Ideologies have financial costs. One such ideology is exemplified by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program. In 1971, Congress banned the hunting of wild horses and burros on public land. The genesis of the movement stemmed from the work of Velma B. Johnston who was upset with the manner in which people captured and used wild horses for commercial purposes.
Unfortunately, when people confuse abuse with use and therefore ban human use of animals, bad things often happen. Such is the case with wild horses. Wild horses used to be a source of economic wealth. Today they are an economic liability. Horses increase their population at a rate of 20% per year. So in about 4 years, their population can double in size. Excessive horse numbers can lead to degradation of the fragile ecosystems of the American West.
To reduce excess numbers, the BLM must remove horses from the range. But since they cannot kill them, the taxpayer has to pay for the care of these wild horses. What does it cost? According to the BLM, the cost for the Horse Program in 2013 was 67.9 million dollars. A whopping 64% of that cost was for holding the horses.
The question is what good could be done, but isn’t, with 68 million dollars? How many soup kitchens could be funded? How many job retraining programs could be started? How much land could be purchased and protected to enhance the conservation of endangered and threatened species? How many jobs could be created by the harvest and use of wild horses? Unfortunately, we will never really know the answer to these questions because our values, as expressed by a 1971 law, says that horses really are more important than these other activities.