RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is soliciting bids for new, short-term holding facilities for wild horses removed from Western rangelands under its ongoing program to thin what it calls overpopulated herds.
Bids will be accepted until June 2 from contractors interested in operating the corrals in 17 Western and Midwestern states.
After removing horses from the range, the BLM places them in the facilities until they're either adopted or shipped to government-funded pastures in the Midwest where they spend the rest of their lives.
BLM officials, in a statement, said they plan to open "multiple" new short-term corrals that can each hold at least 200 mustangs.
BLM officials in Washington did not immediately respond to email requests for comment Sunday on the number of new holding facilities planned and their cost.
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, criticized the plan, saying it comes at a time when the agency already "warehouses" more mustangs off the range than remain free in the West.
She also criticized the BLM's plans to remove horses from the range later this year in Iron and Beaver counties in Utah.
"The fact that BLM is seeking more holding space to warehouse captured horses and plans to round up 600-plus horses in Utah demonstrates that the agency is continuing in the wrong direction," Roy said Sunday. "This stubborn pursuit of broken policies is costly to American taxpayers and devastating to our iconic wild horses and burros."
Removal of more horses from the range contradicts recommendations of an independent panel of the National Academy of Sciences released last June, she added.
In a report, the panel said the BLM should invest in widespread fertility control of the mustangs instead of spending millions to house them. It concluded the BLM's removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.
The BLM also announced this week that it's extending the application deadline to May 28 for research proposals aimed at controlling the population growth of horses and burros that roam the West.
"We are looking for breakthrough methods of controlling population growth rates, which will lessen the need to remove animals from the range while saving taxpayers money," said Joan Guilfoyle, division chief of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program.
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Roy said the agency should begin using available fertility control as identified by the National Academy of Sciences panel.
Some 40,600 wild horses and burros live in the wild, nearly 14,000 more than the range can sustain, according to the BLM. Off the range, more than 48,000 of the animals live in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures funded by the government.
The BLM has been under increasing pressure in recent months from Western ranchers to remove horses that they say threaten livestock and wildlife on rangelands already damaged by drought.