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Our Opinion: Wild-horse slaughter is a very un-American ‘solution’

BLM range technician Brandon Bishop hurls a bale of hay to some animals being sold at a recent Bureau of Land Management auction of wild horses and burros in Show Low. Agency officials want to slaughter some of the wild horses, citing costly feed and too few of the animals being adopted in today's faltering economy.

BLM range technician Brandon Bishop hurls a bale of hay to some animals being sold at a recent Bureau of Land Management auction of wild horses and burros in Show Low. Agency officials want to slaughter some of the wild horses, citing costly feed and too few of the animals being adopted in today's faltering economy.

They shoot horses, don’t they? Not yet they don’t, but the Bureau of Land Management now wants to kill off thousands of our wild horses.

The proposal to “euthanize” about 6,000 mustangs is blatantly contrary to the BLM’s assignment since 1971, however.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, passed unanimously by Congress that year, directs BLM to protect America’s wild horses as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”

Now BLM complains that mission is too costly.

Wild horse adoptions are down. Hay and grain prices are up. And corral and pasture space is at a premium for the 30,000 or so feral equines in holding facilities, BLM reports.

The agency wants to destroy thousands of those wild horses held in captivity.

And with 33,000 mustangs still roaming free, according to BLM, herd sizes could double in four years.

But BLM’s own statistics since 2000 show that, even at the highest birth rate the agency cites, the wild-roaming population would be only 13,500 to 20,000 horses, says Julianne French, a Tucson advocate for the animals.

BLM says roundups, which prevent overpopulation as well as overgrazing, can’t be afforded in the program’s $37 million budget.

But had roundups been conducted only when essential, the agency wouldn’t have an excessive equine population in holding pens today.

Even in good economic times, wild horse adoptions could not have matched the high number of horses rounded up.

The program’s management is under fire from many critics, including U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a southern Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Indeed, BLM’s management of the Wild Horse and Burro Program has come under such heated criticism that the Government Accountability Office now is investigating and will issue a report Sept. 22.

Until then, BLM will not begin killing. “Euthanasia” is defined as mercy killing, a misnomer for what the agency has in mind for captive, healthy horses.

“It’s killing, pure and simple, to balance the books for an agency whose reckless management has caused immeasurable harm to a national treasure at considerable cost to the American taxpayer,” says Chris Heyde, a deputy director for the Animal Welfare Institute.

While we withhold judgment on the mismanagement claims until the GAO reports back, we decry the push to destroy the very animals that we pay BLM to protect.

And we question the agency’s priorities, favoring livestock grazing over survival of our wild horse herds.

These are special animals well-deserving of the protection to be afforded them under the law. Some of the wild horses here, for example, are direct descendants of the Spanish steeds prized by the conquistadors and brought to Arizona Territory in 1653 by Father Eusebio Kino, a Catholic missionary3.

Until the new GAO report has been scrutinized by Congress and the citizenry, roundups should be stopped, along with the proposal to kill American mustangs.

This wild horse was photographed in 2005 at the Wild Horses Wyoming ranch near Laramie.

This wild horse was photographed in 2005 at the Wild Horses Wyoming ranch near Laramie.

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