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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is proposing to move wild horses – for many an iconic image of the wildness of the West – to controlled preserves in the East or Midwest. The plan is intended to tackle the growing environmental problems associated with wild horses and burros as their populations swell on what are often marginal desert landscapes. “It’s both a humane solution and a fiscally-responsible solution,” said Bob Abbey, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management which runs the wild horse program, on Wednesday. Salazar is asking Congress to create two new preserves to maintain herds of nonproductive horses and burros that are rounded up on public lands each year but are not adopted.

West’s Wild Horses Heading East?

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is proposing to move wild horses – for many an iconic image of the wildness of the West – to controlled preserves in the East or Midwest. The plan is intended to tackle the growing environmental problems associated with wild horses and burros as their populations swell on what are often marginal desert landscapes.

“It’s both a humane solution and a fiscally-responsible solution,” said Bob Abbey, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management which runs the wild horse program, on Wednesday.

Salazar is asking Congress to create two new preserves to maintain herds of nonproductive horses and burros that are rounded up on public lands each year but are not adopted.

The BLM maintains nearly 32,000 wild horses and burros, including 9,500 in expensive short-term corrals. That’s due in part to a sharp decline in adoptions, which the agency attributes to the economic downturn. This past year, the agency estimates it spent $29 million caring for the animals, consuming most of the wild horse and burro program’s $40.6 million budget.

“We have a program that’s not working,” Salazar said. “We need a program that works for everybody.”

Salazar estimates the program will cost $92 million in land acquisition, a figure he expects will be made up in taxpayer savings within 10 years.

The wild horses conjure images of the bucolic West. The descendants of horses brought by conquistadors and settlers, they run free on ranges across the West. The reality is often “not a pretty picture,” though, Salazar said. Often, the horses are left hungry and thirsty as growing populations are forced to compete for dwindling resources on barren lands.

More than 33,000 wild horses live in 10 Western states, where they have no natural predators. In an effort to protect their range, which is suffering from overgrazing, the BLM removes thousands of wild horses and burros from public rangelands each year and offers them for adoption. Unadopted animals are kept in short-term corrals or long-term pastures.

While other species’ populations are controlled by hunting, Abbey said, “That’s certainly not appropriate when you’re talking about wild horses or wild burros.”

The current program “is not sustainable for the animals, the environment or the taxpayer,” Salazar wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and eight other members of Congress with jurisdiction over wild horse issues.

In Reid’s own Nevada, home too many of the animals, the wild horses “are in very bad condition,” Salazar said.

His new plan is intended to move the unadopted horses and burros to lands in the East and Midwest where the landscape is lusher and better able to sustain them. The proposal is meant to address concerns raised by the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Government Accountability Office, both of which have sounded alarms about the costs of the wild horse and burro program. The GAO warned it’s at a “critical crossroads” and urged the BLM to work with Congress to find a cheaper way to manage unadopted horses.

Salazar argued the animals ought to be moved from the drought- and fire-stricken West. His plan also calls for showcasing some of the herds on Western lands, reducing the herds’ populations and possibly using nonprofit groups, like those of wild horse supporters, to help manage the new preserves.

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15 comments

  1. The BLM is obsessed with the detrimental effects of 30,000 wild horses, but doesn’t share the same urgency when it comes to the impacts of millions of cattle “on what are often marginal desert landscapes.”

  2. The west is certainly dry, fire-stricken, scarce in resources, and not able to support large populations. Maybe Salazar and a large population of us humans should to be moved out to “lusher” landscape preserved in the East.

    Don’t forget this is the home of the horse, just as it is our home.

  3. Insane.
    Same question as Logger. Oh, but they’re gonna spey an nooter DESE wild hosses youbetcha.
    Because Congress is full of nitwits and this country is full of girls who never got their pony, what next? A thousand bucks a year per horse, and I can’t wait to see how many new horses are added to the pile before the first crop starts dying off on all that good Midwestern grass.
    Oh, and then what happens to the carcasses? That’ll cost too.

  4. Insanity reigns! The horses will die, no matter how many taxpayer dollars are spent. Reality is in short supply now days, these horses should be sent to slaughter and the by products used. How long can we afford to live in a dram world where everything must live forever and provide no benefit to humans?

  5. This is all one giant smokescreen. The BLM doesn’t want to take care of the real problem – uneccessary round ups costing millions of dollars to remove horses that are neither destroying the ecology nor doubling every 4 years. I wonder when the BLM will be held accountable for their actions. Better yet, I wonder when the BLM will have to fess up and let everyone know that there is no where near 30,000 Mustangs left. More like 9-10,000

  6. Reeves, please provide your proof of this.

  7. I’m sure the western livestock industry is very happy with this proposal. Perhaps Salazar will now decide to move Yellowstone bison and elk to these mid-western preserves to solve the brucellosis problem, the problem being that wild bison and elk, as do wild horses, compete with cattle for range.

    Mea culpa; voting for Obama was a wasted vote.

  8. Where was this editorial voice when Cloud’s herd in the Pryor’s was punitively and abusively “rounded up” and sent to their gulag? Eternal shame on the staff of this organization for standing mute in the face of such an atrocity.

    Where was Tester? Trying to fit under his desk? Silent. Would he pass a Nuremburg test on the issue?

    Is Salazar nothing more than a shill for the livestock “industry?” The ROAM act is gathering momentum on capitol hill, deservedly so. The man who should have gotten Salazar’s job, Grijalvas, is at the forefront of moral and legal courage.

    Don’t forget MT was the congressional seat of the “man” who slipped through some legislation that gutted all federally mandated free roaming horse and burro legislation.

    Leased land grazing grants = subsidy in fact.

    And finally, it was children who convinced R.M. Nixon to sign into law the Wild Horse and Burro Act in the early 70’s. It will be them again who lead the vanguard to restore shredded laws.

    Clearly, all the adults–particularly in the “progressive press” are all too busy sniffing the leftovers from failed luxury developments or guzzling “delicious new micro brews.”

    Wake up.

  9. “While other species’ populations are controlled by hunting, Abbey said, ‘That’s certainly not appropriate when you’re talking about wild horses or wild burros.'”

    Why not? We’ve accepted hunting as a tool to manage all of our native ungulates (including bison, which many would consider iconic and relatively defenseless) and some non-native ungulates (e.g. wild pigs) to boot. We hunt animals that are entirely unpalatable to most Westerners (wolves, coyotes, jackrabbits, prairie dogs).

    Horses, when looked at objectively and in this context, in fact seem like a particularly appropriate game animal. They are, after all, wild animals; horse hunting would be no more a violation of fair chase ideals than bison hunting. And ask someone from France how horse meat tastes (quite good, I hear). This solution should also appeal to those who argue that horses are a natural part of the North American ecosystems that they now occupy (in Pleistocene times, anyway). Humans presumably hunted them back then, so I don’t forsee any objections from that camp. Is the only objection coming from, as Dave Skinner colorfully put it, “girls who never got their pony?” And are they the ones making our land management decisions for us in the West?

    Perhaps we make the mistake of looking for the solutions to our problems within the range of the status quo. Or, alternatively, am I missing some compelling reason why hunting these animals is “certainly not appropriate?” I’m open to suggestions.

  10. Robert H….I could not agree with you more. somehow we have decided that wildlife in this country should only exist in “preserves” if it at all competes for land with livestock. We already do that with the bison in Yellowstone…cross the line and you’re dead…oh…sorry…the politically correct term is “hazed”. In going through Yellowstone this summer, we saw ONE lone bison…really pathetic that we massacured what, 1800 of them last year.

    We would be far better off spending money dealing with the invasive weed issues we have across the west to help our public lands be as productive as possible, and let the wild animals share that productivity with cattle.

    BLM=DOL…

  11. So Ifehl, what is wrong with infected buffs joining the livestock in the east? If they should be allowed to graze with livestock in the Yellowstone area why not in he east????????? The wolves are taking care of the elk. If you go to Yelllowstone now, buffalo are the thing you will see the most. Certainly it would be nice if your state would take some, then they wouldn’t have to be killed.
    You do realize that the weeds in Yellowstone are not spread by cows don’t you? There are none. You don’t suppose the hikers could have anything to do with it do you?

  12. At age 78, I lived thru WW II, when it was possible to purchase horse meat for human consumption in the USA. Joe doesn’t need to consult folks from Fance to find someone who thinks horse meat tastes good. In fact my whole family preferred it to beef on the basis of taste and consistancy. You could also get more horse meat than beef for the same number of red ration points.

    Yes a well watered grass pasture will support more animals than the the same area in the arid west, but to what purpose if the animals are not going to serve some useful purpose?

    Just for the record, many years ago I occasionally herded cattle on horseback on a New Hampshire dairy farm.

  13. Wild horses are, in fact, mostly ranch and farm horses once replaced by tractors. Hedging their bets, the ranch draft horses were put on public lands to fend for themselves, where they could be rounded up if needed in an emergency or if repairs and fuel was not feasible for the tractor. And the General Land Office agents and USFS agents looked for brands so that they could assess grazing fees on the owners. Those branded horses were rounded up and sold for chicken feed. A cow-calf pair is one Animal Unit Month. One horse is 2.5 AUMs. Horses on public graze could break a man if they wore his brand. And, when the Taylor Grazing Act, and the other public land grazing assessments went into affect, livestock growers had cattle brands and horse brands registered. It did not take long for all the horses on public lands with brands to be taken to the stock yard. The horses and burros without brands became the “wild” horses of today. For years, they were rounded up and taken to slaughter for chicken feed or export (the draft horse types) to Europe.

    Not killing horses for food is about human preferences based on anthropomorphism and not on food value. Canadian mares bred and used for the gathering of urine to make Premarin, the hormone that keeps some post menopausal women on an even keel, means many young horses are born every year without a purpose other than as bred mares peeing in a rubber bag. The males are castrated and sold for dude horses or raised for slaughter in the European market. Or slaughtered as youngsters for pet food.

    The inability to deal with cull horses is a problem that will only grow in the United States. It is a problem on some Indian reservations which is only fitting as well as ironic. It is the existence of a zillion Indian gambling casinos that put gambling on horse races in the tank, and is closing race tracks nationwide every year. 25,000 race horses are born each year, and only a very few ever amount to being a truly grand race horse. 24,000 of them should end up being used for more than a reason to hire a backhoe and dig a hole. Add to that the pony for Sis that Dad hopes will keep her from boys for an extra couple of years, or the gift horse from a Grandpa intent on punishing his son or daughter who abandoned their horse as a kid for the boy with the convertible or the girl with the nice smile. Those horses are sold every week at the livestock auction, and most for less than a hundred bucks. Where they go who knows? To another conniving grandparent, parent still mindful of the horse poop shoveled and hay purchased, or to some underground horse trade that ends up with the horses in Mexico or Canada, headed for the taco stand or the Belgium roast dinner?

    Until we honestly deal with uncontrolled breeding in horses, both in the wild and in commerce, we have a problem. Not using them for hide, hair, hooves and food is foolishness. After all, American’s Game is baseball, and the baseballs are all horse hide covered. Is PETA not going to object to that sooner than later? We need more common sense in this country. But I ain’t holding my breath waiting for it. And every horse, like every newborn baby of any species, ends up dead over time. Is a horse crematorium in every state a good Stimulus spending project? Can they become biofuel? They are, after all, a pile of carbon, and putting them in the ground is only delaying their ending up in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas by a year or so. Let’s spend a few hundred million to find an societally acceptable answer. That is the American Way. Or, follow the lead of Canada. Universal health care and horse slaughter houses. Eh?

  14. Very well said Bearbait.
    I cannot imagine the egos that have made certain folks decide they have the right to dictate what others can eat. Amazingly enough they don’t confine their dectates to this company, they have decided other countries should not have access to horses either. That kind of arrogance is unimaginable to me.

  15. …and in the end, man will destroy himself.