Managing America's Wild Horses - A Billion Dollar Question

It may come as a surprise to some that an estimated 33,000 wild horses roam freely on western rangelands. Even more surprising may be the fact that there are more horses in captivity than in the wild - nearly 45,000!

These horses are primarily managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as per Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The act instructs BLM and other federal agencies to manage wild horses as an integral part of the ecosystem. The BLM is required by law to monitor the number of horses in the wild, and remove excess horses from the public land.

The wild horse population increases at the rate of 15-20 percent per year, requiring BLM to constantly remove horses from the wild, and place most of the removed horses under private maintenance and care. The number of horses under private care is increasing every year and each horse under captive care costs about $1000 annually.

If BLM's current management policies continue, what would be the cost of caring for horses in captivity? A recent study by Madan Oli, professor of wildlife ecology at UF, and Robert Garrott, professor of ecology at Montana State University, concludes that cost of caring for captive horses will exceed $1 billion by 2030, and annual costs thereafter would be $67 million.

The study was published recently in Science magazine.

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