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The larger problem with the petition to list wild horses as endangered is the fact their numbers are "exploding," Petersen says.
The NAS report, issued a year ago, says that if BLM does not intervene with birth control and other science-based management tools, 10 Western states can expect wild-horse populations to double every four years.
Wild horses: By the numbers
The Bureau of Land Management says that as of March, there were 49,209 wild horses and burros on western ranges, 22,500 more than its management objectives allow, given the need for ecological balance with other species and uses.
By contrast, there were 17,300 horses and 8,000 burros when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act took effect in 1971.
The BLM says it has found homes for 230,000 wild horses and burros in past decades, but still has 49,000 in captivity, most of them in long-term pastures in the Midwest.
Wild horse advocates contend the BLM overstates the number of horses on the range now, and underestimates how many there were in the past.
While advocates believe there were 2 million to 7 million wild horses in the late 1800s and early 1900s, BLM says, on its Myths and Facts website, that “this mythical figure has no historical basis; it is complete speculation.”
The Natural History Museum of Utah will open an exhibit, The Horse, on July 21. It will run through Jan. 4.
The exhibit will explore the connection between humans and horses, and will look into the Ute tribe’s use of horses.
The show was organized by The American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Garrott and Petersen fear the United States could find itself with so many horses, and such a degraded range, that it has to do what Australia is now doing: shooting camels and horses from airplanes.
Many wild-horse advocates say the BLM overestimates the number of horses.
In the petition filed this month, the advocates also say the BLM’s practice of allowing horses only in herd management areas creates gaps in the natural biodiversity of North America.
"Such gaps negatively influence the overall distribution of flora and fauna, and place various North American ecosystems in jeopardy of collapse," the petition reads.
This apparently is the first time wild horses have been proposed for listing as endangered or threatened.
"We aren’t aware of having received a petition in the past to list the wild horse in the U.S.," a spokeswoman wrote in an email last week.
The agency has 90 days to decide whether the case for listing is "substantial" enough to warrant more study.
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