Advocates of wild horses recognize that lack of forage and water can be a problem in some areas, but argue that taking away from herds like the Onaqui is unnecessary.
“The BLM has an asset against drought, and they sometimes use it when they want to take extra horses off the course,” Greg Hendricks, director of field operations.
Advocates want to leave horses on the course and instead administer fertility treatments to limit herd size without roundups which can be costly and harsh on the animals. A horse died in Onaqui’s roundup. Fertility treatments are used, but require new doses at least once a year and can be difficult to administer because they require the horses to be tracked and darted one at a time, Messmer said.
Cattle ranchers, meanwhile, say they’ve made voluntary changes to reduce grazing on federal lands. By carrying water to drought-stricken areas for their cattle, they’ve even helped horses who drink it too, said Hunter Ihrman, a spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The number of sheep and cattle grazing on leased public land far exceeds the number of wild horses, Messmer said. A key difference, however, is that ranching is part of the US economy.
“Americans love their McDonald’s burgers. They love their Big Macs. They love all of these things, and all of these things contain beef,” he said.