From: The Bulletin
By: Andrew Clevenger
Gradual reduction likely until completion of new environmental reviewWASHINGTON — The U.S. Forest Service is continuing to remove wild horses from the Murderers Creek section of the Malheur National Forest but is holding off on aggressive action until a new environmental impact statement is finished.
Last year, as part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought by Grant County ranchers, the agency agreed to gradually reduce the number of wild horses in the area until it is within the range it says the area can healthily support, known as the Allowable Management Level, or AML.
The AML for the 62,000-acre range was set at 50 to 140 horses in the 2007 wild horse herd management plan for the Malheur National Forest.
The agency is working on a new planning document, Tom Hilken, the Forest Service’s range program manager for the Pacific Northwest region, said last week.
“We really want to get this new plan in place that’s going to be looking at the latest science and management tools that may allow us to be a little more aggressive to get down to our AML,” said Hilken.
“We’re continuing to cull the herd over time.”
In recent months, the agency has removed a handful of horses, focusing mainly on the five or six animals that have wandered off of federal land onto private property, he said.
“They’ve gotten outside the designated territory and are on private property. That’s where our priority is now,” he said.
The herd currently stands around 200 or 220 horses, he said. Reducing their numbers poses a challenge for land-management officials because the herd grows by about 20 percent every year.
“We do not cull during the foaling period,” Hilken said.