Filling in the Gaps at Healthy Horse HMA

The fictitious HMA was the subject of a presentation last week about gather planning and scheduling in wild horse areas, according to the WHBAB agenda.

Characteristics from page 6 of the slide deck:

  • AML – 500
  • Size – 750,000 acres
  • Livestock grazing – Limited
  • Other issues – Frequent droughts and invasive weeds

The horses allowed by plan require 6,000 AUMs per year and the aimed-at stocking rate is approximately 0.7 horses per thousand acres.

The presentation did not provide any information about resources assigned to livestock and did not include an EA for enforcement actions associated therewith, so the meaning of ‘limited’ is not clear.

Western Horse Watchers has yet to see an HMA where, say, twenty to thirty percent of the authorized forage has been allocated to privately owned cattle and sheep, neglecting those areas where permitted grazing is not allowed.

We need a bridge that will take us from the horse side of the management plan to the ranching side and the chart in this post about stocking rates will do exactly that.

Start on the x-axis at 0.7, move vertically until reaching the dashed line, then go horizontally to the left until you hit the y-axis.  An estimated 85% of the forage has been assigned to other users of public lands (with a small amount reserved for wildlife, not considered in this post).

So, indeed, grazing is limited.  Healthy Horse HMA is managed primarily for livestock, not principally.  Areas no longer designated for wild horses, around half of the land identified in 1971, might be managed almost exclusively for livestock.

The total authorized forage is 6,000 ÷ .15 = 40,000 AUMs per year, with 34,000 AUMs per year dedicated to livestock.

The advocates, not mentioned in the presentation, are undeterred by these figures and continue to push their darting programs.  The voices of one or more celebrities may have been added to bolster the effort.

Occasionally, water may be scarce for the horses, but the ranchers have installed various improvements that insulate their herds from droughts, perhaps with the assistance of the federal government.  Every year, 50% of the grazing fees, or $10 million, whichever is greater, is plowed back into the program.

In recent years, the $10 million limit has prevailed, because the grazing fees, stuck in a time capsule since the 1960s, are artificially low.

The forage assigned to livestock would support an additional 2,833 wild horses, for a True AML of 3,333.

The stocking rate at the new AML would be approximately 4.4 horses per thousand acres, or if you prefer, about 227 acres per animal.

A larger horse population might do a better job of knocking down those invasive weeds.

The 2,833 horses displaced from the HMA by privately owned livestock represent 5.8% of the 48,897 horses currently in off-range holding, according to figures provided at the meeting.

Conversely, up to 5.8% of the horses in off-range holding could be returned to the range by ending public-lands ranching at Healthy Horse HMA, a savings of two to five million dollars per year.

The decrease in receipts from lost grazing fees would be $45,900 per year.

Most people would eagerly give up that income if they could save that much money.

The presentation said that a survey found 1,200 wild horses in the area, considerably less than 3,333, so there is no need for a roundup.  The problem is livestock, not horses.

RELATED: WHBAB Offers New Slate of Anti-Horse Recommendations.

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