Reducing the number of wild horses and burros on Western public lands could take 15 years and cost $5 billion, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management told reporters during a news conference this week.
This is the second time this month that William Perry Pendley has focused his attention on the animals. In early October, Pendley told environmental journalists gathered at a conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, that wild horses and burros were the most important issue facing public lands.
“We have 88,000 wild horses and burros on our western federal lands and they are causing havoc,” he said.
Pendley’s relationship with the animals, which were first reintroduced to the West during Spanish exploration, stretches back to his days as a lawyer for the non-profit Mountain States Legal Foundation. In 2014, he sued the federal government on behalf of stockgrowers to remove the animals from the checkerboard lands of southern Wyoming.
“Congress has placed a mandatory, non-discretionary duty on the Secretary to remove wild horses that stray from public lands onto private lands, upon the private landowner’s notification,” he wrote in 2015.
Pendley lost the lawsuit, but his work on legal issues like this has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest. After all, he signed a Trump administration ethics pledge recusing himself from issues related to clients he used to work for. But the pledge has a two-year statute of limitations, and the lawsuit ended in 2016.
Pendley told reporters his agency is working on a report to Congress on ways to shrink the number of wild horses in the region.
Wild horses are federally protected by the 1971 Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which included mandated population limits. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates wild horse numbers are currently more than three times above the prescribed federal limit.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, The O’Conner Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.