(Courtesy: HedWeb / MGN)

BLM boss: Wild horse program facing future $1B budget crisis

RENO, Nev. (AP) – The head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it’s time to admit his agency has a $1 billion problem.

BLM Director Neil Kornze says the administration can’t afford to wage an increasingly uphill battle to protect the ecological health of federal rangeland across the West while at the same time properly managing tens of thousands of wild horses and caring for tens of thousands more already rounded up in government corals.

Kornze told The Associated Press the agency may not have done as good of a job as it could have in recent years to underscore the environmental and budgetary crisis looming in its wild horse and burro program.

His experts estimate $1 billion will be needed to care for the 46,000 wild horses and burros currently in U.S. holding facilities over their lifetime. That doesn’t include the cost of future efforts to shrink the population of the record-67,000 now roaming public lands in 10 western states.

“We’re trying to make an effort to be real clear about the challenges because they are significant,” Korzne said late Tuesday as the agency released the new population forecast.

“Part of it is a recognition on our part that we can’t solve this alone,” he said. “We need partners coming to the table, whether it’s states or counties or others.”

The 67,000 horses and burros on the range is a 15 percent increase from last year, and more than double the population that was estimated when President Nixon signed the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act into law in 1971. The landmark legislation allows for removals but also grants the animals unique federal protection and requires they be treated humanely during and after their capture.

“The question is do we have a sustainable budget to make sure we can live up to the commitments we are making when we move the horses?” Korzne asked.

“It’s a double bind,” he said. “There’s a very real impact on the range when the herds are overpopulated, but it costs us $50,000 per horse if the horse lives out its whole life in holding. Every time BLM goes out and gathers 1,000 horses, we are talking about potentially a $50 million commitment on behalf of American taxpayers.”

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