i didn't see another thread on this yet...
By FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: November 25, 2004
ASHINGTON, Nov. 24 - In a reversal of three decades of government policy that protected all wild horses, a provision approved by Congress last weekend would allow some of them to be sold to slaughterhouses.
The provision, attached to an omnibus spending bill by Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for the Interior Department, requires the sale of wild horses that have been rounded up and are more than 10 years old or have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption three times. The bill is awaiting final action.
The new language appears to override an existing requirement that those buying horses for adoption care for them for a year before assuming ownership, a hedge against horses being sold for slaughter. Now, the prospective law says, unwanted or old horses "shall be made available for sale without limitation."
There are about 37,000 horses and burros running free in 10 Western states, but most are in Nevada, said Maxine Shane, a spokeswoman for the Reno office of the Bureau of Land Management. An additional 14,000 are in captivity in Oklahoma and Kansas, with a few thousand more in regional facilities. Ms. Shane estimated that at least 8,000 of the horses in captivity would be eligible for immediate sale to the highest bidder.
The fate of wild horses and burros in the West has been an emotional flashpoint and source of litigation. Horse lovers have fought to preserve and
expand the herds, whose bloodlines trace back, at least partly, to the animals brought by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. Ranchers, whose cattle compete with the horses for forage and water on public lands throughout the arid West, want the 180 remaining herds thinned.
Advocates for the horses were furious that the legislation passed without a public hearing. "This went by so fast - it's almost like an autocratic government," said Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. "What the government does, what the B.L.M. does, is try to do these massive gathers. They put 30,000 horses in holding areas and plead with Congress to pass sale authority to execute them."
Tina Kreisher, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said Wednesday, "We did not ask for this language."
Ms. Shane, of the land management bureau, said: "This has been talked about off and on for 20 years. This is the first time the law has been changed in such a way."
The Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency caught between the two opposing forces, has for years rounded up horses and offered them for adoption, and has spent increasing amounts on this program. Its budget hovered at $30 million from the 2001 through 2004 fiscal years, but other Interior Department accounts are sometimes used, with Congressional approval, to pay costs in excess of this, Ms. Shane said.
About 6,600 wild horses and burros were adopted in the fiscal year that ended in September, and at least 9,000 were rounded up, she said. Since the inception of the adoption program in 1973, more than 203,000 horses and burros have been adopted.
Before this measure, which the president is expected to sign after lawmakers resolve problems with language in the overall bill, older or unadoptable horses in the bureau's holding sites were returned to the range.
Rachel Buzzetti, the executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, said that the competition for forage between domestic livestock and wild animals - particularly horses and elk - had intensified along with the drought that has gripped the Rocky Mountain West for the past five years.
"If you have elk on your allotment and horses, you're not going to have any cattle left," Ms. Buzzetti said, using the bureau's term for a section of public land offered to private users for grazing.
She added that this year, in some areas of Nevada, wild animals had consumed two-thirds of the available forage from every acre before cattle were let onto the land at the end of winter.
Ms. Sussman, however, said that "public lands ranching is the biggest welfare subsidy the public pays for." Last year the bureau charged $1.42 per acre per month to graze a cow.
"Most people who are in the horse program," she said, "have no clue how valuable, how critical those horses are for the landscape and the American people."