Rangeland Management: Improvements Needed in Federal Wild Horse Program

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-08-20.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

GAO             I    Report to the Secretary of the Interior

Au~rlst   IWO
                     Improvements Needed
                     in Federal Wild Horse


.-   --~.   .-
Resources, Community, and
Economic Development Division


August 20,199O

The Honorable Manuel Lujan, Jr.
The Secretary of the Interior

Dear Mr. Secretary:

This report discusses the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to manage wild horses on the
public rangelands in 10 western states, including the removal and disposition of excess wild
horses under the Adopt-A-Horse program.

This report contains recommendations to you in chapters 2,3, and 4. The head of a federal
agency is required by 31 U.S.C. 720 to submit a written statement on actions taken on our
recommendations to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the House
Committee on Government Operations not later than 60 days after the date of this letter and
to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the agency’s first request for
appropriations made more than 60 days after the date of this letter.

We are sending copies of this report to the Director, Bureau of Land Management; Director,
Office of Management and Budget; congressional offices; and other interested parties. If we
can be of further assistance, please contact me at (202) 275-7756. Other major contributors
are listed in appendix II.

Sincerely yours,

James Duffus III
Director, Natural Resources
  Management Issues
Executive Summaxy

                   In response to concerns over the widespread abuse and exploitation of
Purpose            wild horses and the possibility that the remaining population might
                   eventually be eradicated, the Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming
                   Horses and Burros Act in 1971 to grant the animals special protection.
                   Subsequent population counts indicated that there were many more wild
                   horses than previously thought and that these horses were contributing
                   to overgrazing of the federal rangelands. This new information led the
                   Congress to amend the law in 1978 and establish protection of the range
                   from wild horse overpopulation as a major program objective. Accord-
                   ingly, it authorized the agency responsible for administering the pro-
                   gram-the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management
                   (BLM)-t0    limit wild horse populations to levels the range can sustain.
                   This dual mandate of protecting wild horse populations while at the
                   same time protecting the rangelands they roam from deterioration con-
                   tinues to govern program operations.

                   Responding to expressions of congressional concern over BLM'S manage-
                   ment of the wild horse program, GAO reviewed BLM'S basis for deter-
                   mining the number of wild horses to be removed from the range; the
                   treatment of horses disposed of under a special adoption program; and
                   the cost-effectiveness of other aspects of BLM'S wild horse disposal

                   Since 1980, BLM has rounded up, removed, and disposed of more than
Background         80,000 wild horses from federal rangelands. About 60,000 of these
                   horses have been adopted through BLM'S Adopt-A-Horse program which
                   allows individuals to obtain title to up to four horses a year for $125
                   each. In an effort to enhance the adoptability of wild horses, BLM in
                   recent years has been sending some horses to state prison facilities to be
                   “gentled” by inmates who halter train them. However, all the wild
                   horses removed from the range have not proven to be adoptable because
                   of age or physical imperfection. Accordingly, from 1984 through Sep-
                   tember 1988, BLM placed about 20,000 wild horses with large-scale
                   adopters who agreed to take a minimum of 100 horses when BLM waived
                   the normal adoption fee. This program was terminated in response to
                   widespread congressional and public criticism. Since the summer of
                   1988, BLM has placed unadoptable horses in private sanctuaries.

                   GAO found that despite congressional direction, BLM'S decisions on how
Results in Brief   many wild horses to remove from federal rangelands have not been
                   based on direct evidence that existing wild populations exceed what the

                   Page 2                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                          Executive Summary

                          range can support. Moreover, wild horse removals often have not been
                          accompanied by reductions in authorized livestock grazing levels or
                          effective range management to increase the land’s capacity. As a result,
                          range conditions have not demonstrably improved, and the number of
                          wild horses removed has exceeded the capacity of the Adopt-A-Horse
                          program. These conditions, in turn, led BLM to implement two mass dis-
                          posal options that have resulted in either inhumane treatment and com-
                          mercial exploitation of the horses or committed the government to long-
                          term financial responsibility for the removed horses’ welfare. BLM'S
                          halter training and gentling program also has not been as cost-effective
                          as it could be. Many horses remain at prison training facilities much
                          longer than necessary resulting in increased program costs and lost
                          adoption opportunities.

Principal Findings

Wild Horse Removals Are   GAO found that existing information  is insufficient to determine how
Not Linked to Rangeland   many wild horses the range can support, the extent of degradation
                          caused by wild horses, or consequently the number of wild horses that
Conditions                should appropriately be removed from individual herd areas. For
                          example, for the five BLM areas GAO visited (covering 46 wild horse herd
                          areas), BLM had not assessed the land’s carrying capacities in over 20
                          years in three cases and in over 10 years in another case. The one
                          resource area with data less than 10 years old did not use it to set target
                          wild horse population levels and removal objectives. Despite the lack of
                          data, BLM has proceeded with horse removals using targets based on per-
                          ceived population levels dating back to 197 1 and/or recommendations
                          from BLM advisory groups comprised largely of livestock permittees.

                          BLM could not provide GAO with any information   demonstrating that fed-
                          eral rangeland conditions have significantly improved because of wild
                          horse removals. This lack of impact has occurred largely because BLM
                          has not reduced authorized grazing by domestic livestock, which
                          because of their vastly larger numbers consume 20 times more forage
                          than wild horses, or improved the management of livestock to give the
                          native vegetation more opportunity to grow. In some areas, GAO found
                          that BLM increased authorized livestock grazing levels after it had
                          removed wild horses, thereby negating any reduction in total forage
                          consumption and potential for range improvement. According to BLM
                          range managers, BLM has not acted to reduce authorized grazing levels

                          Page 3                                   GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                            Executive Summary

                            primarily because it believed it did not have sufficient range condition
                            data to justify the reductions.

Mass Disposal Led to        By 1986, BLM was removing thousands more wild horses yearly from the
Inhumane Treatment and      range than its Adopt-A-Horse program could absorb. Faced with the
                            escalating costs of maintaining these excess horses in holding facilities,
Commercial Exploitation     BLM placed about 20,000 wild horses with large-scale adopters. BLM did
                            not always comply with its regulations and internal guidance for
                            approving and monitoring these adoptions. This noncompliance resulted
                            in the inhumane treatment and death of hundreds of horses during the
                            l-year probation period when the horses were still owned by the gov-
                            ernment. Most adopters sold thousands of wild horses to

                            BLM terminated the program in September 1988 after negative publicity
                            and pressure from the Congress. However, it has not rescinded the regu-
                            lations authorizing such adoptions.

Disposal Program’‘s Cost-   Problems continue to exist in BLM'S remaining disposal activities. GAO
Effectiveness Can Be        found that many horses remain at the prison facilities much longer than
                            the 30 to 60 days needed to halter train them. Some horses remained at
Improved                    the facilities for up to 19 months, thereby substantially increasing pro-
                            gram costs. In addition, GAO found that BLM adoption staff have ques-
                            tioned the quality of the training many horses have received. BLM has
                            taken steps to tighten the management of the halter training program
                            but to date has not established needed standards for the length of time
                            the prisons should take to halter train a wild horse or the number and
                            quality of trained horses the prison facilities should produce.

                            With respect to the wild horse sanctuaries, GAO believes that BLM will not
                            be able to meet its objective of limiting financial support for the sanc-
                            tuaries to their first 3 years of operation. Accordingly, GAO believes that
                            BLM will either have to commit to a long-term financial commitment to
                            the sanctuaries (now approaching $900,000 a year for the first sanc-
                            tuary alone) or be prepared to have the horses returned to its custody.

                            To ensure that wild horse removal decisions are made in the context of a
Recommendations             rational range betterment strategy, GAO recommends that BLM expedi-
                            tiously develop carrying capacity and range condition data. In locations
                            where these data indicate that overgrazing is occurring, BLM should

                            Page 4                                   GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                  Executive Summary

                  implement range management techniques designed to give native vege-
                  tation more opportunity to grow and when necessary remove wild
                  horses and reduce livestock grazing in proportion to the numbers of
                  each species on the range. GAO also makes several other recommenda-
                  tions to improve BLM'S wild horse removal and disposal efforts. (See pp.
                  44 and 56.)

                  BLM generally agreed with GAO'S recommendations and stated that imple-
Agency Comments   menting action to address them either has been taken or is being initi-
                  ated. BLM disagreed, however, with a recommendation in a draft of this
                  report to reduce overgrazing by removing wild horses and reducing the
                  levels of authorized domestic livestock grazing in proportion to the
                  amount of forage each is consuming and the amount of range damage
                  each is causing. GAO revised its recommendation to acknowledge the role
                  improved livestock management can have in reducing the impact of
                  domestic livestock grazing on range conditions. Recognizing the diffi-
                  culty in distinguishing between the impacts of wild horses and domestic
                  livestock on range deterioration, GAO also revised its recommendation to
                  base any needed reductions in grazing activity on the relative numbers
                  of wild horses and domestic livestock on the range.

                  Page 6                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management

Executive Summary                                                                               2

Chapter 1                                                                                       8
Introduction           Exploitation of Wild Horses and Burros Prompted Federal

                       BLM’s Wild Horse Program                                                11
                       Related GAO Products                                                    18
                       Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                      18

Chapter 2                                                                                      21
Wild Horse Removals    BLM Lacks Adequate Data to Make Informed Wild Horse
                           Removal Decisions
Need to Be Linked to   Basis for BLM’s Wild Horse Removals Is Inappropriate                    22
Rangeland Conditions   Wild Horse Removals Have Not Significantly Improved                     24
                           Range Conditions
                       Recent Wild Horse Removal Levels Have Exceeded                          26
                           Disposal Capabilities
                       Conclusims                                                              26
                       Recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior                        27
                       Agency Comments and GAO Response                                        27

Chapter 3                                                                                      29
Fee-Waiver Adoptions   Increasing the Number of Wild Horses Removed From the
                            Range Led BLM to Authorize Fee-Waiver Program
Led to Inhumane        Many Fee-Waiver Horses Treated Inhumanely                               30
Treatment and          Thousands of Horses Sent to Slaughter After Title Passed                31
                       Conclusions                                                             33
Commercial             Recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior                         33
Exploitation           Agency Comments and GAO Response                                        33

Chapter 4                                                                                      34
Continuing Problems    Sanctuaries More Costly Than Originally Thought
                       Halter Training Program Can Be Made More Cost-
With Wild Horse             Effective
Disposal Activities    Alternative Disposal Options May Need to Be Considered                  39
                       Conclusions                                                             40
                       Recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior                        40
                       Agency Comments and GAO Response                                        41

                       Page 6                                GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management

Appendixes   Appendix I: Comments From the Department of the                          42
             Appendix II: Major Contributors to This Report                           68

Figures      Figure 1.1: Wild Horses in Nevada                                         9
             Figure 1.2: General Areas of Wild Horse and Burro Herds                  13
                  in the Western States
             Fig. 1.3: Locations Where Wild Horses Are Adopted by                     14
                  the Public
             Figure 1.4: Horses Taken From Round-Up Pens on Range                     16
                  to Preparation Center in Nevada
             Figure 1.6: BLM’s Removals of Wild Horses and Burros                     17
                  and Appropriations, 1983-1990


             AUM        Animal Unit Month
             BLM        Bureau of Land Management
             FLPMA      Federal Land Policy and Management Act
             GAO        General Accounting Office
             IRAM       Institute of Range and the American Mustang

             Page 7                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management


                       During this century, tens of thousands of wild horses have been either
                       killed or captured for slaughter on America’s western ranges. Public
                       concern about the fate of these animals led the Congress to pass the
                       Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Under the act, wild
                       horses and burros on federal rangelands were granted special protection
                       from abuse and commercial exploitation. The Department of the Inte-
                       rior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has lead responsibility for
                       managing these animals as a public lands resource.*

                       Wild horses on the western range are descended from horses brought to
Exploitation of Wild   the North American continent by Spanish explorers in the 16th century
Horses and Burros      (see fig. 1.1). Over time, stray domestic horses belonging to settlers and
Prompted Federal       Native Americans bred with the Spanish mustangs and, at the beginning
                       of the 20th century, an estimated 2 million wild horses roamed
Protection             America’s ranges. For many years, as human settlements and livestock
                       ranching expanded westward, these horses were freely exploited by (1)
                       ranchers who shot them to make room for cattle and sheep, (2) individ-
                       uals who captured them for domestic use and breeding, and (3)
                       profiteers who rounded-up large herds from the public lands for sale to

                       Documented abuses suffered by wild horses led concerned individuals
                       and national humane organizations to push for federal protection in the
                       1950s. In response, the Congress passed legislation in 1969 (18 U.S.C.
                       47) prohibiting the use of aircraft, motor vehicles, and poisoned water
                       holes to trap or kill wild horses on federal rangelands. Despite the act,
                       wild horse exploitation continued and, by 1971, the reported population
                       of wild horses on federal rangelands declined to about 9,500. Some ques-
                       tioned whether the population would eventually be eradicated.

                       ‘The act also protects wild horses and burros on national forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest
                       Service in the Department of Agriculture.

                       Page 8                                                 GAO/RCED@O-110 Rangeland Management
                                   Chapter 1

Figure 1.1: Wild Horme In Nevada

                                   Source: BLM.

                                   To ensure the survival of the wild horse herds, in 1971 the Congress
                                   enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (16 USC. 1331
                                   et seq.) declaring that

                                   “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer
                                   spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the
                                   Nation . . . and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the Amer-
                                   ican scene.”

                                   The act directed the Secretary of the Interior (this responsibility was
                                   internally delegated to BLM) to protect wild horses and burros from
                                   various types of abuse or death and to consider them in areas they were
                                   found as of 1971 as an integral part of the natural system of the public
                                   lands. Further, BLM was directed to manage them to achieve and main-
                                   tain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands. The act
                                   precludes managing wild horses and burros to areas outside of where
                                   they were found in 1971.

                                   Page 9                                        GAO/RCED-9SllO   Rangeland Management
Chapter 1

Soon after the act’s passage, more thorough BLM censuses revealed that
wild horse populations were much higher than the 9,600 previously
thought to exist. In the ensuing years, the focus of program debates
shifted from ensuring the continued survival of wild horses to deter-
mining the number that should remain on the public lands. On the one
hand, livestock permittees (ranchers who pay a fee to graze their live-
stock on public lands) and wildlife conservationists argued that lower
population levels should be maintained because horse populations were
damaging the range and displacing domestic livestock and various wild-
life species also competing for the limited available forage. Horse protec-
tion groups, on the other hand, argued for higher population levels on
the basis of their view that horses were not a major cause of the ongoing
degradation in public range resources.

Responding to deteriorating range conditions, the Congress enacted the
Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA, 43 U.S.C.
1701 et seq.). In FLPMA, the Congress directed BLM to scientifically
manage the rangelands under the principles of multiple use and sus-
tained yield. The act defined multiple use as the management of public
lands and their various resource values (fish and wildlife, livestock
grazing, mining, recreation, etc,) so that they are used in the combina-
tion that best meets the public’s present and future needs. The term sus-
tained yield means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a
high-level annual or regular periodic output of various renewable
resources. Under FLPMA, wild horses and burros are one of the resources
that BLM must balance as it manages the range.

FLPMA also directs BLM to conduct multiple-use and sustained- yield man-
agement through a land use planning process. Under the act, land use
plans should be based on scientific knowledge of conditions and result in
a management program that allows a judicious variety of uses while
protecting and even enhancing resources.

Because of continuing concerns over degradation of rangeland resources
and BLM'S implementation of the wild horse program, the Congress
amended the Wild Horses and Burros Act as part of the Public Range-
lands Improvement Act in 1978 (P.L. 96-514). These amendments
require BLM to maintain a current inventory of wild horses. They further
authorize BLM to remove wild horses deemed to be in excess of what the
range can support as documented in (1) land use plans completed under
FLPMA; (2) court-ordered environmental impact statements for the

Page 10                                  GAO/RCED-!Wl lO Rangeland Management
                   Chapter 1

                   grazing program; (3) information from a research program also estab-
                   lished in the act; or (4) absent any of those, on the basis of all informa-
                   tion currently available that excess animals need to be removed. Under
                   the act, removal actions are to be taken to “restore a thriving natural
                   ecological balance to the range, and protect the range from the deterio-
                   ration associated with overpopulation.” The amendments in part
                   defined excess animals as those that must be removed from an area in
                   order to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and
                   multiple-use relationship in that area. Thus, BLM'S management of wild
                   horse herd levels is to be directly linked to rangeland conditions and
                   carrying capacity2 for horses and other species, such as wildlife and
                   domestic livestock.

                   In 1986, the Congress directed BLM to accelerate the removal of wild
                   horses and burros from public rangelands. It took this action in response
                   to information from BLM that the population of wild horses and burros
                   exceeded the range’s carrying capacity and was threatening range
                   resources. Since that time, BLM has argued that high wild horse removal
                   levels are necessary to protect public rangeland resources from further

                   BLM manages all programs, including the wild horse program, under a
BLM’s Wild Horse   management philosophy of decentralized control, with as much
Program            authority and responsibility as possible delegated to lower operating
                   levels. BLM is organized with four levels of management, one in the
                   Washington, D.C., headquarters and three in field operations. The BLM
                   Director heads the agency, assisted by the program office-the Division
                   of Wild Horses and Burros in the Land and Renewable Resources direc-
                   torate. BLM headquarters oversees the program by developing policies,
                   guidance, procedures, regulations, and budget estimates and organizing
                   coordination workshops for the field offices.

                   BLM  field operations consist of state offices, district offices, and resource
                   area offices. BLM has 12 state offices, each managed by a state director.
                   State offices are responsible for providing statewide program direction,
                   oversight, and coordination of resource programs for federal lands
                   under BLM'S jurisdiction. Each state office has several district offices,
                   each managed by a district manager. Most district offices are respon-
                   sible for two or more resource areas. District offices provide oversight

                   “Carrying capacity refers to assessmentathat determine the consumption by wildlife, wild horses,
                   and livestock that available forage can support on a sustained-yield basis.

                   Page 11                                               GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 1

and support to their resource area offices. Resource area offices, each
managed by an area manager, are the primary field location for program
operations. In fiscal year 1990, the equivalent of 145 full-time
employees were expected to be employed to carry out the wild horse and
burro program in BLM headquarters and field offices.

Presently, BLM has identified 270 wild horse and burro herd areas in 10
western states, but it does not plan to manage any horses or burros on
68 of the areas.” (See fig. 1.2.) Almost all herd areas overlap areas where
domestic livestock graze under BLM permits or leases assigned to
ranchers, BLM'S rangeland is divided into 22,000 grazing allotments.4 In
1989, BLM reported a wild horse population of 41,774 on BLM lands with
74 percent located in Nevada and 10 percent located in Wyoming. The
Forest Service has less than 4 percent of the wild horse population on its

Through its land use planning process, BLM has determined that about
27,000 wild horses is the most appropriate population level for public
lands that BLM manages in the West.” Since it believes that about 42,000
wild horses currently roam the range, it has determined that about
15,000 horses are excess and need to be immediately removed.

Once excess wild horses are rounded up, they are disposed of in various
ways, Although most of these horses are removed from public lands in
Nevada, over two-thirds of those removed are offered for adoption by
BLM’S Eastern States Office and New Mexico State Office under the
agency’s Adopt-A-Horse program (see fig. 1.3.). Since program inception,
BLM has removed and disposed of more than 80,000 wild horses from the
federal rangelands.

The Adopt-A-Horse program allows individuals to take up to four horses
per year for $125 each. Since 1973, about 60,000 horses have been
adopted through this program. To improve the adoptability of older

“The 68 herd areas are generally located contiguous with privately owned lands. To avoid the
problem of removing wild horses that stray onto private lands, BLM designated these areas for com-
plete removal.
4Grazing allotments are designated areas of land available to ranchers with BLM permits or leases for
grazing specific numbers and kinds of livestock.
“The Forest Service administers 43 wild horse and burro herd areas. The act does not protect wild
horses found on other federal lands, such as military bases and national parks and refuges.

“Because wild burros populations total only about 11 percent of the wild population and few
problems have been reported with their adoption, this report deals primarily with wild horses.

Page 12                                                GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                                                 Chapter   1

Figure 1.2: General Areas of Wild Horse and Burro Herd8 in the Western State8



            ... .   l
                        Lands Managed by BLM
                        Major Wild Home Areas
            ooooo       Major Wild Burro Areas

                                                  Source: BLM.

                                                  Page 13                           GAO/RCED-W-110 Rangeland Management
                                                       Chapter 1

Fig. 1.3: Locations Where Wild Horses Are Adopted by the Public

                     A    \r/r               Arizona


           Adopllon Sslellites In New Mexico
           and Eastern State8 Oltic63 in FY 1998                        ‘..

           Prison Halter.Tralnlng Centers

  :        Permanent Adoption Centers
           (BLM and Contract)
  -        BLM State Ollice Administrative

           New Mexico
           State Oll~co
  f!&g     Eastern States Ollice

                                                       horses, BLM has since 1986 sent these horses to various state prisons so
                                                       that prison inmates can train and “gentle” them before adoption.

                                                       Page 14                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 1

Because of a growing backlog of wild horses in BLM holding facilities,
BLM initiated the so-called “fee-waiver”  adoption program in 1984. This
program allowed individuals, and Native American tribes under power-
of-attorney arrangements, to take, free-of-charge, wild horses deter-
mined by BLM to be unadoptable because of age or physical imperfec-
tions. After a l-year waiting period, the fee-waiver adopters obtained
titles on the horses from BLM. Under this program, BLM disposed of about
20,000 horses, surpassing adoptions under the Adopt-A-Horse program
in 1987, In September 1988, BLM terminated the program in response to
intense public and congressional criticism.

Following the termination of the fee-waiver program, BLM turned to a
second alternative for disposing of wild horses deemed to be unadopt-
able. This alternative involves placing wild horses in private sanc-
tuaries. Wild horse sanctuaries are designed to provide unadoptable
horses humane, life-long care in a natural setting off the public range-
lands. Unlike the fee-waiver program, BLM retains title to the horses in
the sanctuary and shares in the costs of their maintenance.

Excess horses can travel through a complicated “pipeline” before adop-
tion or placement in a private sanctuary. At various stops in the pipe-
line, BLM must incur costs for the animals’ care and to assure that they
are humanely treated. For example, after rounding up several hundred
wild horses in Nevada, they are taken by truck to BLM'S initial prepara-
tion center near Reno, Nevada, where they are separated by sex into
holding corrals (see fig. 1.4). All horses receive immediate veterinary
examination, vaccinations, and other treatment, are branded with an
identification number, and then are held for a few weeks until they are
strong enough to be shipped out. From here, the horses can be trans-
ported by truck to holding and halter training sites before being sent to
adoption or sanctuary.

Page 15                                    GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                                         Chapter 1

Flgure 1.4: Horres Taken From Round-Up
Pens on Range to Preparation Center in

                                         -.        -.
                                         Source: BLM.

                                         Page 16        GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                                        Chapter 1

                                        In fiscal year 1989, the Congress directed BLM to establish an advisory
                                        group to assist BLM in its wild horses and burros program. BLM plans to
                                        have this advisory group functioning in 1990. The group will gather and
                                        analyze information, make studies, and hear public testimony in order to
                                        offer advice and develop recommendations for the Secretary of the Inte-
                                        rior and BLM'S Director to consider.

                                        From 1985 through 1989, BLM'S total program costs have averaged
                                        $1,500 for each horse removed from the range. In fiscal years 1985
                                        through 1989, BLM was appropriated about $81 million to remove and
                                        dispose of 53,925 wild horses and burros and has budgeted another
                                        $13.4 million to remove and dispose of 8,700 more animals in fiscal year
                                        1990. (See fig. 1.5.)

Figure 1.5: BLM’s Removals of Wild
Horses and Burros and Appropriations,
                                        20000   $(thousands)iHon      and burros removed


                                            1963           1964         1925          1986    1987      1986       1969       lsa0
                                            Fiscal Years

                                                   -       $Appropriations
                                                   -1-1    Horse and Burro Removals

                                        Page 17                                              GAO/RCED-90-110 Raugeland Management
                        Chapter 1

                        In the past, GAO has reported that overgrazing is damaging a large por-
Related GAO Products    tion of the public’s land. Over half of the public rangelands remain in
                        unsatisfactory condition, and about one out of every five public range-
                        land grazing allotments is threatened with further deterioration7 The
                        condition of riparian areas-those ecologically critical zones bordering
                        rivers, streams, lakes, and bogs-is even worse. Many thousands of
                        miles of streams have degraded riparian areas needing improvementH

                        Wild horse and burro populations consume forage on the public range-
                        lands and consequently contribute to the overgrazing problem. However,
                        as we have noted in previous testimony,” the primary cause of the deg-
                        radation in rangeland resources is poorly managed domestic livestock
                        (primarily cattle and sheep) grazing. When more animals are allowed to
                        graze in an area than the land can support, forage consumption exceeds
                        the regenerative capacity of the natural vegetation, resulting in erosion,
                        watershed damage, and other deterioration. Although recognizing that
                        overgrazing was occurring, BLM range managers reported that no adjust-
                        ments in the authorized livestock grazing levels were scheduled in 75
                        percent of the allotments threatened with further damage. These man-
                        agers cited insufficient data on specific range conditions and resistance
                        by livestock permittees as the primary reasons why action had not been

                        As we further testified, BLM has been more concerned with the imme-
                        diate needs of livestock interests or budget reductions than with
                        ensuring the long-term health of the range. We further stated that a fun-
                        damental change in the agency’s management approach and orientation
                        is necessary if substantive progress is to be made.

                        In response to congressional inquiries reflecting concern over various
Objectives, Scope,and   aspects of BLM’S management of its wild horse program, we began a
Methodology             programwide review in February 1988. Our work evaluated (1) BLM'S
                        basis for determining the number of wild horses to remove from the
                        public range, (2) the treatment of wild horses removed from the range

                                       anagement: More Emphasis Needed on Declining and Overstocked Grazing Allotments

                        ‘Public Rangeland: Some Riparian Areas Restored But Widespread Improvement Will Be Slow (GAO/
                               - 8 _106, June 30,1988).

                        ‘Change in Approach Needed to Improve the Bureau of Land Management’s Oversight of Public
                        Lands (GAO/T-Rm-89-23,    April 11,1989).

                        Page 18                                              GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 1

and adopted in large numbers, and (3) the cost-effectiveness of several
aspects of BLM’Swild horse disposal program.

To determine RIJJ’Sbasis for removing wild horses from public range-
lands, we focused on Nevada and Wyoming which together have about
84 percent of BLM'S wild horse population. We examined BLM'S wild horse
and range management in four districts and resource areas in Nevada
and one district and resource area in Wyoming that encompass 46 wild
horse herd areas. We reviewed various documents, such as the legisla-
tive history, regulations, policies, internal guidance, and range manage-
ment plans to determine the basis for both livestock and wild horse
management levels. We interviewed BLM officials at various levels about
the range management program.

To evaluate the treatment of wild horses removed from the range and
adopted in large numbers, we focused on BLM'S fee-waiver adoption pro-
gram. We did not evaluate the treatment of wild horses and burros
adopted under BLM'S full-fee adoption program. We concentrated prima-
rily on BLM'S Montana State Office which had placed almost 60 percent
of the fee-waiver adoptions and had given thousands of horses to Native
American tribes, and reviewed selected fee-waiver adoptions in Wyo-
ming and New Mexico. In the BLM Montana State Office, we reviewed
relevant documents and interviewed BLM officials in the state office, two
district offices, and two resource area offices. To determine if fee-
waivered wild horses were commercially exploited, we obtained records
from and interviewed buyers and managers at horse slaughterhouses
and livestock sales barns in South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, and
Canada. We also interviewed livestock brand inspectors in Montana,
North Dakota, and South Dakota.

To determine the cost-effectiveness of BLM'S halter training program, we
examined BLM'S New Mexico and Colorado state offices’ cooperative
agreements with state correctional agencies to train 2,000 wild horses at
4 state prisons. We reviewed documents and interviewed BLM officials in
both state offices and two district offices. We also reviewed documents
and interviewed officials with the state correctional agencies. To
observe operations, we visited the prisons in Santa Fe and Los Lunas,
New Mexico and Canon City, Colorado.

To assess the cost-effectiveness of sanctuaries, we reviewed the agree-
ments as well as documents on the sanctuaries and discussed various
matters with RLMofficials in Washington, D.C., the Montana State Office,
and the South Dakota resource area. We visited two sanctuary sites to

Page 19                                 GAO/RCED-99-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 1

view pasture conditions and the facilities to maintain horses, We dis-
cussed concerns about sanctuary lands leased from the Rosebud Sioux
tribe with officials from Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. We inter-
viewed state and other officials about procedures for caring for the
horses, fund-raising, and operating the sanctuary without BLM funding.

We obtained official comments on a draft of this report from BLM. Its
comments are included as appendix I. We conducted our review between
February 1988 and November 1989 in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards.

Page 20                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 2

Wild Horse RemovalsNeedto Be Linked to

                      BLM  decisions on how many wild horses to remove from federal range-
                      lands have been made without benefit of solid information concerning
                      range carrying capacity or the impact of wild horses on range condi-
                      tions. Instead, its decisions have reflected either the desire to achieve
                      perceived historic wild horse population levels or deference to advisory
                      groups largely comprised of livestock permittees. As a result, BLM’S wild
                      horse removals have not produced appreciable improvements in range
                      conditions and have exceeded the disposal capacity of BLM’S basic adop-
                      tion program. Future wild horse removal decisions need to be considered
                      in the context of a broader strategy of range improvements based on
                      accurate carrying capacity and range condition data.

                      Establishing levels of forage consumption that do not overtax the land
BLM Lacks Adequate    (carrying capacity) and measuring actual consumption to ensure that
Data to Make          such capacity is not being exceeded are critical steps in prudent range
Informed Wild Horse   management. When more animals (domestic livestock, wildlife, and wild
                      horses) graze the federal range than the land can sustain, degradation is
Removal Decisions     inevitable. While important to the balanced management of all animals
                      sharing the range’s resources, the mandates of the wild horse act make
                      data on carrying capacity and the impact of wild horses on range
                      resources essential to the management of wild horses. Under the act
                      horses are to be removed from the range to “restore a thriving ecological
                      balance” -a condition that cannot be known without these data. Given
                      this mandate and the substantial costs associated with wild horse
                      round-up and disposal, accurate up-to-date information on the range’s
                      ability to sustain wild horse grazing must be available for each herd
                      area to make rational wild horse removal decisions. Removing more
                      horses than is necessary wastes federal funds, removing less than is
                      warranted by range conditions contributes to continued resource deteri-
                      oration and, depending on horse reproduction rates, can lead to higher
                      removal costs in the future.

                      Reasonably current carrying capacity data are, however, frequently not
                      available within BLM. As we reported in our June 1988 report on range
                      conditions, carrying capacities have not been assessed for 30 percent of
                      BLM grazing allotments in over 20 years. Another 11 percent of the car-
                      rying capacity assessments are between 10 and 20 years old. The value
                      of information this old is questionable.

                      The availability of carrying capacity data in the BLM resource areas we
                      visited with large wild horse populations was consistent with the BLM-

                      Page 21                                 GAO/RCJSD-90-110 Rangeland Management
                       chapter 2
                       Wild Home Removal@ Need to Be Linked to
                       Rangeland Conditions

                       wide picture we reported on earlier. For the 6 BLM resource areas cov-
                       ering 46 herd areas we visited, 3 had not assessed carrying capacities
                       for over 20 years, and 1 had not assessed carrying capacities in over 10
                       years. The one area where carrying capacity data was only 6 years old
                       did not use the data to set target wild horse population levels and hence
                       the number of horses to be removed to achieve those levels.

                       One difficulty facing BLM in determining the impact of wild horses is dis-
                       tinguishing among forage consumption by species, While existing range-
                       land monitoring techniques can measure such things as actual grazing
                       use, percentage consumption of key plant species, and changes in range
                       conditions over time, existing practices did not distinguish forage con-
                       sumption among wild horses, domestic livestock, and wildlife species.
                       BLM field staff report monitoring techniques are difficult, but not impos-
                       sible, to practice in many herd areas. Since in many herd areas wild
                       horses coexist with livestock, this distinction is critical in determining
                       the appropriate mix of animals on the range as well as the species-spe-
                       cific actions to be taken in responding to degraded range conditions.

                       Despite lacking adequate data on the number of wild horses the land can
                       support, BLM has proceeded with removing the horses. For example, on
                       at least two occasions, BLM'S Nevada State Office concluded that avail-
                       able data were not adequate to justify removing wild horses; however,
                       in both instances BLM'S responsible district and resource area offices
                       chose not to revise their plans to remove horses in their areas. In con-
                       trast, BLM has frequently used the lack of detailed carrying capacity and
                       range monitoring data to explain why it has not taken action to reduce
                       widely recognized overgrazing by domestic livestock.

                       Without accurate and reasonably up-to-date carrying capacity data, BLM
Basis for BLM’s Wild   has based its wild horse removal decisions on either (1) the desire to
Horse Removals Is      achieve perceived historic population levels or (2) recommendations
Inappropriate          from BLM advisory groups largely comprised of livestock permittees. The
                       first basis was set aside by the Interior Board of Land Appeals as being
                       contrary to the requirements of the wild horse act.’ The second basis is,
                       at a minimum, not consistent with balanced stewardship of range
                       resources and reinforces the image of undue deference to livestock inter-
                       ests that we have discussed in previous reports and testimonies.

                       ‘The Interior Board of Land Appeals, part of the Office of Hearings and Appeals, haa quasi-judicial
                       and appellate responsibilities for the Department of the Interior. The Board of Land Appeals renders
                       decisions on BLM cases.

                       Page 2 2                                               GAO/RCED-S&l 10 Rangeland Management
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Wfld Horee Removals Need to Re Linked to
Rangeland Ckmditiona

We found that BLhI set the target population levels for wild horses (and
thereby the number of horses that should be removed to achieve those
levels) in 38 of the 43 herd areas in Nevada and 1 of the 3 herd areas in
Wyoming on the basis of herd populations it believed to exist as far back
as 19’71. None were based on estimated herd populations more recent
than 1983.

For example, in a 1987 herd management plan, BLM set the wild horse
population in six Nevada herd areas at the estimated 1974 population
level of 877 horses, thus reducing the herds by 42 percent from their
estimated 1982 population of 1,506 horses. Similarly, the wild horse
population level for one Wyoming herd area was set to fluctuate
between 90 and 186 horses on the basis of the herd’s estimated size in
1971 of 70 horses.

This basis was rejected by Interior’s Board of Land Appeals. In 1988,
BLM proposed to reduce the combined wild horse herds in 18 areas in
Nevada from about 10,000 to less than 3,000 horses. An animal protec-
tion group challenged the planned removals claiming that BLM lacked
quantitative data linking wild horses to deteriorated range conditions
(the required basis for horse removals established in the wild horse act).
In June 1989, the Board ruled that in the absence of evidence that wild
horse removals would result in a thriving natural ecological balance or
avoid further deterioration of the range, a wild horse level “established
purely for administrative reasons because it was the level of wild horse
use at a particular point in time cannot be justified under the statute.”

BLM also sometimes deferred its horse removal decisions to advisory
groups comprised primarily of livestock permittees. In Nevada, BLM
established target wild horse population levels on this basis in eight
herd areas. Since livestock permittees have a vested interest in keeping
wild horse populations low to reduce competition for forage for their
livestock, setting horse removal levels on the basis of their views may
not be appropriate.

The advisory committees’ membership sometimes included wild horse
advocacy groups but these groups typically had little influence on the
committee’s ultimate decisions, according to BLM officials and wild horse
advocates. For example, in 1982 two groups advocating wild horse inter-
ests quit the advisory committee working with BLM to establish target
wild horse population levels for six Nevada herd areas. According to one
member, she concluded that BLM was predisposed to satisfying domestic

Page 23                                    GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                         chapter 2
                         Wild Horse Removals Need to Be Linked to
                         Rangeland Conditione

                         livestock interests and that continued service on the committee served
                         little purpose.

                         Despite nearly 2 decades of BLM efforts to remove wild horses from fed-
Wild Horse Removals      era1 rangelands, we reported in June 1988 that about 60 percent of BLM
Have Not Significantly    11t
                         a o ments, where conditions were known, were in unsatisfactory condi-
Improved Range           tion. Further, nearly 78 percent of the allotments where trend informa-
                         tion was available were either stable or declining further. With such a
Conditions               negative picture of overall range conditions, wild horse removals have
                         not been sufficient to restore federal rangelands as a whole to a thriving
                         condition. Further, BLM could not provide us with data to demonstrate
                         where horse removals have materially improved the specific areas from
                         which they have been removed.

                         Wild horse removals have not demonstrably improved range conditions
                         for several reasons. First, wild horses are vastly outnumbered on fed-
                         eral rangelands by domestic livestock. In fiscal year 1988, about 4.1 mil-
                         lion domestic livestock graze BLM allotments compared to an estimated
                         42,000 wild horses, In total, the domestic livestock consume 20 times
                         more forage than wild horses. Even substantial reductions in wild horse
                         populations will, therefore, not substantially reduce total forage

                         Second, wild horse behavior patterns make the horses somewhat less
                         damaging than cattle to especially vulnerable range areas, Available
                         horse behavior studies demonstrate that, unlike cattle which concen-
                         trate in lower elevations, wild horses range widely throughout both
                         steep, hilly terrain and lower more level areas. Range conditions in the
                         steeper hillier areas where cattle do not frequent are generally better
                         than in lower areas. Reducing wild horse populations in these areas has
                         been shown by experience to have a negligible effect on the resource. In
                         the lower level areas, especially ecologically important riparian areas
                         adjoining streams and other water sources, cattle do more damage
                         because they tend to “camp” in the areas instead of watering and
                         moving on. As we reported in our June 1988 report on riparian area
                         management, poorly managed domestic livestock grazing is the primary
                         cause of damaged riparian areas. In these areas, wild horse removals
                         can be helpful but without improved domestic livestock management as
                         well, the overgrazing problem cannot be solved.

                         Third, wild horse removals have taken place in some locations not being
                         damaged by widespread overgrazing. For example, in Wyoming, a horse

                         Page 24                                    GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
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Wild Horse Removals Need to Be Linked to
Rangeland Conditions

protection group wrote BLM in 1983 asking why so many wild horses
were being removed from a particular herd area when a BLM draft envi-
ronmental impact statement showed that the area was not damaged by
widespread overgrazing. BLM'S 1983 final environmental impact state-
ment for this area agreed that widespread overgrazing was not a
problem but stated that the herd reduction from an estimated 1,464 to
470 horses was based on a need to alleviate “isolated” overgrazing
around water resources. Other BLM documentation, however, attributed
the riparian-area problems in this location to overgrazing by domestic
livestock, not wild horses.

Fourth, in many areas where wild horse removals have taken place, BLM
authorized livestock grazing levels have either not been reduced or have
been increased thereby largely negating any reduction in forage con-
sumption. For example, BLM removed 349 wild horses (or an equivalent
of 4,188 AUMS" ) from one Nevada herd area in 1986 and then approved
a temporary increase of 2,266 AUMS for livestock in the same area in
1987. Similarly, a state office technical review of a district’s 1988
assessment of another Nevada herd area’s range condition showed
extensive overgrazing. The state office’s technical staff recommended
removing 176 wild horses and in addition reducing livestock grazing by
almost 80 percent. Although BLM'S district office plans to remove the
wild horses, it does not plan to make any reduction in the permittee’s
authorized livestock grazing level since its conclusion is that wild horses
caused the resource damage.

In another instance, BLM removed over 2,800 wild horses from a herd      .
area over 4 years based, in part, on a Nevada district court’s ruling in
favor of a permittee that wild horses were overgrazing the range thus
depriving him of his allocated forage and other range resources. After
the horses were removed, BLM found that the permittee’s authorized
livestock grazing level continued to result in damage to the range and
stated that livestock grazing should be reduced by 18 percent to correct
the problem. However, BLM has no current plans to reduce the per-
mittee’s authorized grazing level. Instead more range monitoring data
will be collected and analyzed by BLM to strengthen support for negoti-
ating grazing reductions with the permittee sometime in the future.

"AUM (animal unit month) refers to the amount of forage needed to sustain an adult cow or horse for
one month.

Page 26                                               GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                      Wild Horse Removala Need to Be Linked to
                      Rangeland Conditiona

                      It is apparent that wild horse removals alone will not generate the wide-
                      spread range improvement that is so badly needed. More intensive live-
                      stock management and reductions in authorized livestock grazing levels
                      must also be pursued if range conditions are to improve significantly.
                      Moreover, reducing authorized grazing levels would likely be cheaper
                      than wild horse removals to achieve the same reduction in forage con-
                      sumption BLM'S domestic livestock grazing management program cur-
                      rently operates at a substantial loss. In 1989, livestock operators paid a
                      fee of $1.86 per AUM (reduced to $1.81 in 1990) compared with BLM'S
                      program costs of $3.62 per AUM. Reducing the size of the domestic live-
                      stock grazing program could, if accompanied by proportionate reduc-
                      tions in management costs, generate significant savings. Further,
                      livestock reductions made in place of wild horse removals would save
                      the substantial expense of rounding up and disposing of the horses.

                      Between 1973 and 1984, BLM removed from the federal range an average
Recent Wild Horse     of about 4,300 horses each year. Since this number of horses was rou-
Removal Levels Have   tinely disposed of through BLM'S Adopt-A-Horse program, few horses
Exceeded Disposal     remained in holding facilities for extended periods. By 1985, however,
                      horse removal levels quadrupled to 17,400 horses. The adoption pro-
Capabilities          gram could not handle this many horses and a large backlog of horses in
                      holding facilities began to build, increasing program costs and gener-
                      ating the need to develop mass disposal alternatives, such as fee-waiver
                      adoptions and sanctuaries, that are discussed in subsequent chapters.

                      In its fiscal year 1991 budget justification, BLM has recognized that in
                      the past it has removed more horses than could be adopted. In 1991, BLhI
                      plans to remove only 4,900 adoptable horses from the range, down from
                      17,400 removed in 1986 and about 8,700 in 1990. It expects 6,100 wild
                      horses to be adopted during the year, up about 1,775 from actual 1989

                      With nearly 60 percent of federal rangelands in unsatisfactory condi-
Conclusions           tion, improvements are needed. In this context, wild horse removals
                      based on reliable carrying capacity and range condition data make
                      sense. However, our work during this and several previous reviews dem-
                      onstrates that reliance on wild horse removals alone to improve range
                      conditions cannot work. Since domestic livestock substantially out-
                      number wild horses on federal rangelands and are a primary cause of
                      range deterioration, any strategy for rangeland improvement must also
                      include plans for improving the management of livestock to give the

                      Page 20                                    GAO/RCED-90-l 10 Rangeland Management
                           chapter 2
                           Wild Horse Removal8 Need to Be Linked to
                           Rangeland Conditions

                           native vegetation more opportunity to grow and as necessary reducing
                           authorized livestock grazing levels.

                           Since wild horse removal and livestock grazing reduction decisions need
                           to be based on reasonably up to date carrying capacity and range condi-
                           tion data, efforts to develop these data need to move ahead without
                           delay. Moreover, once data are developed, we believe BLM needs to
                           pursue the actions suggested by the data, both for wild horses and
                           domestic livestock. Wild horse removal levels based on these data may
                           be less than historic levels. To this end, we believe BLM'S decision to
                           manage wild horse removals on the basis of the number that can be
                           adopted is prudent.

                           To place BLM'S wild horse removal process in the context of a more
Recommendationsto          rational strategy of range improvement, we recommend that the Secre-
the Secretary of the       tary of the Interior direct the Director of BLM to take the following
Interior                   actions.

                       . Expeditiously develop carrying capacity and range condition data in
                         wild horse herd areas.
                       . In locations where these data indicate that grazing-related damage is
                         occurring, BLM should incorporate the requirement for intensive live-
                         stock management techniques in permit conditions to reduce the impact
                         of this grazing on the range’s resources. Where necessary and appro-
                         priate, BLM should also remove wild horses and reduce authorized
                         domestic livestock grazing levels on the basis of the relative numbers of
                         each species on the range.
                       l After initial population adjustments are made, conduct continued moni-
                         toring to maintain wild horse and domestic livestock population levels
                         consistent with what the land can support.

                           BLM agreed with our recommendations to develop range condition data
Agency Comments and        in wild horse herd areas and conduct continued monitoring. BLM dis-
GAO Response               agreed, however, with a recommendation in a draft of this report that
                           wild horses be removed and the levels of authorized domestic livestock
                           grazing be reduced in proportion to the amount of forage each is con-
                           suming and the amount of damage each is causing.

                           BLM commented that (1) there are other reasons for removing wild
                           horses even when overgrazing by them is not indicated and (2) there are
                           other “less drastic” management techniques that can be applied to

                           Page 27                                    GAO/RCED-99-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 2
Wild Horse RemovalsNeed to Be Linked to
Rangeland Conditions

domestic livestock (but not wild horses) that can improve resource con-
ditions without reducing authorized grazing levels. Among the tech-
niques BLM cited were installation of range improvements, changes in
grazing season, and institution of rest/rotation grazing systems.

We recognize that wild horses may sometimes have to be removed from
the range for reasons other than overgrazing. However, wild horse
removals have historically been justified by BLM on the basis of reducing
the horses’ effects on the range. In the areas we examined, removals
were generally done to achieve population targets set at historic levels,
not to alleviate local range problems. Removals for the alternative rea-
sons cited by BLM have not been a significant factor.

We also recognize that more intensive livestock management can yield
important improvements in range conditions and have revised our rec-
ommendation to state that more intensive livestock management should
be a part of an overall range management strategy and that BLM should
use these range improvement techniques as appropriate. However, as
BLM staff have noted, many range areas are overstocked; more animals
are consuming range resources than the range can support. In these
instances, the number of animals consuming the forage needs to be
reduced. When wild horses and domestic livestock occupy the same
range areas, BLM states that it is often impossible to distinguish between
their impacts. While BLM field staff believe that range monitoring tech-
niques can distinguish the different effects of wild horses and livestock
on range conditions, we recognize this is difficult to practice. Accord-
ingly, we have revised our recommendations to state that necessary
reductions in grazing activity should be accomplished in proportion to
total numbers of each species.

Page 28                                   GAO/RCED-99-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 3

Fee-WaiverAdoptions Led to Inhumane
Treatment and CommercialExploitation

                        By 1986, BLM was removing thousands more wild horses yearly from the
                        range than its adoption program could absorb. Faced with the escalating
                        costs of maintaining these excess horses in holding facilities, the agency
                        resorted to placing large numbers with individuals and Native American
                        tribes under its so-called fee-waiver program. From 1984 through Sep-
                        tember 1988, BLM placed about 20,000 wild horses it deemed unadopt-
                        able with 79 individuals and 4 Native American tribes each of whom
                        received from 16 to 2,456 wild horses. We found that hundreds of these
                        horses died of starvation and dehydration during the l-year probation
                        period and that many adopters, primarily ranchers and farmers in the
                        midwestern and Great Plains states, sold thousands more to slaughter
                        after obtaining title from BLM.

                        BLM terminated the program in September 1988 after negative publicity
                        and pressure from the Congress. It has not, however, rescinded the regu-
                        lations authorizing such adoptions.

                        Until about 1982, adoption demand was sufficient to absorb the wild
Increasing the Number   horses annually removed from public rangelands, and animals were not
of Wild Horses          maintained in holding facilities for long periods of time. However, in
Removed From the        1982 BLM began increasing the number of wild horses removed from
                        public rangelands. By the end of fiscal year 1985, almost 10,000
Range Led BLM to        unadopted wild horses were being maintained in holding facilities after
Authorize Fee-Waiver    removing about 17,400 wild horses from the range that year. Because
                        horses were remaining, BLM had to contract for more holding facilities
Program                 and had no expectation that the horses would be adopted in the foresee-
                        able future.

                        In response to the escalating costs of maintaining excess horses, BLM
                        revised its regulations in 19841 to allow BLM'S Director to reduce or
                        waive the normal fee of $125 per animal. To qualify for the fee-waiver
                        program, BLM'S policy was to require fee-waiver adopters to take a min-
                        imum of 100 horses, with a few exceptions.” BLM'S regulations also
                        allowed individuals to sign powers-of-attorney to enable another indi-
                        vidual (the agent) to receive delivery of more horses than he or she
                        would otherwise be entitled.

                        ‘43 C.F.R. 4760.4-2(b) was an emergency rulemaking in 1984. The rulemaking became final in April
                        1986 when BLM completed revision of its wild horse and burro regulations (43 C.F.R. 4700).

                        tiThe wild horse act, as amended in 1978, and BLM’s regulations limit adopters to no more than four
                        horses per year unless BLM expressly determines that an individual is capable of humanely caring
                        for more. The legislative history indicates that restricting adopters to four animals per year was to
                        discourage potential commercial exploitation or abuse possible with large groups of horses.

                        Page 29                                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                  Chapter 3
                  Fee-Waiver Adoptions Led to Inhumane
                  Treatment and Commercial Exploitation

                  Under its regulations, BLM was to screen fee-waiver applicants to assure
Many Fee-Waiver   that they were capable of humanely caring for the horses and under-
Horses Treated    stood their responsibility for the horses’ welfare. BLM was also required
Inhumanely        to inspect the applicants’ facilities to assure that they could humanely
                  support the horses during a l-year probation period. After the horses
                  were delivered, BLM was to periodically inspect actual conditions to
                  verify that the horses were receiving humane care and that the titles
                  could appropriately be issued at the end of the l-year probation period.
                  However, BLM did not always comply with its regulations and internal
                  guidance for approving and monitoring fee-waiver adoptions, resulting
                  in the inhumane treatment and death of over 360 horses during the l-
                  year probation period.

                  For example, as part of its required applicant screening process man-
                  dated by a 1983 legal settlement, BLM is required to conduct telephone
                  surveys of all individuals signing powers-of-attorney to verify that they
                  are suitable and explain to them their responsibility for the horses’ wel-
                  fare.:’ However, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation report of
                  a 1987 fee-waiver adoption in Sheyenne, North Dakota, BLM did not con-
                  duct the required telephone survey of Native American tribal members
                  who signed blank power-of-attorney forms without knowing what they
                  were signing. BLM terminated this fee-waiver adoption only after over
                  100 of the horses had died of starvation and dehydration.

                  In another fee-waiver adoption to three individuals based in Fordyce,
                  Nebraska, 140 to 160 of the wild horses delivered died during the l-year
                  probation periodq4 Two of the facilities approved by BLM were later
                  found during BLM inspections to lack adequate forage, water, and
                  shelter. Over 30 deaths were reported within 10 weeks after the horses
                  arrived at the two facilities. A veterinarian hired by BLM to autopsy car-
                  casses at one of the facilities reported that the horses had died of star-
                  vation and dehydration and that the remaining horses were in
                  immediate jeopardy. Yet, BLM never implemented his recommendation to
                  supply the horses with supplemental hay. Less than 1 month later, 40
                  more horses were reported dead, but BLM took no action. When the sur-
                  viving horses were finally gathered so that titles could be issued, about
                  450 of the original 600 horses remained.

                  “American Horse Protection Association, v. Watt, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, July
                  8, 1983. BLM’s Washington Office distributed copies of the settlement’s detailed steps for conducting
                  large-scale power-of-attorney adoptions to all field offices in July 1983 and revised its program gui-
                  dance in August 1983 to incorporate these requirements.

                  4BLM’s fee-waiver agreement was with the business formed by three individuals. One acted as power-
                  of-attorney for each of the 160 adopters.

                  Page 30                                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                      Chapter 3
                      FeeWaiver Adoptions Led to Inhumane
                      Treatment and Commercial Exploitation

                      We asked BLM officials why they chose to take no corrective action.
                      Explanations ranged from a lack of clear guidance from BLM manage-
                      ment, to the expense associated with repossessing the horses, to the
                      belief that BLM had done nothing improper.

                      By its very design the fee-waiver program was a prescription for com-
Thousands of Horses   mercial exploitation of wild horses. BLM and US. Attorney officials in
Sent to Slaughter     Montana as well as buyers and state regulators of commercial horse
After Title Passed    meat business widely agreed that there was no other practical use for
                      large numbers of fee-waivered wild horses than to sell them as soon as
                      possible. As was predicted, our work confirmed that thousands of fee-
                      waivered horses were sent to slaughter soon after title passed.

                      Four slaughterhouses in Nebraska and Texas provided us 3,75 1 titles
                      that they obtained when they bought wild horses from fee-waiver
                      agents. From these, we learned that the fee-waiver agents associated
                      with these titles sold up to 99 percent of their wild horses, many within
                      30 days of title issuance. Although not maintaining records as detailed
                      as the plants we visited, officials and buyers for other plants in the
                      United States and Canada told us that they had also bought and slaugh-
                      tered thousands of fee-waivered horses.

                      In July 1987 a federal District Court ruled that BLM could not issue titles
                      to fee-waiver agents who express an intent to sell wild horses for
                      slaughter.” BLM made efforts to establish the intent of fee-waiver agents
                      applying for title when it had evidence that the agents intended to sell
                      the horses. These efforts, however, were not effective in preventing the
                      subsequent slaughter of the horses. For example, in November 1987, the
                      son of a Watford City, North Dakota, fee-waiver agent (who kept the
                      112 wild horses on his ranch) was quoted in North Dakota papers that
                      he planned to turn at least 72 “. . . into dog food . . . or make steak for
                      Europeans.” In response, BLM initially planned to deny the agent titles,
                      but after the agent disassociated himself from his son’s statements, BLM
                      issued the titles in July 1988. An inspection official and a buyer for a
                      Canadian slaughterhouse stated that the agent and/or his son sold at
                      least 82 of the horses for slaughter by the fall of 1988.

                      In another instance, BLM learned through bankruptcy court proceedings
                      that a fee-waiver agent in Berthold, North Dakota, intended to sell 296

                      “Animal Protection Institute of America v. Hodel(671 F. Supp. 695 D. Nev., 1987). This ruling was
                      upheld on appeal from BLM (U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, October 31, 1988).

                      Page 31                                               GAO/RCED-30-110 Rangeland Management
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Fee-Waiver Adoptions Led to Inhumane
Treatment and Commercial Exploitation

wild horses. When faced with the possible denial of titles, the agent
wrote BLM stating his intent to use the herd for breeding purposes. How-
ever, court records that we obtained from BLM files indicate that as late
as December 1987 he intended to sell the horses to slaughter to produce
$150,000 in income during 1988 and 1989. In March 1988, BLM'S district
manager concluded that there was no evidence that the agent intended
to sell the horses for slaughter. After the agent obtained the titles in
May 1988, he sold at least 122 of the horses for slaughter during the
subsequent 8 months.

Two other cases involved a fee-waiver agent in Morrison, Oklahoma, and
a Native American tribe in South Dakota. During September through
November 1988, we obtained testimonial evidence corroborated by
copies of titles from slaughterhouses, buyers, and brand inspection offi-
cials that these agents had sold about 678 wild horses for slaughter and
had 394 untitled horses remaining in their custody. We provided this
information to BLM. However, BLM subsequently issued titles on 385 of
these horses between December 1988 and July 1989. Through April
1989, at least 234 of these horses were sold and slaughtered.

Before issuing titles to the agent in Morrison, Oklahoma, Interior’s Asso-
ciate Solicitor for Energy and Resources wrote him on behalf of BLM in
December 1988 asking him to inform BLM concerning what he intended
to do with the horses after receiving title. The agent wrote BLM in Jan-
uary 1989 that he did “. . . not intend to use or exploit said horses for
commercial purposes,” but would market them for personal or ranch
use. However, 7 days after BLM issued the titles on February 17, 1989,
the agent sold about 140 of the horses to a slaughterhouse. An official
from the slaughterhouse contacted us on March 2, 1989, expressing con-
cern over the purchase of these horses (which were at the plant, but still
alive). We notified BLM and they conducted a second investigation. BLM
directed the plant to proceed with the slaughter of the horses on March
13,1989, because, according to BLM and Interior officials, the agent did
not criminally intend to misrepresent his plans in his letter.

BLM decided to issue the titles to the Native American tribe in South
Dakota because the names of tribal members that appeared on the titles
we obtained from the slaughterhouses did not match the names of tribal
members with untitled horses. BLM officials also told us that there was
no power-of-attorney relationship between the tribal members with
untitled horses and the tribal government or another tribal member
under contract with BLM to perform certain duties relating to the wild
horses (and who had sold them for slaughter). In December 1988, BLM

Page 32                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                       Chapter 3
                       Fee-Waiver Adoptiona Led to Inhumane
                       Treatment and fhnmercial Exploitation

                       issued title to the horses, at least 101 of which were slaughtered within
                       3 weeks.

                       The fee-waiver adoption program resulted in the abuse and commercial
Conclusions            exploitation of thousands of wild horses, contrary to BLM'S legislative
                       direction. Recognizing the problems and in the face of considerable criti-
                       cism from the Congress and the public, BLM terminated this program in
                       1988 without rescinding the regulations. By its very design and con-
                       firmed in practice, this program could have only led to the results it
                       experienced. If this program was reinstituted, we do not believe BLM
                       could prevent identified abuses from happening in the future.

                       To significantly reduce the likelihood that wild horses removed from
Recommendationto       public rangeland in the future will experience inhumane treatment and
the Secretary of the   slaughter, we recommend that the Secretary of the Interior direct the
Interior               Director of BLM to permanently rescind the regulations authorizing fee-
                       waiver adoptions.

                       BLM agrees with the objective of this recommendation, but prefers not to
Agency Comments and    rescind authority to waive the adoption fee. Instead, BLM published a
GAO Response           proposed rulemaking in February 1990 to prohibit the use of power-of-
                       attorney to adopt wild horses and burros where more than four will be
                       maintained in one location.

                       BLhI notes that the problems with fee-waiver adoptions stemmed less
                       from the waiver of the fee but from the large numbers of horses con-
                       trolled by one person. Depending on the market, BLM notes that even a
                       person who paid the full adoption fee could profit after a year of caring
                       for many wild horses. To significantly reduce the profit motive, BLM'S
                       proposed rulemaking should make it extremely difficult, if not impos-
                       sible, for one person to gain control of a large group of wild horses. BLM
                       wants to retain authority to waive the adoption fee in special situations,
                       such as to place older or unsound wild horses and burros with humane
                       groups willing to care for them. We believe BLM'S proposed approach, if
                       finalized, would respond substantively to the thrust of our

                       Page 33                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 4

Continuing ProblemsWith Wild Horse

                                 Although the troubled fee-waiver adoption program has been termi-
                                 nated, problems with BLM'S other disposal approaches remain. BLM'S wild
                                 horse sanctuaries are likely to be much more expensive than originally
                                 envisioned and may represent only a temporary solution to the disposal
                                 of unadoptable horses. Further, BLM’S prison halter training program has
                                 produced questionable results and needs to be revised to improve its
                                 cost-effectiveness. If horse removals above levels that can be handled by
                                 private adoptions are reinstituted, other disposal options will have to be

                       According to BIN, about 20 percent of the wild horses removed from the
Sanctuaries More       range are unadoptable due to age or physical imperfections. With the
Costly Than Originally fee-waiver program no longer a viable option for disposing of these
Thought                horses, BLM authorized the creation of two private sanctuaries where
                       these horses could live out their lives in a natural setting off the public
                                 rangelands. While properly run sanctuaries ensure that unadoptable
                                 wild horses are protected and cared for, they are expensive. Further,
                                 BLM plans to finance sanctuaries for only their first 3 years, after which
                                 they are expected to be financially self-supporting through fund-raising
                                 and/or charitable donations. However, available information shows that
                                 sanctuary operators may never be able to achieve anticipated financial
                                 independence from BLM, requiring a long-term commitment of federal

Sanctuaries Provide              The alternative of privately funded sanctuaries for maintaining
Humane Disposal of               unadoptable wild horses was first proposed in 1986. With the suspen-
                                 sion of the fee-waiver program, through which many unadoptable
Unadoptable Horses               horses were previously disposed, BLM became more interested in this
                                 alternative and the first sanctuary was established in western South
                                 Dakota in the summer of 1988. This sanctuary is to serve as a prototype
                                 and is intended to encourage tourism and economic development in the
                                 area as well as public understanding of BLM'S wild horse program.

                                 Unlike the fee-waiver program, BLM will not issue titles on wild horses
                                 placed on sanctuaries, thus they will never lose their protected status.
                                 Moreover, BLM plans to monitor their care for as long as the horses
                                 remain on a sanctuary. These attributes have generated significant con-
                                 gressional interest, and the Congress directed BLM to develop guidelines
                                 and establish additional sanctuaries in 1989.’

                                 ‘In October 1989 BLM started sending unadoptable wild horses to a second sanctuary in Oklahoma.

                                 Page 34                                              GAO/RCED90-110 Rangeland Management
                         Chapter 4
                         Continuing Problema With Wild Horse
                         Disposal Activities

BLM’s Costs May Exceed   Under a June 1988 memorandum of understanding, BLM agreed to pay
the Low Rate Now Being   the nonprofit Institute of Range and the American Mustang (IRAM) that
                         runs the South Dakota sanctuary about $1 a day per horse or $602,250
Paid                     yearly for the 1,650 horses to be maintained on the first sanctuary.” A
                         closer look, however, shows that this payment does not fully cover the
                         costs required to operate the sanctuary.

                         First, the $1 per day per horse was not based on an analysis of sanc-
                         tuary costs; rather, it was based on an assumption that sanctuary costs
                         would be less than the cost of maintaining a horse on a contract feed lot.
                         During the first year of the sanctuary’s operation, this assumption
                         proved to be conservative, and IRAM subsequently requested that the
                         rate be increased to $1.50 per horse per day, which would bring BLM'S
                         yearly payment to over $900,000. During the first year BLM also paid for
                         some additional expenses incurred. For example, BLM paid $9,000 for
                         emergency veterinary treatment to control an internal parasite out-
                         break, bought a squeeze chute for hoof trimming and worming which
                         cost $10,860, and paid $4,752 for supplemental feed for horses deliv-
                         ered in poor health. IRAM continued to request rate increases and addi-
                         tional payments from BLM as recently as November 1989. As of
                         February 1990, BLM plans to revise its agreement with IRAM to increase
                         the $1 a day fee to an effective payment of about $1.35, bringing the
                         annual payment to $883,000.

                         These additional costs incurred to date may presage even higher costs in
                         the future. In particular, BLM may have to routinely pay for supple-
                         mental feed for the horses because the land cannot support them. Much
                         of the land within the sanctuary is leased from the Rosebud Sioux tribe.
                         Under federal law, Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for
                         establishing the land’s carrying capacity, and the agency’s March 1989
                         assessment concluded that the land could support only 824 horses for 7
                         months without supplemental feeding. Since IRAM has refused to accept
                         fewer horses, the future cost of providing supplemental feed may
                         increase substantially.

                         ‘Under the memorandum of understanding, IRAM is designated as an agent for the state of South
                         Dakota which is identified as the provider of the sanctuary services. As of February 1990, the
                         capacity of the South Dakota sanctuary system is 1,800 horses.

                         Page 36                                              GAO/RCED&O-110 Rangeland Management
                        Chapter 4
                        Continuing Problems With Wild Iiorae
                        DIsposal Actlvitiee

Achieving Financial     Although BLM expected each sanctuary to be financially self-supporting
IndependenceFrom BLM    in 3 years, this does not appear feasible at least for the prototype sanc-
                        tuary established in South Dakota. IRAM’Spresident stated that to be
May Never Be Possible   self-sufficient, IRAMneeded to raise $7.5 million. As of April 1989, how-
                        ever, IRAMhad received less than $16,000 in individual donations and
                        did not have any corporate donors, which the president considered
                        essential to the sanctuary’s success.

                        The $16,000 is not enough to cover the principal and interest on a
                        $194,000 loan IRAM obtained to purchase private land within the sanc-
                        tuary, much less pay for the feeding and care of the horses and leasing
                        land from the Rosebud Sioux tribe. IRAM has also contracted to buy more
                        land within the sanctuary in 1991 at a cost of $1.4 million. If IRAM’S fund
                        raising is not successful, BLM will either have to assess the costs and
                        benefits to continue financing the sanctuary beyond the 3 years envi-
                        sioned or take back the horses.

                               efforts to increase the adoptability of wild horses by gentling them
Halter Training         BLM’S
                        in several state prisons has also experienced difficulties. Potential
Program Can Be Made     adopters generally prefer horses younger than 5 years of age because of
More Cost-Effective     the difficulty in changing the behavior of older horses. To increase their
                        adoptability, BLM has executed cooperative agreements with the New
                        Mexico and Colorado state prison agencies to have older horses (gener-
                        ally ranging in age from 6 to 9 years) gentled by inmates who halter
                        train them.3 However, because of inefficiencies built into the state pro-
                        grams, many of these horses remain at the prison facilities far longer
                        than necessary, increasing costs and resulting in lost adoption

                        BLM has not established standards for either the length of time the
                        prisons should take to halter train a wild horse or for the number of
                        trained horses the facilities should produce for the adoption program.
                        Such standards would hold down costs for the program and assure an
                        orderly supply of horses to facilitate adoption planning. While no con-
                        tractual standard exists, BLM'S New Mexico and Colorado state offices
                        expect that 26 to 40 horses can be halter trained by each facility in 30 to
                        60 days. Our review showed that many horses remain at the prison
                        facilities far beyond 30 to 60 days.

                        “BLM has similar agreements with Wyoming and California state prison agencies.

                        Page 36                                             GAO/RCED-99-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 4
Continuing Problems With Wild Home
Disposal Activities

For example, as of December 1988, the average length of stay at New
Mexico’s Los Lunas facility was over 5 months, with 13 percent of the
horses there for more than a year. Similarly, our examination of BLM'S
records for 29 halter trained horses sent for adoption from Colorado’s
facility in February 1989 showed that the average length of stay was
over 9 months and that 10 horses had been at the facility for between 13
and 19 months.

Our review identified a variety of reasons why wild horses remain at
the prison facilities for extended periods of time. For example, BLM'S ear-
lier cooperative agreement with the state of New Mexico called for 30
inmates to be available daily to work the horses. However, at the time of
our visit early in 1989, there were only 10 to 12 inmates available to
train up to three horses each. At times there was only one professional
trainer to supervise the halter training by the inmates and to perform
other duties such as supervising the care of the horses at the facility and
construction work by the inmates. Moreover, in 1 year the state prison
agency had fired four employees hired to run the program for various
reasons, disrupting the pace if not the quality, of the training.

In late 1989, BLM and the state of New Mexico adopted a revised agree-
ment that stipulates that two horse trainers will be at each facility to
supervise training activities. However, BLM'S new agreement has weak-
ened the state’s obligation to supply inmates to actually train the horses.
Instead of the mandatory 30 inmates to work the horses on a daily basis,
the state is now required only to provide “as many inmates as possible”
to train horses. Further, no measurable goal for producing trained
horses is stated; rather the state is required to “attempt to produce the
maximum number of gentled and trained horses as their resources can

In Colorado, where 30 inmates were available to train the horses, some
horses languished for over a year because BLM had no way of tracking
their progress. We brought this problem to BLM'S attention, and in
August 1989 BLM'S Colorado State Director informed us that they had
inventoried all horses at the facility and that each was being individu-
ally tracked for training and care.

Although the reasons varied between the two states, we believe that
provisions in earlier cooperative agreements created an incentive to
keep the horses at the facilities for as long as possible. Although BLM
eliminated obvious incentives in the revised agreements, the condition
remains that BLM will pay each state on a per-day basis for each horse

Page 37                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Chapter 4
Continuing Problems With Wild Horse
Diepoeal Activities

regardless of how long the horses remain at a facility since the states
are not required to process trained horses in a defined time period. In
Colorado, even after the agreement was revised, the state continued to
press for more horses in order to improve their revenues and provide
opportunities for the inmates.

The inability to halter train the horses in a timely manner has also
apparently resulted in lost adoption opportunities. According to adop-
tion staff in BLM'S Eastern States Office, to meet popular demand, many
more halter trained horses are needed each month adoptions are held;
however, they have not been able to obtain enough trained horses from
the prison programs.

In New Mexico, until October 1989 BLM also guaranteed the state that
the average actual number of horses available to be halter trained would
not fall below 400 in any given month. BLM would pay the state $2 a day
or about $60 a month for each vacant slot below the 400 horse min-
imum. For example, if the average actual number of horses for a given
month was 300 or 100 short of the 400 horse minimum, BLM would pay
the state about $6,000 ($60 times the 100 horse shortfall). BLM sent hun-
dreds of horses younger than 4 years and older than 6 years to be halter
trained. BLM'S rule of thumb would indicate that the younger horses
would be adopted without incurring the cost of halter training while the
older horses would be destined for sanctuaries regardless of whether
they have been halter trained. Sending horses to the prison facilities
that were either too young or too old to have their adoptability
increased by such training unnecessarily drove up program costs.

In addition to containing costs, BLM must take steps to assure that the
horses are properly trained. BLM has not established agencywide criteria
by which a horse can be determined to be halter trained or a strategy for
ensuring compliance, choosing instead to leave both to the individual
BLM state offices.

New Mexico defines a halter trained horse as one in good condition and,
without resistance, can be approached and haltered, led with a rope,
have its legs lifted for cleaning and hoof trimming, and groomed. Before
a horse is released for adoption, both the trainer and a BLM inspector
must certify that it meets this standard. Colorado’s training manual
states only that a completely halter trained horse is one that can be
haltered and led without resistance. While the trainer says that he
assures that horses are adequately trained before being released for
adoption, BLM'S Colorado State Office makes no such determination.

Page 38                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                       Chapter 4
                       Continuing problemm With Wild HOIT@
                       Disposal Activities

                       Although difficult to quantify, BLM adoption staff in the Eastern states
                       perceive the quality of halter trained horses from New Mexico to be
                       better than the quality of horses trained in Colorado. BLM’S Eastern
                       States Office stated that, although showing improved behavior, some
                       horses from the Colorado facility were not gentle enough to be consid-
                       ered halter trained.

                       Inconsistencies in the degree of training and oversight by BLM could have
                       legal ramifications. Although no problems have occurred to date, a BLM
                       consultant has noted that improved consistency and oversight could
                       reduce BLM’S vulnerability to liability suits by adopters who are injured
                       by wild horses presented by BLM as being halter trained.

                       With BLM’S fee-waiver program terminated and the long-term financial
Alternative Disposal   viability of sanctuaries in doubt, BLM may have to consider other horse
Options May Need to    disposal options in the future if its horse removals exceed the number
Be Considered          that have historically been disposed of through BLM’S Adopt-A-Horse
                       program-about      4,600 horses a year between 1982 and 1989. In this
                       connection, BLM is establishing an advisory board to examine a variety
                       of issues aimed at enhancing program effectiveness. As this advisory
                       board deliberates and develops its recommendations, it would be appro-
                       priate for BLM to have it examine the relative merits of several disposal
                       options not currently in place.

                       One alternative would be to hold unadoptable wild horses long enough
                       to sterilize and mark them (with brands or other techniques so they
                       would not have to be rounded-up in the future) before returning them to
                       their herd areas. In the past, BLM has cited a 1982 report by the National
                       Academy of Sciences as basis for its conclusion that returning unadopt-
                       able wild horses to existing herd areas is not consistent with the “min-
                       imum feasible level” of management called for in the wild horse act4
                       However, in its fiscal year 1991 budget justification BLM states that,
                       depending on ongoing research outcomes, sterilization may be worth
                       considering. This alternative may be the most cost-effective alternative
                       to sanctuaries if existing sanctuaries fail to reach financial self-suffi-
                       ciency after 3 years. In the near future, BLM may have to assess the rela-
                       tive costs and benefits of continuing to pay the sanctuaries to keep the
                       horses or sterilizing and returning the horses to the range.

                       qWild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros-Final Report of the Committee on Wild and Free-
                       Roaming Horses and Burros, Board on Agriculture and Renewable Resources, National Research
                       Council, National Academy Press, 1982.

                       Page 39                                            GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                       Chapter 4
                       Continuing Problems With Wild Horse
                       Dleposal Activities

                       The wild horse act also authorizes euthanasia of healthy wild horses if
                       necessary to protect the range from overgrazing. This practice has sub-
                       sequently been banned by annual appropriations language and has
                       never been used. While currently banned, euthanasia nonetheless consti-
                       tutes an option that could be reauthorized in the future and, therefore,
                       should appropriately be examined as a measure of last resort.

                       Problems with existing horse disposal options need to be addressed.
Conclusions            With respect to BLM'S halter training program, controls need to be put in
                       place to ensure that only horses at trainable ages enter the training
                       facilities and that horses remain in these facilities no longer than neces-
                       sary. To do this, BLM needs to establish an average length of time
                       required to halter train a wild horse and adhere to an age range for
                       horses best suited for halter training. Payments to the states should be
                       limited to only those horses that meet both these criteria. Adoptable
                       younger horses should be sent directly to adoption.

                       BLM also must take steps to assure that horses offered for adoption are
                       properly halter trained. To accomplish this, we believe a standard for
                       determining that a horse has been halter trained as well as an inspection
                       strategy to ensure that the standard is met would assist BLM in ensuring
                       that a horse is properly trained before it is offered for adoption.

                       Finally, while private sanctuaries offer humane disposal of unadoptable
                       horses, rising costs and the probable need for a long-term commitment
                       of federal resources will require BLM to seek alternative disposal options
                       for unadoptable wild horses removed from public rangeland. In this
                       respect, several options including those allowed under current law (such
                       as sterilization) and others that would require legislative action
                       (including euthanasia) have been proposed but previously rejected for
                       various reasons. As the viability of existing disposal options comes into
                       question, it would be appropriate for BLhI to reconsider the merits of
                       these alternatives.

                       To reduce the costs associated with disposing of wild horses removed
Recommendationsto      from public rangelands, we recommend that the Secretary of the Interior
the Secretary of the   direct the Director of BLM to (1) establish an average length of time
Interior   Y
                       required to halter train a wild horse and an age range for horses best
                       suited to be halter trained, and limit payment to the states to only those
                       horses that meet both these criteria; (2) develop a standard for deter-
                       mining that a horse has been halter trained as well as an inspection

                       Page 40                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                      Chapter 4
                      Continuing Problems With Wild Horse
                      Disposal Activities

                      strategy to ensure that the standard is met before offering a horse for
                      adoption; (3) send adoptable younger horses directly to adoption instead
                      of sending them to prison facilities for training; and (4) consider a
                      variety of disposal options for unadoptable horses not currently being
                      used and, where necessary, make recommendations for congressional

                      HL,Magrees with our recommendations and has taken various actions to
Agency Comments and   implement them. Regarding the first and third recommendations, BLM is
GAO Response          developing bureauwide guidance on prison training facility operations.
                      The guidance will establish a desired training method for all facilities
                      and estimate the period of time to train the wild horses. BLM also issued
                      instructions in February 1990 to classify 6- to g-year old horses for
                      training. Younger horses are to be sent directly for adoption unless tem-
                      porary holding at prison facilities is cost-effective. The prisons will not
                      halter-train younger horses and will charge BLM only for feed and daily
                      maintenance. We believe these actions are responsive to our first and
                      third recommendations.

                      BLM also agrees with the second recommendation. Consistent standards
                      for assuring the quality of halter training were adopted in the fall of
                      1989 for the Colorado and New Mexico facilities. Once similar standards
                      are applied to the Wyoming and California facilities, we believe BLM will
                      have fully responded to our recommendation.

                      Finally, BLM agrees with the fourth recommendation and expects to
                      explore disposal options for unadoptable wild horses when the wild
                      horse and burro advisory board convenes, as expected, in 1990. BLM
                      believes that euthanasia is not an option worth considering in light of
                      past history and public reaction opposing it. We concur with BLM'S deci-
                      sion pending the board’s recommendations.

                      Page 41                                  GAO/RCED-SO-110 Rangeland Management
Appendix I

CommentsFrom the Department of the Interior

Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.
                                              United States Department of the Interior
                                                                 OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY
                                                                  WASHINGTON, D.C. 20240

                                                                             MAY 0 3 1990

                             Mr. James Duffus            III
                             Director,       Natural        Resources     Management      Issues
                             Resources,        Community,        and Economic
                                Development        Division
                             United     States     General       Accounting     Office
                             Washington,        D.C.       20540

                             Dear    Mr.   Duffus:

                             Thank you for your      letter   of March    26. 1990,                 providing      the    draft   of the
                             proposed   report entitled      Rangeland    Management:                    Improvements        Needed  in
                             Federal  Wild Horse     Program    (GAO/RCED-90-110).                     The Secretary         has asked
                             us to respond.

                             The enclosed         response      was prepared       by the Bureau         of     Land
                             Management        (BLM).     which    is responsible       for    administration                of
                             the wild       horse    program.        As the response        demonstrates,             the BLM has
                             already      taken     or is initiating         steps    to remedy      most       of the problem
                             areas    identified        in the draft       report.      While     agreeing          with      many of the
                             report’s       recommendations.          BLM believes      that    it also         reflects        some common
                             misunderstandings            about    the program      and has provided              clarification       on
                             these    points      under    the heading       “General     Comments.”

                             The Department      of the Interior          is committed      to administering        the
                             Wild   Free-Roaming       Horse    and Burro      Act humanely    and efficiently.           The
                             recommendations       in this      audit  will     help us to meet that         commitment
                             more effectively        in the future.          If you have any questions          about     the
                             response     to the draft       audit,   please      call Mr. John S. Boyles,          Chief     of
                             BLM’s Division      of Wild Horses         and Burros,     at 653-9215.

                                                                                                               - IL3 nd and


                             Page 42                                                               GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                       Appendix I
                       Comments From the Department of
                       the Interior

                                   The Bureau of Land Management's Response to
                     Rangeland Management: Improvements Needed in Federal Wild Horse Program
                The General Accounting Office (GAO) recommendations to the Secretary of
                the Interior are underlined below.  Each recommendation is followed by the
                rasponse of the Bureau of land Management (BLM).

Now on p, 27.   horae.                   (p. 32)
Seep   27.      We agree that the carrying capacity and range condition of herd areas
                should be established     expeditiously. A recent ruling by the Interior
                Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) confirms animals should be removed whenever
                current resource data shows that the present level of animals is
                inconsistent   with attainment or maintenance of "a thriving      natural
                ecological   balance" as required by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro
                Act (Act).    The BUi recognizes the need to accelerate   efforts     to collect
                current resource data. Where current data show that a thriving          natural
                ecological   balance is being threatened or not being attained,       excess
                animals will be removed expeditiously.

                In    locutions   where this data iW~ates     that OverPrazing
                Eve        wild horses and we       the levels of authorized domestic livestock
                                 rooortion  to the wnt     of forage each is cons-    and the
Now on p. 27.   wunt       of t-0            each is caw.        (pp. 32-33)

See p, 27.      We agree that overall forage usage within a herd area should not
                exceed the level of forage production that can be sustained.     However,
                we disagree with the implication   that adjustments depend solely on
                carrying capacity data and that they must be carried out proportionately.
                There are other reasons requiring    removal of wild horses or burros
                even when carrying capacity information     is not available   or there is no
                overgrazing.    The Act, for example, requires removal of wild horses and
                burros from private lands when the landowner requests it.         Because of
                several challenges to actions by the BlM over the years, judicial          and
                administrative   decisions have established   additional   removal criteria.
                Reasons for removals not based on a "thriving      natural ecological    balance"
                             (1)   Animals expand outside herd area boundaries.
                             (2)   Animals stray onto private lands and removal is requested by
                                   the landowner.
                             (3)   Animals lives are endangered by an emergency, e.g., drought,
                                   disease, etc.
                             (4)   Animals are part of a research program.
                             (5)   Animals must be removed pursuant to a court order.
                             (6)   Animals must be removed because of overriding   provisions in
                                   other legislation,  e.g., the Endangered Species Act.

                       Page 43                                         GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
       Appendix I
       Canmenta FYom the Department of
       the Interior

In the future we expect that factors such as the Endangered Species Act
will require removal of animals even when there is no overgrazing   as the
term is normally used. Removals will continue on a significant    number of
herd areas for the reasons listed above irrespective of whether the
carrying capacity has been established.
For purposes of our comments, removal and adjustment only refer
to situations   where the appropriate    management level (AML) is to be
changed. We will exclude from consideration        removal of wild horses
done solely for the purpose of removing the excess animals due to herd
growth caused by reproduction.      While both situations   require removal of
animals, making adjustments in the number of animals to achieve a new ARL
will likely   require a revision or amendment of land use plans.        Removal
of animals to reduce the population      to a previously  determined AML
only requires data to show that the number of animals on an area is
inconsistent   with maintaining  a thriving   natural ecological   balance.
We also disagree with the recommendation that adjustments in use
be made in proportion   to the forage each is consuming and the amount
of damage each is causing.     In most herd areas, livestock,   wildlife,
and wild horses and burros use the same areas, often during the same
seasons. With a livestock/wild     horse diet similarity   of over 90 percent,
it is impossible in most areas to determine which animal is overgrazing
or causing the "damage." Almost always, damage is the result of the
combined effect of all of the grazing species on an area.       If reducing
the grazing use were the only or preferable     tool for undoing the damage,
then a proportionate  reduction would probably succeed.
Often, however, less drastic tools may be employed to accomplish
resource improvement.       In most cases, the BIN attempts to determine what
resource conditions      are deficient    and what grazing impacts are causing
these conditions.      If the condition is caused by one species, as is
sometimes the case, management actions are developed to correct this
condition.     For instance, if on a herd area the primary forage species
are deteriorating     due to moderate overgrazing caused mostly by livestock,
installation    of range improvements, a change in grazing season, or
installation    of a grazing system which provides for periodic rest from
grazing may be sufficient      to improve the forage conditions.      The same
remedial actions in an area grazed only by horses or wildlife          would be
precluded because of statutory         and practical problems.   In these areas,
reducing the number of animals allowed to graze may be the only option.
Unfortunately,    many of the management options available           for
addressing livestock      grazing problems are not appropriate          or
practical    for addressing wildlife        and wild horse and burro areas.
As a result,    on areaa with both livestock          and wild horses, a combination
of the actions involving       initiation      of grazing systems and range
improvements would be proposed to improve conditions             in areas used by
livestock    and a reduction in numbers in areas used by wild horses.            In
this situation,    a proportionate        adjustment would not be necessary or

       Page 44                                              GAO/RCED90-110EangelandManagement
                    Appendix I
                    Chmmenta From the Department of
                    the Interior


               Because of the variety of situations    found on the public lands, we
               cannot  support adjustment in levels of use made strictly     in proportion   to
               the amount of forage consumed and the amount of range damage each species
               is causing.    However, we are committed to improving resource     conditions
               where needed. To this end, the BUl will continue to use the land use
               planning and public input process as outlined in the Federal Land Policy
               and Management Act of 1976 for apportioning    forage and to assure that
               subsequent management actions are practical    and effective    in solving
               local resource problems.
               We believe that   this   response is sufficient   to close out this
                                                                     livestock   m
Now on p 27                                     the lend.                  (p. 33)
See p. 27.     The BlM concurs with this recommendation.          Where grazing use
               by livestock,     wildlife,    and wild horses and burros is inconsistent
               with land use plans or will prevent attainment of “a thriving           natural
               ecological    balance,”     the BLM will make changes in grazing use. In
               furtherance    of this commitment, we intend to place increased emphasis
               on resource monitoring and completion of herd management area plans.
               Depending on budget levels,        this may require a shifting   of resources
               from other parts of the program.
                                                                      fee - wai v er a&&&lS.
Now on p. 33   (P. 40)
See p, 33.     We agree with the objective     of this recommendation, which is to
               “significantly    reduce the likelihood  that wild horses removed from
               public rangeland in the future will experience inhumane treatment and
               slaughter”;    however, we are taking steps to achieve the objective   through
               a different    approach.
               A proposed rulemaking to revise the existing     regulation    on “Supporting
               information   and certification  for private maintenance of more than 4 wild
               horses or burros” was published in the Federal Benistsr on February 6,
               1990 (55 FR 3989). This rulemaking will prohibit       the use of power of
               attorney to adopt wild horses or burros when the adoption will result
               in the maintenance of more than 4 untitled    wild horses or burros in one
               location.    The section of the rules being revised (Section 4750.3-3)
               regulates approval of adoption applications    where the applicant     requests
               to adopt more than 4 animals per year or where more than 4 untitled
               adopted wild horses or burros are to be maintained in one location.
               The purpose of the rulemaking is to prohibit     an individual    from gaining
               control of more than 4 wild horses or burros by using one or more powers
               of attorney.    Two comments were received on the proposed rulemaking, both
               favorable.    The BUI expects this rulemaking to become final before the
               end of Fiscal Year (FY) 1990.

                    Page 45                                            GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                         Appendix I
                         Comments        From the Department of
                         the Interior

                    Most of the problems with fee waiver adoptions stemmed not so much
                    from the waiver of the fee but from the large numbers of animals
                    controlled  by a single individual.     Even at full fee, an individual
                    gaining control of many wild horses could possibly make a profit        after a
                    year of care, depending on the market.      By making it extremely difficult,
                    if not impossible,   for one individual   to gain control of a large group of
                    wild horses, the proposed rulemaking significantly      reduces the profit
                    motive for adoption.
                    The BIM prefers not to rescind the regulation      authorizing   the
                    Director to waive the adoption fee. Even though fee waivers have
                    bean terminated by BIM and prohibited    in the FY 1990 Appropriations    Act,
                    it ia conceivable that at some future date the use of the fee waiver
                    could be consistent with the objective    of placing wild horses and burros
                    in appropriate   private care.   For example, there could be situations    where
                    the Government might have a need for adopters for older or unsound wild
                    horses and a wild horse or humane group might be willing       to provide homes
                    for the animals.     Waiving the fee in such circumstances could be
                    beneficial   for the Government and for the animals.
                    We believe that publication  of the final          rulemaking   will   be sufficient   to
                    close out this recommendation.

Now on   p.   40.   oriteria.         (P. 50)
seep.   41.         We agree with this recommendation and are working toward implementing
                     it. The BlM’s FY 1990 Annual Work Plan assigned the New Mexico State
                    Office the lead role in developing Bureauwide guidance for operation of
                    prison training     facilities     and a training   course for prison facility
                    horse trainers.      The desired training       method to be implemented at all
                    prison facilities     will be established       and also the estimated period of
                    time to train the animal.          The BlM’s Washington Office Instruction
                    Memorandum No. 90-307 dated February 1, 1990, established            the policy
                    for classifying     excess wild horses into three categories.         Horses in the
                    age group of 5 through         9 years old are classified    for the prison training
                    program.     Horses on either side of this age spread will be shipped to an
                    adoption center or to a sanctuary.           However, since the holding facility
                    in Bloomfield,    Nebraska, closed early in FY 1990, we anticipate           the need
                    to hold some of these horses temporarily           at the prisons.   We will only
                    be charged    for the feed consumed and a daily maintenance cost for each
                    animal      maintained      but   not   trained.

                         Page 40                                               GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                         Appendix I
                         Canmenta From the Department of
                         the Interior

                  (2) .LRLweloD a *tandard       for deternininn           a hm
                             as e                                     to a       that   the standard
Nowon p.40.               fore y.                                       (pp. 50-51)
See p.41.         We agree with this recommendation.      This topic was discussed at the BIM
                  Wild Horse and Burro Workshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 4-7,
                  1989. As a result,     both the New Mexico and Colorado State Offices
                  included similar requirements in amendments of the Cooperative Agreements
                  with both States.    In order for the BIM to accept a horse as halter
                  trained, the following     requirements must be met:
                        (a) The trainer  is able to walk up to and halter the horse in a pen,
                        with the horse remaining calm and offering  limited avoidance.
                        (b) The horse can be led with slack         in the lead rope.
                        (c) The trainer   is able to pick up all four feet without          significant
                        resistance.    Hooves can be cleaned and trimmed.
                        (d) The trainer  is able to comb and brush the horse on the body, legs,
                        and neck without significant  resistance.
                  Both a BIM and a State prison employee will sign the training
                  certification.       These requirements are contained in an Amendment with the
                  New Mexico prison system dated September 26, 1989, and Modification        04
                  with the Colorado prison dated November 30, 1989. These changes postdate
                  the information      in the last paragraph on page 47 of the draft audit
                  report.      Although we do not yet have a Bureauwide policy in effect,
                  New Mexico and Colorado prisons now have consistent      training  standards
                  and inspection      certification.

                  J3)    lslendy                                          to adoDtionead          of
Nowon p.41                                                for m.            (p. 51)

See p.41.         We agree with this recommendation.      As indicated previously,      Instruction
                  Memorandum No. 90-307, dated February 1, 1990, established         policy for
                  classification   of excess wild horses and burros.       The age group of
                  horses to be sent directly    to adoptions is weaned horses through the age
                  of 4. Horses age 5-9 go to the prisons for training.           The Instruction
                  Memorandum also gave the preparation      facilities   the option to send horses
                  under the age of 5 to the prison to be held until an adoption event, if
                  space is available   and it is cost-effective.       The prisons will not halter
                  train these younger horses; they will be held and BIM charged for the feed
                  consumed and for daily maintenance.       The New Mexico and Colorado prisons
                  charge a separate fee for each halter trained horse.
                  We believe that   this   response is sufficient      to close out this


                         Page 47                                              GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                    Appendix I
                    Comments From the Department of
                    the Interior

              (4)   lClPnsider   a v-                           for m
Nowonp.41.    connressional.                   (P. 51)
Seep. 41.     We agree with this recommendation.      Many alternatives   are being
              explored for the unadoptable horses--such as selective       removals,
              fertility  control methods, and use by underdeveloped countries.        In a
              selective  removal of excess animals, unsound horses and those 10 years
              of age and older are released back on the range. This approach can
              also be combined with fertility    control treatments to reduce the rate of
              population  growth of the free-roaming herds,       The BLM believes that these
              management practices hold promise for reducing or eliminating        the number
              of unadoptable wild horses removed from the range.        Of course, the E&M
              will pay close attention   to the effect of selective     removals and
              fertility  control on herd structure    and population dynamics.

Nowon p.40.   On page 50, GAO states that "it would be appropriate       for BIN to
              reconsider the merits of [sterilization     and euthanasia]."     Despite the
              provision   in the Act for humane destruction   of excess wild horses and
              burros for which there is no adoption demand by qualified       individuals,  we
              believe that past history and public reaction preclude euthanasia as an
              alternative   worth considering.
              The Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which should be reestablished
              by the end of this fiscal year, will undoubtedly explore the subject of
              unadoptable horses.   The BIH will wait for the Board's advice before
              considering any recommendations for congressional  action.

                    Page 48                                         GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                     Appendix I
                     CommentaFrom the Department of
                     the Interior


                In addition to responding to the CAO'# rpocific    rocoarend&tiona, the BU4
                believes that some correction8   or clarifications  in other part8 of the
                text would be helpful.    Problem areaa from the text are underlined below,
                followed by BLM'# position or ruggested chenges.
                1.   n
See p. 2             more.                                                             (P. 1)
See comment 1        Removals of wild horror    rinoe    the boginning   of   the pro&rem total
                     ebout 100,000.

                2.   Thit
                                                    or w                              to lonp .
Now on p, 3.                                     for -                        ,         * (P* 2)
See comment 2        On pago 2 and elmewhero, the report refera to “commrcini
                     exploit&ion"       of wild horros adopted via the fee waiver program.
                     The meaning of the phrero ir quite oleer in the oontext of the
                     report,    i.e.,   sale for sleughtor of wild horsor rftor  title  wa#
                     conveyed to the adopterr by the United Stetm.         However, the u*o of
                     this phrrse in this aenre ten be somewhat confueing eince %ommercial
                     exploitation"      h&a A different  meaning ee defined in &LM’e wild horeo
                     regulationa      at 43 CFR 4700:

                     "Cc) wCommercial oxploitatiotV        means using a wild horae or
                     burro because of it8 characterirticr         of wildnera for direct or
                     indirect   financial   gain.   Characteri#tica     of wildness include
                     the rebellious     and feisty neturo of ruch animal8 and their
                     defiance of man ea exhibited      in their undomorticatod and untamed
                     8tAts.   Use as maddle or pack rtock and other ura4 that require
                     domestication     of the animel &to not commercial exploitation        of
                     the animals boceume of their cheractorirtica          of wildnoao."

                     The regulatory  definition of commercial exploitation  applioe to
                     animals considered wild homer and burros undor the Wild Free-Roaming
                     Horse and Burro Act, not to titled   aninalr, which according to tho
                     Act 1088 their l tetua AI wild horres end burroe.
                     A 1987 court ruling enjoined BIH from trenaforring        titlo     to
                     adoptod animalr in ca&e8 where tha adopter haa it any timo oxprersod
                     an intent to UIO the l niaal for commercial purpomen after the paesago
                     of title.   Elrewhoro in tho court decirion,      the expression "put to
                     commerciel use" appears.      Soveral other variatione    on there phrases
                     are used in the court   ruling,   including "commercially       exploited."
                     The court doe4 not define what is meant by the phrase "commeroirl
                     purposee" or my of tho other phreses containing        the word
                     In an adoption hendbook releared      in December 1989, BIM definea
                     commercial purpoeer aa followr:

                     Page 49                                             GAO/lUXD-90.110 Rangebnd Management
                          Appendix I
                          Comments F’rom the Department of
                          the Interior

                          Commercial purposes include slaughtering  the animal or selling
                          it for slaughter and using a wild horse or burro because of its
                          characteristics  of wildness for direct or indirect financial   gain.
                          When the GAO report uses “commercial exploitation,”    it is actually
                          referring  to sale of wild horses after titling.    For clarity,    the BIH
                          suggests that the GAO usa the language of the court ruling,      that is,
                          “commercial purposes.”
                     3.   Domestic              of about 4.2 mm                                   the 42.004
Now on p. 24.                                                              9..       . ,. (p.2)

See comment 3.            While we do not disagree with these figures,         their uaage certainly
                          gives A mis-impression      of the actual relationship     between the
                          number of livestock     and wild horse and burro numbers on the public
                          lands.    By law, wild horses are limited to the nreas where they
                          existed in 1971 (about 34 million       acres of BIN-administered     land).
                          The 4.2 million   livestock    cited are found on 170 million     acres of
                          A more valid comparison between these species would compare forage
                          consumption only on herd management areas where both types of animals
                          occur.    When considering these nraas, the relative    difference in
                          livestock   and wild horse use is not nearly so disproportionate.
                          For instance, in Nevada which has almost 75 percent of the wild
                          horses, an estimated 40 percent of the total forage available      for
                          wild horses and livestock    in herd wrens is used by wild horses.
                          The remaining 60 percent is used by livestock.       (See analysis in
                          Attachment 1.)
                     4.   w           on the western we         nre descded        frv
                          Jo the North American                by S~anieh                 in thk
Now on p, 8.              16th                  (P. 8)
See comment 4.            This statement reflects   a popular sentiment       but one that does not
                          accord with the conclusions of the scientific         community. See quotes
                              “Contemporary North American wild horses are variously  claimed,
                              depending on the claimant and the locale, to be the wild-mustang
                              descendants of domestic horses introduced by the Spaniards in the
                              sixteenth century, or of miscellaneous cavalry mounts, work
                              horses, and saddle animala escaped or abandoned more recently.”
                              (National Research Council, m
                              &Eree-RoaminnHoraesand                1982)
                              “Dendrograms constructed using pairwise comparisons of
                              Nel’s  distance measurements (D) for the domestic breeds and
                              the wild horse populations  substantiate  anecdotal accounts of the
                              origins of Great Basin horses from draft horses, saddle horses of
                              American breed origin and Spanish Barbs.”     (Ann T. Bowling, u
                              me     Paw       and POD-       Gene-      Final Research Report to
                              United States Department of the Interlo;,   Bureau of Land
                              Management, January 15, 1988, p. 11.)


                          Page SO                                                GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                      Appendix I
                      Commenti From the Department of
                      the Interior

                      The BLN suggests rewording       the GAO statement       along the lines        of the
                      sentences below:
                            Spanish explorers brought horses to the North American continent
                            in the 16th century.   Early horse herds on the western range were
                            composed of horses escaped from or released by the Spanish or
                            Indians who had acquired horses.
                 5.   -5.        the Congress                             accew       the removal of wild
Nowonp.   11.                  and &ros   fm.                                 (p. 12)

See comment 5         The BIM suggests that the word “authorized”    be replaced with
                      “directed.”   The President’s  budget submitted to Congress for
                      FY 1985 requested $5.08 million   for the wild horse and burro
                      program and proposed the removal of lass than 6,000 animals.
                      Congress increased the funding by $11 million    and directed BU4
                      to remove 17,142 excess animals.
                 6.   In                 145 full-eimevees         wmoved                        to carry
                      & the wild horse mburrp      orogEgg in BLh headauarters                 and field
Now on p. 12.         affices. (P. 13)
See comment 6         We suggest rewording      as follows:
                            In FY 1990, 145 full time equivalents    were expected to be
                            available  to carry out the wild horse and burro program in
                            ELM headquarters and Field Offices.     A full time equivalent
                            is one person working for a year.     The actual number of employees
                            working in the program is considerably    larger because the
                            majority of employees in the wild horse and burro program
                            also work in one or more other program areas.
                 7.   Toj,rfreatmentes                                    waved      from the rau
Now on p, 19.                                           adootion   DT~.           (p. 22)
See comment 7.        The BLM believes that by focusing on the fee-waiver program, GAO only
                      evaluated the treatment of wild horses adopted under fee waivers.          The
                      treatment of excess horses placed through this segment of the adoption
                      program is not necessarily     indicative    of the treatment of all excess
                      wild horses.    About three-quarters      of all wild horses removed from
                      public lands were placed in private care without fee waivers.
                 8.   aected                                              eithklL the desire     to   achh

Now on p, 21.
See comment 8.        This statement reveals a misunderstanding     of how BlH arrives at
                      appropriate   management levels (AML’s) and, subsequently,     the decision
                      to remove excess animals.     The BLM uses the land use planning process
                      to arrive at AML’s for individual     herd management areas.    Advisory
                      groups “largely   comprised of livestock   permittees” are certainly     among
                      the many groups consulted as part of the planning process.

                      Page 51                                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
                           AppendLx I
                           Chnments From the Department of
                           the Interior

                           However, to intimate that theirs is the only voice heard is to
                           misrepresent how the process works. There are numerous opportunities
                           for public input provided prior to final decisions,           and wild horse
                           interest     groups--along   with other affected interests--routinely
                           participate      in the planning process.    Provisions for public
                           participation      are contained in BLM’s planning regulations
                           at 43 CFR 1610.2.
                           The BIM has no desire to achieve perceived historic      levels, but is
                           instead committed to managing appropriate      numbers as identified
                           through the planning process.     Nonetheless, there are sound reasons
                           why the planning process could not be expected to arrive at a number
                           many times larger   than the population   that existed in 1971. The Act
                           prohibits  the BU4 from managing wild horses in areas where they did
                           not exist in 1971. Wild horses, like most wildlife       specier, expand
                           their ranges when populations   increase.     Because of this natural
                           phenomenon and the prohibition    on management of the animals outside
                           their 1971 areas, it is not legally possible to manage a total
                           population much greater than the population that existed in 1971.
                           The Act also requires removal of wild horses from private lands
                           when the private landowner requests it.         Many of the herd areas in
                           existence in 1971 have private water sources or contain significant
                           tracts of intermingled     private lands.    Private landowners have asked
                           the BIM to removal wild horses or burros from many of the these
                           tracts.     Under these circumstances,    it is not possible to manage
                           populations    of wild horses or burros; accordingly,      the land use plans
                           required removal of all of the wild horses or burros from a number of
                           herd areas.
                                                                                             to cm
Now on p. 21.              m.                            (P. 25)
See comment 9.             The BIN would add that removal of “lesr than is warranted by range
                           conditions” also increases Federal expenditures because future
                           removals and management costs will be greater as a result of
                           increased population and high rates of reproduction.
                      10                                  in -vine                      m            for     u
                                   is gan\ann                                          bv sneciak.     (p.
Now on p. 22.              25)
See comment 10.            We agree distinguishing        among forage consumption by species
                           (wild horsea, livestock,         and wildlife)  is difficult,     particularly
                           when all species use the same area and during the same periods of
                           the year.    Distinguishing       use between livestock      and wild horses in
                           most situations     is virtually     impossible because of similar diets,
                           dentition,   and grazing methods. However, we disagree that this
                           problem necessarily      creates difficulty     in establishing      a carrying


                           Page 52                                               GAO/RCEMO-110 Rangeland Management
                         Appendix I
                         Comment6 From the Department of
                         the Interior

                       Over the years, the BIN has used two different          methods to determine
                       carrying capacity.      Because of the limitationa      of a one-time survey
                       in establishing    carrying capacitiar,    the BIN awitched several yearn
                       ago to a policy of monitoring to establish         carrying capacities.      The
                       primary requirement under this approach ia maintenance of a fairly
                       stable and known level of grazing use. Under those conditions,
                       monitoring the level (percent utilization        of key forage clpeciee)
                       of grazing use by all apociem over a period of 3 to 5 years, it in
                       possible to determine whether thb overall level of grazing           use is
                       correct.    This information   can aloo be used to ertablieh       the total
                       amount   of the needed adjustment in une by all ungulates when use is
                       excessive or there is a rurplus.        However, those studios cannot be
                       used to dstermina how much each rpecios’ grazing use should be
                       Adjumtmonts of uno on the public lands, particularly         when those
                       uses involve a ro-allocation   of resourcea, have a number of legal,
                       environmental,   social, economic, and political      impact*.   The
                       evaluation   of impacts and analyria  of alternatives     are quite
                       complicated and should be rubjoct to public scrutiny and comment.
                       Consequently, the allocation   of forage among animal species is more
                       properly determined through the land use planning process.
                  11. EVEfhpr. we w        not able to identifv
Now on p. 24.         havs.                   (P. 28)
See comment 11.       We queetion the GAO’s underlying assumption hero, that wild horse
                      removals ehould or must materially    improve the areas where removals
                      occur.   Normally wild horoe removala are only made to reestablish    a
                      moderato level of grazing use. When this is the cape, although the
                      annual utilization   of forage species will be reduced, this reduction
                      will seldom result in a measurable improvement in range condition.
                      Measurable changes in range condition normally require 5 to 10 yoara.

                  12. m            to a&g.$ out 6.100 u                  the w       UD &~t        200 frpls
Now on p. 26.         sctual.                  (P. 31)
See comment 12.       Since 19S9 horse adoptions totaled 4,325, the target            of   6,100    for
                      FY 1990 is an increase of 1,775, not 200.
                  13. AccPrdinn to w              30 osrcent      of the whoreseed                  froln
Now on p. 34.                are mdur                                                              (p. 41)

See comment 13.       This figure was adjurted downward to about 20 percent recently when
                      BIM expanded the age category for adoptable animals.   Currently,
                      horses sent to sanctuaries  on the basin of age must be 10 or older.

                         Page 63                                              GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
         Appendix I
         Comments From the Department of
         the Interior

                   Analysis      of Forage Use by Livestock     and Wild Horses
The GAO report indicates     that 4.2 million domestic livestock    vastly
outnumber the 42,000 wild horses currently       on federal rangelandr.    This
comparison implies that there is a drastic inbquity between the amount of
forage and reaourcas allocated      to wild horses and burros ar compared to
livestock.     Although these levels are set in land usb plans and arrived at with
considerable    public input and analysis of the social, economic, political,    and
environmental     impacts, we understand that some intorbatr   do not agree with the
allocation    produced by this process.
However, the figures presented are an apples vs oranges comparison.       The
area occupied by the 4.2 million  livestock    is many times larger than the area
legally available   to WH&S's. A more valid comparison can be obtained by using
data published in the FY 1989 Public Land Statistics      and the lateet census data
for Nevada whore most of the wild horses    are found.

     Livestock    Forage   Acrbage:     42,256,400 Acres
     Livestock    Forage Consumption (1989):        1,860,900 AUM's
     Livestock    Forage Consumption Rata:       Q.256.400 ~SXR~ - 24.3 acres/AUK
                                                  1,860,900 AUM’.s

Assuming the Livestock Forage Consumption Rate (24.3 acres/AUM) within herd
areas is the same as the statewide average, the livestock  forage consumption
within herd areas can be calculated as follows:
     * 14.131.299        - 581,530 AUM's livestock            use
         24.3 acres/AIR4
     Note: This calculation  more than likely  considerably   overstates  the
     livestock usage within herd areas.   This rate of livestock    use combined
     with the WH&Busage would result in an average forage utilization      of 14.6
     acres/AUM within Nevada herd areas.
     Wild Horse and Burro Acreage:          14,131,200 Acres
     WH6RForage Consumption (1989):           12 months X 32,067 animals - 384,800 AUM's
Using this data, a more valid comparison betwben livestock                  and wild horse and
burro use can be made on the areas where both are found.
     Total   Forage Consumption:       384,800 AlJM's + 581,530     AUM’s    - 966,330 AUM's
     966.330                  - 60% Livestock    forage usage
     581,530 livestock      AUM's
     966.330 total AUM'g - 40% M-l&B forage usage
     384,800 WH6BAUM's

*   Acreage of herd areas designated         for long-term    management of Wti&S's (HMA's).
                                                                                Attachment   1

        Page 54                                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
               Appendix I
               Canmente From the Department of
               the Interior

               The following are GAO'S comments on the Department of the Interior’s
               letter dated May 3, 1990.

               1. BLM'S report that 100,000 wild horses have been removed since the
GAO Comments   program’s start in 1973 may overcount wild horse removals. In June
               1989 BLM told us that, due to poor recordkeeping in the early years, sep-
               arate data on wild horse and burro removals were not available for
               those years. Although using these data would add up to 100,000 animals
               removed since 1973, an unknown number of wild burros is included for
               1973-79. Wild horse removals between 1980 and 1989 total about
               80,000. We changed the report to reflect the time period when specific
               data exist on wild horse removals.

               2. Phrases such as “commercially exploit” are widely used to concisely
               describe selling a wild horse for slaughter. Contrary to BLM'S suggestion,
               the 1987 court ruling frequently refers to commercial exploitation. Fur-
               ther, BLM even used the phrase in its August 1987 instructions to field
               offices regarding the court ruling (for example, “Withhold title in case
               of any adopter who has expressed an intent to BLM to commercially
               exploit the animal(s)“). For conciseness, we use “commercially exploit”
               and similar phrases, rather than “commercial purposes.”

               3. In citing the total numbers of wild horses and domestic livestock on
               federal rangelands, we were not attempting to imply that wild horses
               and domestic livestock share range resources throughout the West.
               Instead, we cited the data to demonstrate that public lands overgrazing
               cannot be fully addressed by concentrating exclusively on wild horses.

               We agree that specific comparisons between wild horse and livestock
               use can be made. However, BLM could not provide us such data specific
               to the herd areas we examined. Rather, BLM could only provide data on a
               resource areawide basis. These data show that wild horses consume
               much less than 40 percent of the available forage suggested by BLM in its
               comments. In the four Nevada resource areas we reviewed, wild horses
               consumed 19 percent of the available forage compared with 81 percent
               by domestic livestock.

               4. The alternative language suggested by BLM as well as the quotes from
               other reports on the subject are entirely consistent with the presentation
               in our report. Accordingly, we have made no changes to reflect BLM'S

               Page 55                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Comment4From the Dqartment   of
the Interior

6. We revised the report to state that the Congress directed BLM to accel-
erate the removal of wild horses and burros in 1985.

6. We revised the report to state that 146 full-time equivalent employees
were expected to carry out the program in fiscal year 1990.

7. We revised the report to state that we did not evaluate the treatment
of wild horses and burros adopted under BLM’S full-fee adoption

8. We do not agree with  BLM’s position that  our statement reveals a mis-
understanding about    how BLM develops its   appropriate management
levels, We understand that wild horse levels are prepared as part of the
land use planning process mandated by FLFNA. However, we do not
believe that a level can be justified as representing a sound management
decision merely because it is recorded in a land use plan. If a level is
developed without regard to land conditions or wild horse range impact,
its inclusion in the land use plan does not make it more useful or appro-
priate. In this connection, BLM provides no evidence to refute our finding
(along with the finding of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals) that wild
horse levels are being established arbitrarily without a sound factual

With respect to BLM’S view that it is not legally possible to maintain wild
horse numbers much greater than those existing in 197 1, we have
revised our report to clarify that the act limits wild horse management
to herd areas where they were found at the time the act was enacted in
1971. However, we question BLM'S underlying assertion, that removal
decisions can appropriately be driven by the desire to achieve any his-
toric population levels, As Interior’s Bureau of Land Appeals has ruled,
removal decisions must be based on data describing impact on range
conditions. As we have demonstrated, such data does not currently

We agree that the act requires BLM to remove wild horses from private
lands if they have stayed there. However, none of the 46 herd areas we
examined created this predicament. Almost all were isolated from
nonfederal lands and removals were done to reach the appropriate man-
agement level, not because horses were straying onto private lands.

9. We revised the report to state that removing less horses than is war-
ranted contributes to continued resource deterioration and potentially
higher removal costs.

Page 56                                  GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Appendix I
Canmenta Fkom the Department of
the Interior

10. We revised our report to more clearly link the difficulty in distin-
guishing forage consumption among species to determining the impact of
wild horses on range conditions, not determining carrying capacity.

We agree that public scrutiny and comment obtained in BLM'S planning
process provide important input in adjusting uses of the public lands.
However, by developing and providing appropriate data on range condi-
tions and where practical the relative impacts of different uses, BLM can
help ensure that its final decisions are consistent with what the range
can support.

11. Where wild horses were part of the overgrazing problem, one reason
they have not resulted in apparent range improvements is because the
removals have not been accompanied by needed reductions in domestic
livestock grazing or more intensive livestock management.

12. We corrected the report to reflect that 4,325 wild horses were
adopted in 1989.

13. We revised the report to reflect BLM'S expanded age category for
adoptable animals.

Page 57                                 GAO/RCED-90-110 Rangeland Management
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report

                        Charles S. Cotton, Assistant Director-In-Charge
Resources,              Bob Robinson, Assistant Director
Community, and          Carolyn Kirby, Evaluator-in-Charge
                        Dennis Richards, Evaluator
Development Division,
Washington, D.C.
                        David Moreno, Site Senior
San Francisco           Eddie Uyekawa, Evaluator
Regional Office

                        Yvonne Rodriguez, Site Senior
Denver Regional         Pamela Jo Timmerman, Evaluator


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