A friend of mine asked me to look into this particular bill, which, according to the title, is intended “[t]o amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to improve the management and long-term health of wild free-roaming horses and burros, and for other purposes.”
The Bureau of Land Management, in charge of these critters, doesn’t much like the idea. Ed Roberson, Assistant Director, Renewable Resources & Planning, testified in March [pdf]:
H.R. 1018 would require the BLM to continue to identify appropriate management levels, but the legislation repeals the requirement in the 1971 Act that excess animals be removed if these levels are exceeded. Under H.R. 1018, the BLM would be required to “exhaust all practicable options to maintain populations on the range” before removing any animals. H.R. 1018 would also require that an adoption demand exists before removing animals. Without a clear mechanism to trigger removals, wild horse and burro populations could grow exponentially. As we noted before, adoption rates have declined substantially in recent years. In 2008, only 3,700 animals were adopted. If gathers are limited to only animals that can be adopted, wild horse and burro populations on the range could increase sharply and cause severe destruction of rangeland habitats (including wildlife and fish habitats).
Considering that they’re having to compete with livestock for grazeland and water, I doubt there’s going to be any huge upsurge in the population, and if there is, these things tend to be self-correcting — assuming the BLM isn’t also messing with the predator population, which may be a lot to assume.
Madeleine (Mrs. T. Boone) Pickens proposes to take some of the animals off the BLM’s hands by establishing a privately-operated sanctuary in northeast Nevada, which strikes me as an excellent idea. But while this will reduce the BLM’s inventory, it presumably won’t do anything to improve the lot of horses not yet sequestered by the Bureau.
This bill isn’t a cure-all by any means: it doesn’t do much of anything for the grazeland and water issues, and nothing in it is likely to increase the number of adoptions. (If anything, they’ll decrease at first, since the Bureau would have to get statements from the adopters to guarantee the animals won’t wind up on the dinner menu somewhere.) Still, it seems to be a step in the right direction.