By Lynnette Harris | January 12, 2021

The Berryman Institute

Antelope Island Buffalo

“…one thing is certain – for humans and wildlife to co-exist in a world where human population growth is increasingly encroaching into wildlife habitats, managers and stakeholders must be willing to engage in open and frank dialogue where human desires and the needs of wildlife are both considered.”  Terry Messmer, Utah State University professor of wildland resources and director of The Berryman Institute

The Berryman Institute’s focus is on reducing wildlife damage and resolving human/wildlife conflicts. Among the institute’s activities is a feral and invasive species initiative supported by the Utah Public Lands Initiative and matching funds from several private foundations and local governments. The effects of the more than 4,000 invasive plant and animal species in the U.S. cost society billions of dollars in terms of lost biological diversity (especially at-risk species), productivity, environmental integrity, and wildlife and human health.

 In 2019, the Berryman Institute hosted a summit to examine problems of wild and feral horses and donkeys (free-roaming equids) with a goal of bringing together representatives of various groups that are impacted by the animals and determining ways to balancing animal and ecosystem needs. More than 90 delegates representing rangeland managers, sportsman groups, wildlife managers, Native American tribes, and academic institutions came together for the summit.

Equids are the only invasive species with federal protection. Today, an estimated 150,000 free-roaming equids inhabit federal, state, tribal, and private lands. Given projected annual growth rates of 15%, by 2035, this population could exceed 1 million animals. The number of wild horses and burros inhabiting designated herd management areas in the western U.S. is already three times the allowable management level, creating serious problems for animals and ecosystems. Participants discussed present and pending ecological degradation caused by unmanaged, free-roaming equids on federal, state, and tribal lands in the West’s fragile, high-desert ecosystems with limited water resources.

Delegates came with different priorities and backgrounds and agreed that polarization of all interest groups has resulted in policy gridlock regarding managing the animals and their habitat. They also agreed to the common goal of “healthy herds on healthy rangelands.”

One outcome of the gathering is the Free-roaming Equid and Ecosystem Sustainability Network (on the FreeNet group communication platform). The FreeNet group’s participants are working to integrate sound science with local knowledge and account for human perceptions and values as they share information that will help drive research and policy reforms.

Learn more about the Berryman Institute's research and outreach on its website,