By Matt Kroschel

DENVER (CBS4) – Taxpayers foot the bill to the tune of $80 million every year to care for wild horses currently being held in pens across the West. The Secretary of the Interior wants to change that.

Two wild horses (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing permanently sterilizing those horses and releasing them back into public lands. The idea is controversial. But even wild horse advocates agree something needs to change as the population grows unchecked, causing food shortages and water woes.

Wild horses live in large sections of public lands called ranges. Each is managed differently.

Cindy Wright with Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin was part of a group of volunteers who trucked water into the Sand Wash Basin for horses do to this year’s drought with shrinking supplies.

Supporters are cautious to get excited about Zinke’s proposal but they are happy to see some renewed discussion about what to do about the issue.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (credit: CBS)

“There’s about 27,000 horses is what the lands can cause to sustain for us to be healthy we have 105,000 horses,” Zinke told CBS4 in a recent exclusive interview.

“I am an advocate for doing the same thing for what we do with cats and dogs, making sure that horses are healthy, sterilizing neutering horses — focus on the population going down overtime, this will take a while,” Zinke said.

Currently the herds are thinned by rounding up some horses from the wild and putting those animals in holding pins until they are adopted. Most never are.

All along, taxpayers foot the bill to care for the horses.

“Our taxpayers spent over $80 million a year on a horse program that’s been a dismal failure,” Zinke added.

The horses and wild Burros are federally protected. The Bureau of Land Management is charged with controlling and managing the population.

The issue is heated. Horse advocates have accused the BLM of treating the horses unfairly. Often, horses are killed in the process of rounding up the animals. Usually a helicopter is used to drive the herd into pens before hauling some of the animals off to the holding facilities.

Wild horse advocates differ on exactly what they think should happen, but all of the different groups agree something must be done.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We want to believe that he is hearing us, is going to make some changes. It absolutely is time for changes,” advocate Cindy Wright told CBS4.

Zinke did not have a timetable as to when any changes to how the horses are managed could be made, but says it is a priority.

Matt Kroschel covers news throughout Colorado working from the CBS4 Mountain Newsroom. Send story ideas to mrkroschel@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter @Matt_Kroschel.

Comments (3)
  1. Jen Howe says:

    Would it have been so hard for Matt to have done some research about what livestock on public lands cost taxpayers, or how many cattle and sheep are out there vs horses? I’ll help you out, Matt: there are MILLIONS of cattle and sheep that cost taxpayers between $500 million and $1 billion every single year when all costs are considered. And they only contribute 1.9% to the nation’s beef supply and cause enormous damage. Think maybe that could have been included in your story?

  2. Cynthia Hills says:

    This story is very misleading and lacks some crucial information. Is it too much to ask that a news department actually look for all the parts of a story before they report on it? Secretary Zinke is advocating limiting wild horse populations by the use of inhumane sterilization procedures that are done without anesthesia or post surgical treatment. The real story here is that there are ranchers who pay the government very, very little to graze their livestock herds on public lands. Those lands are shared by the horses, but the horses are gradually being squeezed out by “welfare ranchers” requests for the BLM to remove the horses. These ranchers and their livestock account for less than 3% of our total beef cattle production. The horses are protected by law and this administration has clearly made it a priority to heed the requests of those wealthy interests and their livestock. It is those same ranchers, btw, that also participate in the roundup and holding of horses for the BLM. Most of that $80M goes to them for their services.

  3. Marylaine Young says:

    Never is it mentioned that wild horse herds use to occupy 5% of Federal land, now about 3%. On the 3% of fed. land are ranchers that represent less than 1% of all American ranchers. Most if not all of these ranchers on herd areas have thousands of acres of fed. land to graze thousands/millions of cattle and sheep at only $1.44 per month on the land given the horses by law in 1971 to live by their own instincts (not as a livestock).
    Never is the population given the actual population. This has been professionally pointed out for the last 15 years. Even in Fed. Court in Colorado and congressional meetings impossible-fabricated numbers are given.
    Yes, each herd area is different. In Colorado we only have 10% of our Native horses left in pretty hot dry areas, for all the good areas where Wild Native Horses roamed have already been zeroed. Now this small area – an area given to them – dedicated to them is being exploited by not only the livestock industry and their fences, but the oil and gas industry. 10’s of thousands of well permits have been waiting to exploit this area. — Headwaters of the Colorado River.
    Zinke has no concept of wild, no concept of ecology. Natural Resource Defense Council has challenged them weekly on his exploits and have won.

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