Commentary: Wild horses are not the problem. Government mismanagement and sweetheart contractor deals are.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Wild horses from Blawn Wash about 35 miles southwest of Milford settle down in a visually protected corral after being rounded up by helicopter . The BLM began rounding up wild horses in the area Monday July 28 hoping to capture up to 140 this week.

The knives are sharpening again. Not satisfied with removing 2 million acres from public monument lands, the Trump administration wants to reduce wild horse and burro herds to near extinction levels and to legalize killing these federally protected animals.

Leading the pro-slaughter charge are Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Utah Rep. Chris Stewart. Claiming to be horse lovers, they defend the plan with misinformation, untruths, and ignorance.

The Interior Department’s 2018 budget proposes unlimited sales of “unadoptable” wild horses and burros held by the Bureau of Land Management. The plan authorizes killing captive wild equines in holding and destroying free-roaming wild horses and burros the BLM says are “excess” on the range. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved the plan after Stewart claimed that wild horses are starving and overpopulating; that birth control vaccines cost $2,400 a dose and are ineffective; and that “euthanasia” of healthy wild horses and burros is the only humane solution. (Fact: Contraceptive vaccines — PZP and PZP-22 — cost $30 and $270 a dose, respectively. Euthanasia means a measure to relieve terminally suffering beings of their misery, not shooting healthy animals in cold blood.)

After the Senate rejected the mass destruction plan. Stewart pushed harder, making the bogus claim that birth control vaccines cannot be used on pregnant mares. As evidence of mass starvation, he pointed to a three-year old photo of a thin mustang and foal. Far from starving, the majority of wild horses and burros are in excellent body condition; they’ve survived for millions of years by adapting brilliantly.

Soon the House and Senate must decide which budget version will prevail. The BLM says it has no other option to resolve its fiscal crisis. Yet keeping wild equines on the range costs nothing. The BLM’s plan would perpetuate an endless cycle of abusive, costly roundups, expensive warehousing and litigious stakeholder conflict.

In its 2013 report on the BLM’s wild horse and burro program, the National Academy of Sciences found that helicopter roundups stimulate population growth. Roundups, removals and maintaining wild horses in pricey holding facilities soak up the majority of the agency’s annual budget. According to a June 2017 report by Wild Horse Freedom Federation, the BLM cannot account for thousands of horses and burros allegedly delivered to, and paid for in, those facilities.

Over a million cows and sheep are allotted 82 percent of the forage on public lands; wild horses and burros are allotted 18 percent. Since the Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA), the BLM has shrunk designated wild horse habitat by 50 percent, from 53.8 million acres to 26.9 million acres. Nonetheless, Zinke, Stewart and the slaughter cabal aim to remove two-thirds of remaining free-roaming wild horse and burros to a low population target of 26,710. This number is nearly the same as the estimated herd population in 1971, a level Congress considered so dangerously low that it enacted the WRFHBA to protect wild horses and burros which were “fast disappearing from the West.

Humane, cost-effective tools for managing wild horses and burros on the range, including safe, reversible birth control and public-private herd stewardship partnerships, have been successfully implemented in more than a dozen herd management areas and wild horse territories. The BLM dismisses them, instead opting for policies that cost the most while catering to a few helicopter contractors and to grazing and extraction industries that want more public land for themselves.

Wild horses and burros are not the problem. Government mismanagement and sweetheart contractor deals are the problems. Tell your representatives in Congress to maintain federal protections for our nation’s wild horses and burros. They stand against the theft of public lands. Americans want accountability and humane solutions. We want wild equines to remain free, not to extinguish them.

Charlotte Roe, Berthoud, Colo., is a retired diplomat and guardian of a band of wild mustangs and burros. She is advisor to The Cloud Foundation and to In Defense of Animals.

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