Thursday, November 26, 2020

Emotional battle over wild horses on federal lands in the West continues as their numbers double every four years

Wild horses in the Nevada desert (Photographs by Melissa Farlow for The Washington Post)

The saga of wild horses and burros on federal land in the West has rarely been told as well as it was recently for The Washington Post by reporter Britta Lokting and photographer Melissa Farlow. Several real-life examples are wrapped around this description of the problem:

A mare named Shoshone, in South Dakota
"The question of what to do with America’s wild horses is an emotional battle over livelihood, freedoms and how humans view animals. Many ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes. Animal rights activists see an icon of the American West that deserves better protection.

"There are over 100,000 wild horses and burros on 26.9 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land, according to the agency. This doesn’t include mustangs on Native American reservations, national parks, several U.S. Forest Service territories and lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The BLM has failed to keep populations at what it considers a sustainable level. To deal with the so-called excess horses, the agency rounds them up, usually using helicopters, puts them in short-term holding pens, tries to adopt them out, and then sends the unwanted ones — currently over 47,000 — to private, grassy pastures in the Midwest.

A herd of wild horses on the move in the Nevada desert
"With unchecked herds doubling every four years, the program is now in crisis mode. 'We’re at a point that we’ve never been before,' says Jenny Lesieutre, a spokeswoman for wild horse and burro issues at the bureau’s Nevada office. “It’s more than three times what the land can sustainably support in the long term, and we are a multiuse agency. That land is shared by all kinds of wildlife and plants.”

"It’s illegal for the bureau to euthanize healthy horses, though it euthanizes ones that have such ailments as blindness or club feet. Officials also can’t ship horses to slaughter or sell them to someone who intends to ship them to slaughter. (Though widely taboo, eating horsemeat is technically legal federally; some consider it a cheap source of protein.) The agency is at a standstill, partly because options like euthanasia or slaughter face intense backlash. . . . The BLM has been interested in spaying wild mares for at least a decade, but various approaches have failed or been blocked by wild-horse activists in court. Two attempts in recent years were met with such public outcry that the agency’s university research partners backed out of studies."

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