Does BLM want to completely eradicate wild horses from the western range? Since its existing wild horse and burro management program costs upwards of $27M annually and maintaining the 33,000 horses currently in captivity or “holding facilities” eats up 74% of that budget, BLM is sadly shaking its head and wringing its hands about the very real possibility of euthanizing said 33,000 horses. Yet, BLM continues to trot out (pun intended) its outdated, expensive, and obviously unsuccessful round-up and adoption program, making the holding facilities mere staging grounds for wild horse slaughter. Why doesn’t BLM just shoot the horses on the range? Oh, I forgot. It can’t or else it’d be violating the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, originally created to stop ranchers and others from slaughtering wild horses. (Does anyone feel dizzy yet?)
Slaughter is a brutal, shocking, and socially unacceptable word when it comes to horses but let’s call a spade a spade. We can say “put the animal down” or “humanely euthanize” or “harvest” but as Ed Abbey’s mother once said (From Fool’s Progress), “You don’t harvest living creatures. What a disgusting word. You’re killing them for personal profit.” Ed’s ma was referring to hunting and BLM hasn’t sold wild horses for profit for a few years. But, even if the Agency hasn’t declared open season on wild horses, it may as well. There isn’t much difference between shooting a wild horse on the range and rounding it up and “humanely euthanizing” the animal afterwards.
What’s all the fuss over? The Government Accountability Office released its report on the BLM’s treatment of wild horses on October 9th, 2008 but made it public earlier this week. Wild horse advocates, such as Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation and Karen Sussman of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, say that one of the GAO report recommendations gives the nod to slaughter of most of the horses now in captivity in the US. Kathrens also says that BLM round ups are going on right now in Utah. If those taken from the Utah range are over 10 years old or are not adopted after three tries, they can, according to the 2004 Burns Amendment, be sold for slaughter. Attempts to repeal the Burns Amendment have failed. And now, it appears, the BLM will get its way.
The GAO recommendation in question reads:
To address BLM’s noncompliance with the act, as amended, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to discuss with Congress and other stakeholders how best to comply with the act or amend it so that BLM would be able to comply. As part of this discussion, BLM should inform Congress of its concerns with (1) the act’s requirement for the humane destruction of excess animals and (2) the possible slaughter of healthy horses if excess animals are sold without limitation, under certain circumstances, as the act requires (italics added).
What does it mean to “amend [the act] so that BLM would be able to comply”? I’m not sure, but it could mean that wild horse advocates have another shot at the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. This is what would repeal the Burns Amendment thereby forcing BLM to discontinue efforts to kill the horses. Once that’s in place, then solutions such as increasing range size, natural predation, and releasing the captive horses can begin to enjoy real discussion. If not, all the work of Wild Horse Annie will have been in vain.
Stay tuned and…thanks for listening.