Friday, August 12, 2016
Dollars in the wind
THERE is more than one way to achieve dreadful public policies. Committees of bureaucrats have crafted real stinkers over the years. Other duff laws are the work of deep-pocketed special interests. But to create the worst government programmes—schemes that combine brow-furrowing folly with gasp-inducing expense—few methods are as sure as inviting Congress to spend the money of future taxpayers, in order to pander to public sentiment today.
For a case in point, consider the Wild Horse and Burro Programme of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM, a federal agency which manages more than 245m acres of public land, is a whipping-boy for the environmental left and the anti-government right alike. But when it comes to the mismanagement of wild horses, the real villain is Congress. The BLM runs 177 “herd-management areas” across ten states. The animals are in truth feral, not wild—a few can be traced back to horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish, but most are descended from ranch stock or unwanted animals set loose during the 20th century.
Lexington recently visited a herd in the McCullough Peaks of Wyoming—100,000 acres of desert badlands softened by pale, scented sagebrush, and cut through by canyons of pink-striped rock. To keep the herd’s population constant, a BLM officer, Tricia Hatle, injects between 50 and 60 wild mares each year with darts containing PZP, a contraceptive. This involves stalking the herds with a fearsome-looking gas-powered dart gun, capable of hitting a horse from 40 yards. Ms Hatle, an efficient sort, finished her darting in 18 days this year, down from several months a few years ago. The cost is $150 per horse, per year.
That sounds reasonable—except that the McCullough Peaks herd comprises just 152 animals, out of 67,000 wild horses that roam public rangelands. The McCullough Peaks animals are also among the most accessible in the country, feeding and drinking near dirt roads open to the public.