Could Ecotourism Help Solve the Wild Horse Problem?

Photo: Christinamari/Flickr

The Bureau of Land Management is in a pickle. And wild horse advocates are fuming. At issue is what the BLM considers unsustainably large herds of wild horses on 26 million acres of BLM land across 10 Western States. Each year, the BLM removes thousands of wild horses from its range lands and places them in medium or long term holding areas, run by contractors but paid for by the government. From there, some are adopted but most remain, to live out the rest of their not-so-wild days.

The BLM reckons that across the West, there are 38,500 wild horses and it says it will reduce that by about 12,000 in order to keep the herds robust and to prevent harm to their range lands. Wild horse advocates say the BLM number doesn't reflect reality, and that reducing the herds by 12,000 would actually make their numbers unsustainably low. And they claim that the means by which the BLM rounds up wild horses is inhumane and illegal. The real reason the government wants to reduce the wild herds, they say, is to accommodate the interests of livestock ranchers and energy companies that want access to the range.

All of this has makes the BLM wild horse program contentious, to say they least. But the agency is now considering a new management tool: "ecosanctuaries" for wild horses, which could generate eco-tourism around viewing wild horses in their (at least, close to) natural state. It's not a new idea -- Madeleine Pickens has long wanted to start a large sanctuary called Mustang Monument where the public could come view wild horse herds from the BLM's "excess" stock. The agency said the economics of her plan weren't acceptable, but it is now on the cusp of permitting an ecosanctuary in Wyoming.

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