wild horses will be born in holding in the next year at facilities from the mares captured in the second half of last years massive removal machine, after the September report. We have noticed that BLM does not include the estimated births when they report on “space on holding.” This would bring the number to 67,422. (note: We do not agree with this birthrate. However, it is the one BLM uses on range to justify removal, so we use it here.)

If we average the last 3 years in adoption and sales (BLM has not released fiscal 2022 stats yet) then about 583 will have been adopted or sold since the September facility “numbers sheet.” We should keep in mind that adoption demand actually drops as the weather cools (and prices of hay skyrocket) so we are being pretty generous in dividing the year into 12 equal parts.

This would bring the actual space needed to accommodate current inventory in holding to about 66,839.

After upping the capacity of “off-limits to the public” holding facilities, that means BLM has space for about 11,352. 

How many of those spaces are being set aside should there be emergency situations such as fire? BLM does not note “emergency” housing allocations in any report.

So how is BLM going to keep their promise to big corporate interests to keep removing wild horses and burros at this historically accelerated rate? The space in holding shows they simply can’t keep following the fast path backwards… unless they start killing wild horses in holding, come up with more subsidized sales to slaughter (Adoption Incentive Program), open sales without limits (slaughter) or… ? Where is all this “reform” leading the program?

One of the stats we find disturbing is the long-term holding stat (what BLM now calls pasture). In a year that saw over 20,000 removed from the range forever, the long-term stat rose by less than 2000 wild horses.

When we start to see the 2023 “gather schedule” take shape, will we see a slow-down in the number removed from the range? Probably not. Please remember that you are going to see the gather schedule come in pieces as the fiscal year budget is distributed through continuing resolutions. The next schedule you see will only fund removals through December 16. We expect BLM to talk about “natural death rates” in facilities (the type they do not include in on range population estimates) as they hide what happens in those facilities from the public. That will give them a bit more space.

We expect the total for the 2023 roundup schedule to hit around 15-18K by the end of fiscal 23; this is not a change, it was part of the plan in the first place. Years of historically high removals followed by a drop to around 15K a year (that would seem like a slow down, but is still historically high compared to decades prior). 

How long can BLM keep up the promise to the corporate lobbyists? This program is on the verge of fiscal and programmatic collapse. The cost of holding will continue to rise and BLM does nothing to protect habitat for wild horses and burros on the range. Will they ever limit discretionary use (private profit) and protect natural resources and wild horses on the range?

How will BLM package the next round of “2020 plan” partnership? Will they make a massive move next to push sterilization and “fertility control” partnerships on range, call it “reform” as they keep claiming the same politically set “appropriate” numbers, give more habitat away to industry, fail to define critical habitat needs, etc. (You can read the original draft for “Ten Years to AML” HERE and see what grassroots advocates have been up against since 2016. You can make up your own mind who has worked for or against this plan. ) Yup… that is what we expect.

Keep your eyes on those holding facility numbers.

Those numbers will signal the talk about “humane euthanasia policy” and how signs of “old age” even give the BLM the justification to kill (is that part of why long-term numbers barely rose?). The “kill them in holding” conversation that all the “Path Backwards” partners claimed they were stopping has always stayed alive. It has just gone through a softening of the vocabulary.

Over the next few years we will see it surface again with less lubrication.

This began as a simple post to talk about the Ridgecrest facility in California. But one thought always leads to the next questions and the next thought and the next question…

Ridgecrest is rarely used as intake due to location (southern California). Some of the Twin Peaks wild horses (captured in July/August) have already been sent south from Palomino Valley Center (PVC) in Reno. Wild horses that are considered “unadoptable” often find Ridgecrest as part of their journey (into sale or long-term holding). The Twin Peaks horses (and a few from other HMAs like Buffalo Hills and Centennial) join burros from Centennial and Twin Peaks. There are about 160 horses and 340 donkeys at Ridgecrest right now.

If you want to adopt from Ridgecrest you need to contact them for an appointment. They are short staffed right now, so it might take time to get an answer.

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Our teams are continuing to track wild horses from roundup and into facilities, running the range gathering info, working hard in process to create change and in litigation. More on our “fiscal year fight” coming soon.

We published two pieces that focus on the frame on-range, the “in the wild” part of wild horses and burros. A bit of history, the formation of the framework of advocacy for wild horses on our public lands.  You can access part 1 HERE. Part 2 focuses on regulation and policy, where we need to advocate to “keep wild horses wild” and part of why that breaks down. You can access part 2 HERE.

Advocacy for the wild, begins in the wild. 

Help keep us in the fight.

Categories: Wild Horse Education