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Feds Plan to Kill Thousands of Wild Horses

RENO, Nevada, July 10, 2008 (ENS) – Count the wild horse of the American West as another potential casualty of spiraling energy prices.

The federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees management of wild horses and burros on public lands, said sharply rising energy costs are driving budget problems that compel the agency to consider euthanizing “excess” animals – a proposal drawing heavy resistance from animal welfare advocates.

The agency said it feeds and cares for more than 30,000 wild horses and burros in holding facilities – a number nearly equal to the population of wild horses and burros it estimates roam freely on lands managed by the BLM in 10 western states.

“In one year alone, energy costs for transportation and feed have increased almost $4 million,” the BLM says on its website.

In all, holding costs will top $26 million this year, claiming more than three-quarters of the agency’s total budget of $37 million for the wild horse and burro program, the agency said.

“It is clear the agency cannot continue current removal and holding practices under existing and projected budgets,” BLM said.


Wild horses on the range in
Nevada (Photo courtesy Nevada
Commission for the Preservation
of Wild Horses)

Releasing the animals to run free is not an option being considered by the agency because by its estimate, the free-roaming population of 33,000 exceeds by 5,700 the number of animals it believes can be supported by the land.

The Secretary of the Interior, under whom the BLM operates, was given the job of protecting wild horses and burros under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Calling the animals “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” the law declares, “It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this, they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

However, the law gives the Interior Secretary the authority to remove, by destruction, sterilization, or natural controls, any excess animals, in the case of overpopulation.

The proposal announced late last month by the BLM to euthanize surplus animals marks the first time the agency has publicly discussed the possibility of killing excess animals.

Criticism and skepticism by wild-horse advocates runs deep.

“We have a hugely dysfunctional program here that has spun out of control … run by conservative politics, agriculture and bad science,” said Patricia Fazio, statewide coordinator of the Wyoming Wild Horse Coalition.

Craig Downer, an ecologist in Nevada, shares her doubts. “I do not believe these federal officials when they say there is an overpopulation of wild horses and burros on the public lands,” he told ENS by e-mail.

“What is not mentioned is how the livestock and big game grazers/interests are monopolizing the legal wild horse and burro herd areas,” Downer said. “I think the euthanasia recommendation is a set-up to accomplish the agenda of the wild horse enemies and continue with the practical clearance of the public lands of these animals.”

Horse advocates were heartened by the support of Robin Lohnes, co-chair of BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, who told Fazio in a brief e-mail, “Agree – no euthanasia. Expect to set up task force to consider alternatives.”

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