The HMA lies on the California-Nevada border, east of Highway 395. It contains 758,128 acres and is managed for horses and burros. The aimed-at population density is 1.15 animals per thousand acres (both species, upper end of AMLs).
“The AML was determined based on an in-depth analysis of habitat suitability, resource monitoring, and population inventory data with public involvement,” according to the draft, but, curiously, it falls in line with the target density of one animal per thousand acres for public lands managed by the BLM in the western U.S.
Take the size of the HMA in acres and drop the last three digits. There’s your AML.
Why spend millions of dollars on in-depth analysis?
The land can support way more than one animal per thousand acres so why are the horses and burros held to such tiny numbers?
The draft indicated there were 793 horses remaining on the HMA after the gather of 2010 and 3,506 horses on the HMA in 2019, for a compound average growth rate of 18 percent per year over the nine year period. Both population figures are estimates.
There are an estimated 632 burros on the HMA this year, bringing the total to 4,138 animals and the pre-gather population density to 5.5 animals per thousand acres.
Surely they must be skin and bones by now, that’s five times too many!
The draft offers four alternatives for dealing with the ‘problem.’ Most are discussed in detail. The following options were rejected:
- Remove or reduce livestock within the HMA
- Designate the HMA to be managed principally for WHB
- Raise the AMLs
What a surprise. Public-lands ranching is a disease that has spread across the western U.S., with an entrenched bureaucracy that resists every attempt to cure it.
The plan allocates 9,792 AUMs per year to horses and burros on the Twin Peaks HMA, which corresponds to the upper end of their AMLs.
Privately owned cattle and sheep receive 22,481 AUMs and 4,697 AUMs, respectively, for a total of 27,178 AUMs per year.
For purposes of comparison, let’s convert the AUM budgets to wild horses and cow-calf pairs, which are equivalent in their resource loading.
The AUM allocation for horses and burros yields 816 wild horses, assuming they graze twelve months per year. The allocation for cattle and sheep yields 4,530 cow-calf pairs, assuming they graze six months per year.
The population densities, based on these figures, are approximately 1.1 wild horses and 6.0 cow-calf pairs per thousand acres, respectively. (The grazing allotments fit neatly within the HMA, see map on page 95 of the draft.)
The results are summarized in these charts:
The HMA can only support one wild horse per thousand acres but it can support six times as many cow-calf pairs, privately owned, of course.
Next time you hear the BLM say “The land can only support 27,000 wild horses and burros,” know that they mean it can only support that many horses and burros vis-à-vis the number of fee-paying animals they want to allow on it.