BUTTE — In response to the Bureau of Land Management’s recent relocation of 700 wild horses to a ranch outside of Ennis, a bill regulating the movement of wild horses is making its way through the Montana Senate and might reach the House by next week.
Senate Bill 402, sponsored by Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, would require the Montana Department of Livestock to develop a management plan for any wild horses imported into the state. The department would also charge a permit fee of at least $100 on each imported horse or burro.
In crafting the bill, Van Dyk worked with two Republicans, Sen. Taylor Brown of Huntley and Sen. Eric Moore of Miles City. Van Dyk said the BLM is using Montana as way to rid itself of problem horses, so the state must develop a plan before any more of the animals are moved here.
“We scrambled to get a bill together,” Van Dyk told the Montana Standard. “I think the state needs to have some regulatory capacity. The BLM has a major problem on its hand and we can’t let them pawn their problem off on us. I don’t want Montana to start looking like Nevada or Utah.”
The BLM moved the horses to Montana from holding facilities in Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Oklahoma.
In a news release, Van Dyk said the bill is also necessary because of the potential harm the horses may cause the environment, wildlife, and neighboring ranch owners.
“These really aren’t wild horses,” Van Dyk said. “They’re feral horses, and they are a serious problem for the BLM. Using taxpayer dollars to subsidize landowners to board these horses is not the answer. This can lead to serious problems to wildlife, watersheds, and neighboring owners. Those landowners have been ignored and deserve to be hard.”
The bill is up against a tight timeline. It was heard before the agriculture, livestock, and irrigation committee on Tuesday, and it’s scheduled for a committee vote after the Easter Break on April 2. Van Dyk said he expects the bill to go before the entire Senate sometime shortly after that.
He hopes the bill moves into the House by April 5, which as day 71 of the current legislative session is the deadline for a revenue bill to be presented at both the Senate and the House.
The BLM began moving wild horses to the Spanish Q Ranch in late February. And the agency completed the transfer of the 700 wild horses within the last few days. The Spanish Q is the first long-term holding facility in Montana. It was first proposed in 2009, but was delayed for a number of years in no small part because of the resistance of neighbors to the move.
In December 2012, neighbors on all four sides of the Spanish Q filed appeals to stop the horse transfer, but the BLM went ahead with the move before those appeals were heard because a required 45-day waiting period had elapsed. The appeals might not be ruled upon by the Interior Board of Land Appeals for at least a year.
“What I’m trying to do here is give the neighbors a seat at the table,” Van Dyk said. “And I’m not just worried about one ranch in southwest Montana. I’m worried about what’s next.”
The BLM is mandated to manage wild horses and burros by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The agency estimates that over 37,000 wild horses and burros roam BLM rangeland in 10 western states.
Periodically these wild horses and burros are rounded up off the open range, and housed in short-term and long-term holding facilities. About 49,000 exist in these holding facilities, according to the BLM.