Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Scheme to relocate mustangs leaves horse lovers livid


One of the most stirring symbols of the American West — mustangs thundering freely across the range — could be heading east.

The US government wants to carry out what is believed to be the biggest-ever roundup of wild horses on federal land, moving as many as 25,000 mustangs and burros to pastures in the midwest and east out of fear their fast-multiplying numbers will lead to mass starvation.

The plan is facing heated opposition who say the proposal is inhumane and unnecessary. They say the situation is not as dire as the government has painted it.

“The Obama administration must craft a new policy that protects these animals and upholds the will of Congress and the public’s desire to preserve this important part of our national heritage,” said William Spriggs, lawyer for the group In Defense of Animals.

At a public hearing on Monday in a hotel-casino near Reno, a federal advisory panel heard impassioned pleas from two dozen advocates who oppose Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s relocation plan. They want a moratorium on roundups until an independent count of horses can be conducted.

The US Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Horse and Burro Advisory Board adjourned late on Monday without taking any formal action. But at least two members of the nine-member board said after the meeting they support Salazar’s proposal.

Board chairwoman Robin Lohse said she expects the panel to make a recommendation sometime next year after it learns more about the plan.

The government argues that the mustang population in 10 western states is growing so rapidly that the horses are quickly running out of food, in part because of drought ravaging the region.

The BLM says the number of wild horses and burros on public lands in the west stands at nearly 37,000, about half of them in Nevada. An additional 32,000 wild horses already live away from the range in federal-run corrals and pastures, and those are nearly full.

The agency said last year it would have to consider destroying wild horses because of their escalating numbers and the costs of caring for them. But earlier this year, Salazar said the BLM would instead ship 11,500 to 25,000 horses from the range to pastures and corrals in the midwest and east.

The exact destinations have not been decided, but Salazar believes plains states would make the most sense in terms of water and forage, said Don Glenn, chief of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. He said Salazar also wants at least one site in the east.

At the hearing, horse advocates urged the government to remove cattle to free up public land for the mustangs.

“Why are cows staying and horses have to go?” asked Carla Bowers. “This is insanity. This is not right.”

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