Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Summit discusses possible solutions to growing problem of wild-horse overpopulation in West

Wild horses play near Reno, Nevada. (Reno Gazette-Journal photo by Andy Barron)
At a summit on Aug. 22-24, officials said that "swollen populations of federally protected wild horses roaming 10 Western states are starved and damaging rangelands," Michelle Price and Scott Sonner report for The Associated Press. "Members of Utah’s congressional delegation and a U.S. Interior Department official speaking at the National Horse and Burro Summit in Salt Lake City all described an unsustainable population of wild horses that’s nearly three times the size that federal officials think the rangeland can support."

Suzanne Roy with the American Wild Horse Campaign says that horse-protection advocates were not invited, and says the summit catered to agriculture interests that want to slaughter wild horses. But a wildland resources professor at Utah State University, Terry Messmer, said the summit was attended by people who care about the horses' welfare as well as Western rangeland management.

"A report by Congress’ General Accounting Office made public last week noted that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management removed nearly 135,000 horses from the range between 2000 and 2016 but the population on the range doubled and the number of horses in holding facilities increased sevenfold. The BLM asserts that U.S. rangeland can sustain fewer than 27,000 horses and burros, but there are more than 72,000 wild horses on the rangeland and about 46,000 in holding facilities," AP reports. The horses sometimes compete for resources with grazing animals owned by ranchers.

Participants in the summit were divided about the solution to the problem. Some say contraceptive vaccines will check the population humanely. Aurelia Skipworth, deputy assistant interior secretary for fish and wildlife and national parks, said euthanization is also part of the solution, and that Congress must also pass President Trump's budget request to allow wild horses to be sold without requiring buyers to guarantee the horses won't be resold for slaughter. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said at the summit that he supports state-level management of the problem, and that euthanization is a kinder solution than food slaughter for what he calls a companion animal.

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