"Serious changes" for horses in Humboldt County

One of the reasons people get involved in a government entity is because they see a problem and they want to fix it. Jim French saw how wild horse populations in Humboldt County created problems for wildlife, agriculture and the county’s economy, so he looked into ways he could help find solutions. 

His search ultimately led to a seat on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.

About half of the US’s wild horse population roams Nevada lands, affecting the state’s ecology and economy. French said when resources on public lands reach “critical stage,” the BLM turns first to reducing livestock access, ultimately damaging a local economy founded on agriculture.

Despite having the highest percentage of wild horses, Nevada had no representation on the board until last month. “We’re ground zero,” French said. “We’re the poster child for the mismanagement of horses.” 

The board recommended that the BLM initiate a “robust education program,” French said, to “bring people up to speed, and let people understand that they have a resource they can enjoy.” He explained that wild horses provide a source of revenue through wildlife tourism, something a few Colorado communities had already tapped into. 

“People travel into that county, and actually spend money and time observing wild horses in their native habitat,” he said. “It’s huge.” 

A wild horse education initiative would also help the BLM “market the animals as what they are – the heritage of the West,” he said. It may also lead to increased wild horse adoptions and sales. He hopes to have initial material for the tourism aspect by the end of next year.

But this source of revenue won’t open up until wild horse populations return to manageable levels. “We’re still sitting with two and a half times above AML (Appropriate Management Level) on our ranges out here. I would hate to have a whole bunch of tourism out there in the spring of next year and having a bunch of dead horses on the ground. That would be kind of an ugly thing to have people witness,” he said.

At a local level, French said the BLM is “uncomfortable” with overpopulation and its effects, but “they haven’t had the money to do what they need to do” to remedy it, especially in light of expected funding cuts in fiscal year 2018. He said the board recommended eliminating long-term holding within three years. He said he hopes it will encourage the BLM to use the TIP program, adoptions and other avenues in order to “move the horses from the federal to the private sector.”

Bringing wild horse populations back to manageable levels ultimately benefits the horses, rangeland, other wildlife and the communities that depend on agriculture. French said it also frees up funding that otherwise goes to feeding and maintaining horses in captivity. But, he said, “we can’t keep sitting on our hands with this.”

“The end of 2017 and certainly the beginning of 2018 there’s going to be some serious changes in the Wild Horse and Burro program.”