While Gov. Brian Sandoval is threatening to pursue legal action to force the federal government to fund wild horse population control, Bureau of Land Management Nevada Director John Ruhs says he is asking Washington to provide $4 million to pay for rounding up 4,000 wild horses in Elko County, according to The Associated Press.
The BLM is already telling ranchers they may face a reduction in grazing permits due to the overpopulation of feral horses, meaning there will be major economic impact for the state — estimated by state officials to be $1.8 million in Elko County alone. The BLM says the Elko horse herds are 350 percent in excess of what the range can sustain.
The real problem may come once those horses are rounded up, if they are. Though federal law specifically requires captured but unadoptable wild horses to the humanely disposed of, Congress has refused for years to allow any federal funds to be spent to do so.
Instead, as the AP story points out, there are now more than 45,000 mustangs in government corrals and pastures costing of $48,000 per animal over its lifetime or $40 million per year. Another 4,000 horses could add $200 million in warehousing costs.
Perhaps, the government should learn a lesson from how the American bison were saved, not by expensive government roundups but by private enterprise. Today’s Daily Signal recounts studies that show “the number of bison swelled in the 20th century mostly because they were ‘preserved not for their iconic significance in the interest of biological diversity but simply raised to be slaughtered for their meat.'”
A study by Andrew C. Isenberg, a professor of history at Princeton, says it was Western ranchers such as the renowned Charles Goodnight, who captured buffalo calves in 1878, who really saved the buffalo, and “many of the bison that eventually populated government preserves descended from the herd of two Montana ranchers.”
Their primary motive: profit.
“Without question, market forces had contributed to the near-extinction of the bison, along with the political objective of destroying the Indians by eliminating their food source. But that is well known,” writes University of Dayton history professor Larry Schweikart at the Foundation for Economic Education. “What is almost never mentioned is that it was market forces-ranchers, hunters, tourism developers, railroaders, and philanthropists-that ultimately saved the buffalo as well.”
There is a market for slaughtered horses. Domestic horses are routinely slaughtered and rendered for various purposes, including the meat, which is sold largely overseas though same may be sold to zoos. The U.S. has banned the sale of horse meat for pet food.
A free market could provide a protection for and control of the population of horse herds and relieve the taxpayer of huge costs.